Tostan’s inaugural Wellbeing Summit event stands as an example of how to build more equitable and locally-driven platforms for communities to gather and collaborate. By highlighting these stories, Humentum hopes to inspire a wave of shared reflection and learning. Birima Fall, Tostan’s Senior Programme Manager, shares more.
What is wellbeing in Africa for those who devote their lives to caring for others, with others? This was the very question we sought to answer at the First Regional Wellbeing Summit in Thies, a gathering of more than 180 participants from all corners of the continent. It was a time for breathing and (re)thinking, for sharing and listening, for dancing and painting amidst a shared aspiration: to redefine and reimagine wellbeing.
In a circle of people of all ages, energy and passion emanated from their discussions as they explored the driving forces of their own wellbeing as Africans while crafting a vision for the future of their communities. The room was abuzz with “alafia” a word for peace in many languages in West Africa.
My colleagues and I at Tostan, were deeply honored to host this gathering alongside a range of partners, including Global Fund for Children, The Wellbeing Project, and many others.
As we reflect on the key takeaway of this summit, one message stands out: the power of bringing people together to foster dialogue for positive social change. It has been a timely reminder of Tostan’s core mission: to empower communities through education, dialogue, and collective action to create a more just and equitable future for all.
How we come together matters
Roots matter, and language matters. Let’s begin with two Wolof words—a Senegalese language—that embody this wisdom: pénc and téraangă.
- Pénc, the traditional gathering space, serves as a platform for community discussions, storytelling, problem-solving, and celebration. In our culture, when an issue rises, our people come together, to the pénc, to discuss, to share and make important decisions that will affect all the community.
- Téraangă is widely present in many African regions as a way of acknowledging the interconnectedness of individuals within a community—“I am, because you are, what affects you also affects me”. It emphasizes the importance of respecting human dignity, sharing knowledge, and fostering collective wisdom. These concepts have inspired our work at Tostan over the past 32 years, co-creating programs with communities. And over the past decade, we have expanded our approach to work with hundreds of local leaders.
We have always understood that sustainable social change depends on our ability to take action collectively. The Summit was framed in the same spirit, as we believe that by coming together and sharing our collective wisdom, we can foster wellbeing in our communities. I was proud that we were able to model the traditional ways of gathering and respectful communication that are found across African countries.
Building upon the positive feedback we received from summit participants—and in the spirit of a blog previously shared by Humentum CEO Christine Sow—we’ve compiled a list of key takeaways that may be helpful when engaging with communities.
- Your existing resources and partnerships are already enough: In planning this summit, Tostan engaged many of its partners in new ways. We built our cohort of potential speakers and participants by beginning with those we knew and asking for recommendations and ideas. We didn’t just prioritize themes or issues, we got to know people better while creating spaces for local expertise and new ideas. This shaped our agenda, allowing us to collaborate with a diverse network of partners.
- Relationships are key: Building trust is the most important aspect, because it’s through fostering relationships that communities can come together to have meaningful conversations and make critical decisions that promote their wellbeing.
- Build on what works: We received wonderful guidance from The Wellbeing Project— the original network that started these events. And through their valuable support, we were able to build upon lessons learned from recent summits elsewhere around the world. Furthermore, our Tostan team and advisors attended other summits to learn and share within this broader community, too.
- The beauty and power of local perspective and language: In this blog, and in all of our communications related to this summit, we have intentionally prioritized the use of local terminology and perspectives. We believe that a crucial part of modeling the new ways gatherings can happen is to invite audiences to embrace new ways of seeing and understanding the world.
As we navigate the challenges and opportunities in the coming years, let us strive to organize gatherings that are not only geographically diverse, but also inclusive, equitable, and locally led. By doing so, we can create spaces where dialogue, collaboration, and action can flourish, paving the way for positive social change.
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