Sparking and scaling social change in West Africa
Cultural norms and community development shifts can only occur when people have access to the knowledge that reveals why change is needed. Driven by this principle, Tostan’s collaborative model fosters social and behavioural change from the ground up, initiating an intense dialogue in and across communities that educates youths, women, men, elders and religious leaders about human rights, health, sanitation, conflict resolution, economic empowerment and parenting. This has resulted in one of Tostan’s most celebrated results to date, with 8,830 communities declaring their abandonment of child marriage and female genital cutting, affecting nearly 5.5 million people in Africa. After having supported Tostan in southeastern Senegal from 2016 to 2018, we have joined a collective effort to scale its approach with the aim of reaching over 107,500 people living in 1,300 remote communities in Gambia, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau.
Limited access to education – whether formal or informal – frequently exacerbated by poverty and deeply rooted harmful social norms, creates an environment that fails to adequately prepare individuals and communities to define and determine their own futures.
This is particularly true in West African countries, where the last two decades’ economic growth has failed to consistently tackle widespread poverty and address basic social needs, especially for women and girls. Large gender inequalities persist in the region, including critically high maternal and infant mortality, early marriage (more than double the world average of 13%) and severe lack of health services.
Tostan’s approach to community development focuses on raising collective consciousness. Its 3-year participatory education programme enables women, men, girls and boys to learn about democracy, human rights, hygiene, and health, while also acquiring basic literacy and numeracy.
The community-led and dignity-centred process followed not only stimulates villagers to reconsider deeply entrenched and harmful practices, but to identify local needs and find community-specific solutions. This has resulted in one of Tostan’s most celebrated results to date, with 8,830 communities declaring their abandonment of child marriage and female genital cutting, affecting nearly 5.5 million people. Other important behavioural changes include increased birth registrations, more regular use of latrines and greater participation of women in family decision-making.
Driven by the conviction that real change can only come about through behavioural change which reaches beyond the individual person, family or village to extend across communities, Tostan uses a process called organized diffusion to help spread information through connected communities, or social networks. This social mobilization process increases the impact of Tostan’s programme, spreading new ideas organically from person to person and community to community.
From 2016 to 2018, we supported Tostan to engage the women, men, girls and boys of 20 villages in in the southeastern region of Tambacounda, Senegal.
Tostan’s scaling agenda includes the following expected results:
- Over 107,500 people living in 1,300 communities in Gambia, Senegal and Guinea-Bissau strengthen their knowledge, skills and governance capacity, commit to human rights and improve their wellbeing. They are empowered to identify local issues and implement community-specific solutions.
- Approximately 1,300,000 girls, women, men and boys benefit indirectly, thanks to Tostan’s outreach approach known as “organised diffusion”, which commits each class participant to ‘adopting’ at least one friend or family member with whom to continuously share the knowledge and skills acquired.
Tostan envisions scaling up its impact by directly implementing its core programmes, by training partners in the content, approach, methodology and strategy that are core to its model, and by influencing development practitioners, donors, governments, NGOs and others in the global community to shape effective practices.