Will Radke is a long-time supporter and one of the originators of Tostan’s partnership with Austin College in Sherman, Texas.
He is currently a Managing Director at Goldman Sachs. Discover his full story with us!
What is your Tostan story?
I went to university at Austin College in Sherman, Texas. There I took a class with Carol Daeley, who was an English professor, and who also was a good friend of Bernice Melvin – a former roommate of Molly Melching. And in fact my sophomore year, Molly came to speak at Austin College, and it ended up that I got to drive Molly around campus as a sort of student host, which was an incredible 1-on-1 interaction with her.
At Austin College there were so many speakers and visitors who came to campus. Most of the speeches I don’t remember, but I still remember Molly’s speech even today. She shared her story – she has had such an incredible journey, it really struck me deeply. And one of the things that really resonated with me was this refreshing perspective she shared: she said, basically, “people so often show up to places and think they know how to run things, but you have to first work with the community, understand the community.” It really made sense to me and I was fascinated to hear how Tostan works, working so carefully with the community.
And that was only the beginning of something much bigger, wasn’t it?
Yes, when I got to meet Molly and hear that speech, I was a sophomore and the next year, I took a class in development economics and learned about microcredit and financial models for helping communities. And I can still remember the day when I was walking across campus and I said “I wonder if Tostan is doing anything with microcredit?” And so I reached out to Tostan and it turned out that there was a program. We decided to host a dinner to raise money to support microcredit in communities working with Tostan. We raised about $3000. Then we hosted another dinner the next year.
The dinners were very well received, and we really liked the project. But I didn’t know what would happen after I graduated. Luckily Austin College Service Station then picked up and carried the dinners forward. Today, 15 years later, the Tostan dinner is still continuing. It is something that is humbling to see – and I think it is in the spirit of Tostan – sometimes the ideas we have and the work we do can sustain for many years.
And also for me personally, my exposure to Tostan is something that has stayed with me, even in my own life. Some of those stories of what communities did with the microcredit funds – those I have kept with me. Also, I have worked abroad in Asia for the past 13 years, before my recent return to Texas, and that whole time, I have kept Molly’s words from that speech. Wherever you find yourself in the world, try to work from where people are, to recognize that you are in a different culture and to really seek to understand beyond the surface. That has been so helpful to me.
And I suppose I also have to mention that it was at a Tostan dinner at Austin College where my wife saw me for the very first time. So that is a special connection for me as well!
What do you hope for Tostan’s next 30 years?
I hope Tostan continues to stay true to the initial mission. It has already inspired and impacted so many people. A lot of organizations that stick around for so long – the way they do that is by staying true to the guiding principles you were founded on. Of course the world changes, but those can somehow remain. I have no doubt that Tostan will continue, and that it will be successful. For me, Tostan is a wonderful organization – one that takes things to a different level, there is a deeper feeling, a drive and passion.
This story has been created in the framework of Tostan’s 30th Anniversary. 30 stories will be published in 2021, celebrating the amazing Tostan’s Family. This is a way for us to honor communities and local leaders as well as our teams, partners, networks, donors and anyone who has joined us on this journey.