Sharing time, talent and treasure: Why our family foundation is supporting Tostan on Giving Tuesday 2018

by Sallie James

Next Tuesday, the James Family Foundation is proud to partner with Tostan to match donations made on Giving Tuesday. The story of how my family’s private, North Carolina-based foundation got connected with Tostan’s work thousands of miles way is one I want to share as we encourage support this Giving Tuesday.

In the summer of 2013, as a recent college graduate, I was eager to get out in the “real world.” I had broad ideas about working in international development, cities where I wanted to live, and different types of work I wanted to do. A couple years prior to that, I read Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky. It opened my eyes to the obstacles for women and girls to reach their full potential worldwide. Along with other life experiences, the book gave me a desire to serve causes of human rights, and especially women’s rights, described in the book — from addressing maternal mortality, to ending gender-based violence, to ensuring access to education for all.

As I started to look for jobs and internships that summer, Half the Sky was still on my mind. The most memorable part of the book was the image Kristof and WuDunn illustrated of female genital cutting (FGC) and Tostan. They begin by describing the practice of FGC itself — which I had never heard of before. The chapter goes on to tell of how FGC is a cultural norm, how, for some communities, the practice is an indicator of status that families want to maintain, and how international movements to oppose the practice have seen limited success. Then, they introduced Tostan’s founder, Molly Melching, to the scene. Rather than a top-down effort to dictate behavior change, Molly, over the years of forming Tostan, saw the need for community-led change and for establishing shared understandings of human rights and dignity. From this basis would come conversation about why the practice of FGC violates those values. Tostan saw the importance of bringing women together to talk about an often-taboo topic and the need for men and community leaders to also be at the table. Something about Molly’s inspiring story and Tostan’s work just clicked, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

Sallie and her sister Dorothy attending the Hilton Humanitarian Prize ceremony in New York, with Tostan, 2015

Without much international experience but a lot of desire to learn, I applied to a Development Internship with Tostan that fall and was offered the position in Washington, DC. Before I started, I read the recently released However Long the Night by Aimee Molloy, all about the origins of Tostan, and could hardly believe I got to work so closely with an organization I believed in so strongly. For the next few months, I worked on the team developing relationships and communicating Tostan’s impact and vision with supporters. With hindsight, I know that along with professional growth, the internship offered me a unique perspective into and connection with an organization where I share its vision of ‘dignity for all.’

Growing up in Charlotte, NC, my family has been driven to serve our community, grounded in our Christian faith. Thanks to my parents’ commitment and leadership, we have a family foundation that allows us to support organizations serving our community. Education is central to many of the causes we support — as we have seen the transformative impact of educational opportunities in our own lives. From early childhood development and literacy programs to our alma mater colleges and universities, we believe in the power of education to change lives and communities.

Beyond education, other causes have been and continue to be significant for us, including combatting homelessness and addressing affordable housing in our city and conservation and environmental stewardship in our city, state and worldwide. Over the years, we have also supported response and recovery efforts to meet the needs of people following emergencies. This year, in the wake of Hurricane Florence’s devastation to parts of eastern North Carolina, we are supporting organizations focused on recovery. So often, it is when we feel personally connected and motivated by the impactful work of an organization that we take the step to financially support a cause.

The James Family Foundation

As I wrapped up my internship with Tostan and couldn’t stop talking to my family about the important work it does, we decided we’d begin to support Tostan financially. We often focus on needs in our local community; however, my family quickly shared the view that human rights-based, community-led development ensuring sustainable change was a model that just made sense. I think I caught the Tostan team a little by surprise when I finished working for them by sharing that while my day to day work was ending, we’d be supporting Tostan into the future.

Fast forward five years, and we are proud to continue partnering with Tostan and excited for what is to come in 2019. Tostan inspires me and reminds me that embracing human rights and dignity for all changes lives, communities, and beyond. If you share this inspiration, I hope you’ll join us with a gift this Giving Tuesday.

On Giving Tuesday, November 27th, Sallie and her family will match every $1 donated with $2 more, to triple donations until we reach $30,000 together for Tostan’s mission. On the day, we will release a very special video about our work with the religious leaders working with Tostan to make ‘dignity for all’ a reality at the grassroots. Watch, share, and join the movement! bit.ly/TostanCreate

Young women involved in a public declaration to abandon harmful practices in Senegal, November 2018. Tostan’s program sparks dialogue between men, women and children of all ages, to support them to create a future of wellbeing, together.