Every Friday, we will share the story of a member of the Tostan team. The wide range of people who contribute to Tostan each bring with them a unique perspective on community development, and use their talents and knowledge in important ways to make our programs possible.

While undertaking research on land rights in Senegal’s northern desert, Marieke Kruis noticed how a lack of information was holding many people back from reaching their full potential. For example, many of those she interviewed for her study were not familiar with the laws regarding their property and would sometimes find themselves not getting a fair deal. This situation was made more difficult without the ability to read or an understanding of how they could access legal recourse for the problems they faced.

Along with issues directly related to her research, Marieke noticed many other challenges in these communities that she attributed to a lack of information, including preventable diseases such as diarrhea and an absence of women in decision-making processes. These experiences made Marieke think seriously about community development, wanting to learn more about how workable solutions for these challenges could be developed.

Originally from the Netherlands, Marieke has been fascinated by other cultures since she was a child. “I remember spending a lot of time just staring at the world map,” she recalls, “I was always very curious about the way people lived in other countries.” After studying anthropology and development in her university, Marieke chose to pursue a Master’s degree in African Studies, which led to her later research project in Senegal. After her experiences with communities she decided: “I wanted to do something practical – to see what my role could be in helping resolve these issues. Some of my friends in Senegal told me about Tostan, and I really liked how the program was based in education and gave people information they can really use.” Marieke contacted Tostan, and today she puts her organizational skills to use as part of the Grants Management team in Dakar, Senegal.

As a Grants Officer, Marieke follows ongoing projects in the field closely, ensuring that donor requirements are met while helping the team implementing the project with any issues that arise. Planned activities need to be carried out in time, within the budget, and need to be reported on according to donor specifications. Marieke produces regular reports on each project that include the most recent information from communities and helps her team develop proposals to apply for new sources of funding.

Marieke’s position is especially important in securing stable, long-term funding sources for projects. “Donors make Tostan’s work possible, and I want to make sure that they keep their confidence in us. When they sign a grant with Tostan, they put their trust in us to manage their resources to accomplish certain goals. As we build these relationships and show them the great results we can achieve together, more resources become available as time goes on.”

Sometimes, there are unexpected complications that prevent a project from being completed as planned. By keeping communication open with donors, the Grants team helps to find flexible solutions to work with them to still accomplish the goals set out at the beginning of the project. “In Mali, communities were nearing the end of the program when the government collapsed in March, 2012. Because of the suspension of activities in the beginning of April, Tostan was not able to finish the five remaining months of the program. Fortunately, we were able to secure other funding sources and in January 2013 we began working towards completing the project in Mali.” Once the situation stabilized, the donors helped finance a declaration in June 2013.

One of the benefits of Marieke’s position is how much she is able to learn about the entire organization. As she describes, “one of the best things about working with grants is that I am in the middle of the organization – I need to work with every department, every project, and many country offices to make sure everyone is happy with how things are going. I have learned a lot about other departments, such as the Monitoring and Evaluation team and the Finance department. I am also the key focal point for many people from the field, making sure that country offices have the funds and support they need to carry out their activities.” Working at the center of Tostan, Marieke and her colleagues in the Grants Management team collaborate with almost everyone in the organization to ensure that Tostan keeps its promises to donors and can support more communities in Africa.