On November 2, 2015 Tostan hosted a Twitter Chat to launch our #TostanTAG campaign. This month-long campaign is intended to encourage the global community to TALK, ACT and GIVE. To get the conversation started, we invited organizational partners, supporters and development-enthusiasts of all stripes to join us for a discussion on holistic, grassroots change–and the role we can all play in supporting this kind of change.

We opened by asking what a “holistic approach” to development really means, in practice. Our participants talked about working at the individual, community and national levels. Others pointed to the importance of considering the whole person, and the whole community when addressing a problem. Holistic development for some meant participants in a program being able to reflect on their own experiences, across a range of subjects. Similarly, others spoke of taking into account the experience, knowledge and skills already existing in communities, and not just those coming from the outside.

Specifically, when it comes to violence prevention and response, Together for Girls pointed to how their organizational and country partners work holistically across multiple sectors to address violence against children. Johnson & Johnson Global Health cited the example of fistula patients needing more than medical care, but also psycho-social support when reintegrating into their communities. This example in turn perfectly reflects the ‘whole person’/’whole community’ perspective.

So what does real, grassroots, community-led change look like, wherever it is happening? CHANGE underscored the importance of women and girls leading the policy changes that reflect their needs, wants and experiences. Tostan staff argued that this change happens when communities are at the helm, deciding for themselves just what this ‘change’ would entail (whether it’s a health clinic, a school or a community garden). ZanaAfrica echoed this sentiment, saying grassroots change happens when success is defined from the bottom up.

Just as our participants felt change can only come from and be driven by the communities themselves, so did they find their inspiration for this work originating in such community efforts. From the thousands of Tostan partner communities that have collectively abandoned female genital cutting (FGC) and child marriage, to the leadership and dedication at the local level that supports the robust Together for Girls public-private partnership.

And what are the “key issues” the global development community must address to create “lasting” change? Village Health Works eloquently stated, “Removing barriers to dignity by providing access to high-quality health care and education are key for prosperity, peace and justice.” CHANGE underscored sexual and reproductive health and rights for women and girls, so they may achieve bodily integrity. Together for Girls highlighted the long-term negative impacts of violence against children, which impact every country across the globe.

So what can we–anyone!–do to support community-led, grassroots change?  Johnson & Johnson Global Health encourage investing in youth leaders, allowing for them to spearhead the advancements needed in their communities and beyond. Anna’s Friends reminded us that “ignorance is 100% curable!” and advocated for conversations to happen with friends and family. Tostan DC staff pointed out that even small financial gifts can add up and support real on-the-ground efforts, while on a grander scale, CHANGE’s Serra Sippel underscored the need for donors to invest in advocacy and women’s rights defenders.

The conversation had addressed a number of topics, however, there were others our participants felt need to be more squarely placed on the global agenda. These topics included better mental health support, violence against the LGBTQ community, and engaging religious leaders to help communities understand harmful practices.

Lastly, we asked, “What can we do to turn talk into action; to turn a hashtag into a conversation into lasting and viable solutions?”

Our partners replied with a chorus of “raise your voice!” Join the conversation, speak up about what matters to you, and bring these discussions outside of our networks, beyond the proverbial “choir.” As Erin Whiteley wrote, “Inspire change by sharing what YOU want to change!” Anna’s Friends reinforced the idea that it’s “ok to start small!” and “something is not nothing.”

In that vein, we at Tostan encourage YOU to keep the conversation going. Join us as we continue to play Tostan TAG all month with our global family: share with us what issues matter to you, who you think should be engaged in the conversation, and take action to bring about real, generational change. You’re it!

To find out more about how you can participate directly in Tostan’s TAG campaign, click here.


Written by Joya Taft-Dick, Senior Communications Officer, Tostan