Our History

Our origins date back to 1974 when Tostan’s founder, Molly Melching, first arrived in Senegal as an exchange student from the United States.

After completing her studies, Molly stayed to work as a Peace Corps volunteer in Dakar, creating the first radio program for children in national languages. Her work soon took her to rural villages, where she found that many development efforts were not addressing the true needs and realities of the communities in ways that were relevant to their lives.

Relying heavily on community feedback, Molly and a team of Senegalese cultural specialists developed a new type of development program, the Community Empowerment Program (CEP). This program respectfully engaged communities by working in their own languages and using traditional methods of learning. It facilitated community ownership over the development process, allowing communities to fulfill their own potential.

In 1991 Molly founded Tostan—which means ‘breakthrough’ in the Wolof language.

Over the past 23 years, Molly’s original concepts have developed into Tostan’s leading model for community-led change – now implemented in 22 languages across six African countries and supported at the international, national, and grassroots levels.