Tostan Stories
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Tostan Stories

Philanthropy as Love of Humanity

A letter from Cheikh Mbacké, Chair of the Tostan Board of Directors

Cheikh Mbacké on the coast in Senegal (2018)

Dear Friend,

Here in Senegal, ‘philanthropy’ as a concept is not discussed much. Yet our entire social structure is geared towards thinking of others first. Senegalese generosity is woven into the very fabric of daily life — into our greetings, our obligations and the expectations of extended family members and those with shared family backgrounds. It defines our treatment of strangers, visitors, and those in need.

When I began my own journey with Tostan a decade ago, I encountered an organization that was able to do something rare. Tostan works from within and across a range of tough issues to help communities, and especially women and girls, explore and unleash their potential.

Tostan’s approach leads to results in many areas and, in my opinion, we have only just begun to see the possibilities unfold. Improved monitoring and evaluations systems are beginning to give us real insight into the nexus of our impact. For example, we now know that in 150 communities between 2013–2016 women’s voices in decision-making transformed attitudes around deeply entrenched social norms. Women became more confident speaking up and actively participating in decision-making related to education, family planning, child marriage and FGC.

Khady Sow reading with her granddaughter, in Kolma Peulh, Senegal (2012)

“This quest for knowledge projects us forward because we now know how to read and write, and all this contributes to seeing forward.” — says a female Community Empowerment Program participant in Mauritania

The international development community understands that investing in girls and women will increase the well-being of entire communities. As a statistician and demographer, I have spent much of my professional life uncovering the nuances in telling this evidence-based story.

I am proud to serve as Chair of the Board while Tostan is pioneering integrated solutions that will benefit the very systems that serve entire populations where I live. I recently spent an entire week with national coordinators from five countries and senior leadership, charting the possibilities for scaling our proven impact.

At this moment, we are refining our evaluation systems to better assess our work in the field, both for program analysis and for Global Mobilizers* to see our big picture impact. Much of what we do in 2019 will paint a picture of the diverse results from this holistic model, and that will also bring in even more visionary partners.

From a program participant in Mali — “They are important changes. Because, for example, with the garden we eat well and in addition we earn money. With the compost, your garbage isn’t blowing around everywhere causing diseases; you water from time to time, you turn it into manure that you bring in your field and it reduces the amount of chemical fertilizer you use and your field gives good yield. It’s so beneficial! Where we planted trees, so far no trees have died; within three years we will have a forest. It is we who benefit, not Tostan!”

Women and men at a community clean-up day in The Gambia (2008)

All of us on the Board of Directors of Tostan are volunteers — like you! We bring time, talent and also treasure to this mission. Please know that to me you are a philanthropist — a person who contributes in the broadest sense to love of humanity through the growth of this amazing model here in West Africa.

Thank you for your contributions, both seen and unseen.


Dr. Cheikh Mbacké, Board Chair

*A Global Mobilizer is someone like you, who commits their time, talent and treasure to fuel Tostan’s mission. Join them today.

*This letter was first published in December 2018, as a thank you to Tostan supporters across the globe.




Tostan is an international non-profit working since 1991 to empower communities to fulfill their own visions of sustainable development, based in human rights. These are the stories of communities moving forward with agency, not aid.

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Tostan empowers communities to realize their own sustainable development and wellbeing, and drive social transformation based on respect for human rights

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