Tostan’s vision is “Human dignity for all”. To realize this vision, Tostan works with marginalized communities in 8 different countries in East and West Africa, in particular with women and children who have no access to formal education. The empowerment consists of a 30-month holistic education in the fields of democracy, human rights, health, hygiene, and literacy program. Since its inception in 1991, Tostan has reinforced community capacity for development in over 3,000 African communities.
Tostan’s program is a platform upon which communities build many successes: they become healthier and more prosperous, abandon harmful traditional practices, improve literacy and management skills, and women emerge as dynamic grassroots leaders. All these impacts are community-led and community-owned, making Tostan’s program one of the most sustainable in Africa.
Tostan opens two classes – one for adolescents and one for adults – of 30 people each, enabling all community members, from adolescents and new parents to religious leaders and grandmothers, to engage in respectful dialogue. Tostan’s innovative “organized diffusion model” extends these impacts to entire social networks, often reaching 10 people for every one person trained. Tostan also trains Community Management Committees (CMCs) in each village that receives the program. These committees, formed of 17 democratically chosen women and men, lead local development initiatives and serve as a model for democracy in the community.
Tostan’s program creates lasting impact in areas of education, health, and economic empowerment. Communities move from passively receiving services to analyzing community development issues and spearheading change initiatives independently. The program is designed to build community capacity on all levels. On an individual level, Tostan empowers class participants to be agents of change in their own lives. At the community level, Tostan recognizes communities as experts in their own assets and needs and provides practical skills training and inputs that enable communities to capitalize on those assets and meet those needs. Examples of community-led development projects include constructing health huts, organizing child vaccination campaigns, voter registration and school enrollment drives and community clean-ups, or hosting declarations to abandon female genital cutting (FGC) and child/forced marriage.
In contrast to the traditional paradigm of international development, Tostan’s approach of constant adaptation and learning puts the community at the center of their development. Powerful change is rooted in respect, and our approach is one of profound cultural understanding. Meeting communities where they are — in language, level of education and cultural practice — is central to Tostan’s philosophy. This approach empowers people to champion democracy and human rights within their community.
We constantly adapt our program to needs voiced by communities. For example, Tostan started using cell phones as pratcical training tools for literacy by sending SMS text messages, after realizing that even the most remote villages now rely on mobile phones but only used them to make calls.
Tostan’s model is experience-tested and adaptable to a wide range of African cultures. From our experience in growing to eight countries, we have gained a solid knowledge of the personnel and infrastructure that will be needed to expand to new communities, regions and countries. Numerous external evaluations and reviews have proven the impact and effectiveness of Tostan’s program, and there is an increasing demand for our services across Africa. Tostan has received numerous requests for scale-up from donors, local governments and – most importantly – communities themselves. We plan to reach 3,000 new communities and to expand into four new countries by 2015.
Source of funding
Tostan’s CEP model returns a range of social impact for its investors, who up until now have mainly financed the organization via grants. Tostan is taking steps to supplement this traditional grants income with a mix of core support for growth, increased support from major donors, and a recently-developed pooled funding model that will fund expansion across six countries through a single multi-donor effort.