Solar energy lights up a clinic; a group of seventeen engaged community members discusses village hygiene; a microcredit loan allows a single mother to develop a business to support her family; a woman works over a solar cooker to prepare a meal. These are all examples of communities that have developed a better standard of living for themselves.

For over twenty years, Tostan has worked to empower communities through its Community Empowerment Program (CEP), providing education in human rights, literacy, problem solving, income-generating activities, and project management. At the beginning of the program, the community forms a Community Management Committee (CMC), a group of seventeen democratically-elected community members responsible for implementing local development projects beyond the specific CEP timeframe. The Empowered Communities Network (ECN) works with these CMCs to facilitate relationships with local and international organizations that can support the CMC-designed projects. Through the ECN, Tostan remains an active supporter of the CMCs and promotes their autonomy in undertaking self-identified development projects and establishing additional partnerships. This process invests in the sustainability of community development efforts by making a diverse set of resources available to communities.
The ECN aims to develop innovative and effective ways for CMCs to collaborate with each other and outside organizations, such as local NGOs and government agencies, to address their community’s concerns and proactively work towards solutions. In Senegal, for example, CMCs often form federations, groupings of multiple CMCs that are able to become government-recognized and licensed economic agents, allowing them to control their own financial resources, solicit additional funding, complete community projects, and run small businesses more effectively.
Several ECN communities have formed a fruitful partnership with Barefoot College, a school in India whose objective is to provide development solutions to make rural communities more self-sufficient and sustainable. The ECN supported multiple community members, all of whom are women, to receive training in solar engineering with Barefoot College in India. These women brought their skills back to their villages and now install and maintain solar panels, providing a source of electricity to communities and supplying the women with an independent source of family income. With light, children can do homework, doctors can perform emergency medical procedures, and adults can continue income-generating activities into the night. The solar engineers then train other community members and those in neighboring communities so that as more solar panels become available, communities are equipped to properly manage them.

Working with Oxfam and Freedom from Hunger, Tostan’s ECN has trained and implemented Saving for Change, an innovative microcredit system in which communities save their own money collectively over time and later use the communal funds to provide microcredit loans, emergency assistance, or accomplish community projects. They do this in conjunction with traditional microcredit financing through donors to further support the use of income-generating skills developed during the CEP.

The Empowered Communities Network ensures that projects initiated at the ground level are supported in a sustainable way through innovative partnerships and community collaboration. Through this approach, communities are able to accelerate their own development efforts and become a powerful force for positive change.
For more information on the Empowered Communities Network, click here.