What is your background?
I am an Italian national. I left Italy when I was 22 to get my Master’s from the Science Po graduate school in Paris. I had always been interested in the world outside of Italy and I seized any possible opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds and horizons.
Very early on I developed a passion for development work and Africa, and found myself on this amazing continent when I was 24 years old. It has never let me go since. In subsequent years, I worked in the field with a variety of development organizations, with only a two-year interruption to get an executive MBA from Georgetown University/ESADE. My husband and I have a 3-year old child.
I love discovering the world from a bike. I’m a tango enthusiast.
How long have you been in Africa? What has your work prior to Tostan been focused on?
I have lived and worked in Africa for 15 years now, first in West Africa in Burkina Faso and then Tanzania and Kenya East-Africa.
One could say that the main theme of my professional career has been the empowerment of women and the communities in which they live. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to work with some of the most important organizations advancing the development agenda from different perspectives, such as Marie Stopes International and the World Bank. This has given me a wide-ranging experience in managing and leading in complex environments.
Enrolling in the Global Executive MBA from Georgetown University and ESADE Business School has allowed me to build on this field experience and enhanced my skills in organizational management and coaching, sharpening my inclination in this direction.
What I’m most grateful for over these past 15 years though is that African communities, and African women in particular, have taught me what dignity means.
So much of what I have done and hope to do is inspired and guided by what I’ve learned from the women and communities with whom I’ve worked. So I guess in that sense my work is both a focus, and also deeply personal– a blessing, a source of wisdom and strength.
What interests you about leading Tostan now?
Though it may sound like a cliché, for me it is something of a dream come true to be chosen to lead Tostan. If you care deeply about helping communities lead their own development, particularly the empowerment of women and girls, then Tostan is really a unique organization. It is so rare to find the strong commitment Tostan has made to its programs in Africa, while constantly working from the level of community realities. I first saw Tostan’s work over 10 years ago as a partner in the field in Burkina Faso, and from that moment told myself that it was a place where I would aspire to work.
Joining Tostan 6 months ago as interim COO and getting to know the organization firsthand, there have been so many unexpected, pleasant surprises. It really feels like everywhere I turn, there are amazing things that Tostan is quietly doing that are innovative and progressive. This is a delightful surprise when you are coming in as a new leader. You should have seen me the first time I saw the Tostan Training Center (my Tostan colleagues say that my jaw literally dropped open) or the first time I really understood some of our flagship projects, like our Breakthrough Generation, or hidden gems like the Reinforcement of Parental Practices programs, as well as our partnership with the Gates Foundation and how they are opening new spheres for Tostan’s mission achievement.
Of course, leadership is all about people, and I found so many dedicated staff here at Tostan, as well as a global community of engaged and passionate supporters and partners. And I also saw Molly’s leadership, creativity and determination, I saw her doing what so few founders do–proactively seeking to step back from her role as CEO. To get the chance to work with Molly herself, in any capacity– is such an inspiration for me.
On top of all that I saw that Molly’s transition was going to be an incredible moment for the organization, and that my experiences and skills would be a very good fit for what the organization needed right at this moment. I told myself, I could really make that change happen in the best way, with respect, tact and empathy given all what Molly has achieved while looking forward to having even more impact.
What do you see as Tostan’s potential for the future?
After an admittedly intense 6 months with Tostan, there are three words that come to mind right away when I think about our potential: scale, sustainability and impact.
First, there is clear potential to increase scale, across all three of Tostan’s program platforms–the Community Empowerment Program – CEP, the post-CEP and the Training Center. There are some clear opportunities to move to bigger scale in 2017 and 2018 for all three of these and my impression is that we can take some big steps towards our Strategic Engagement Goals fairly quickly.
And scale is also about rethinking how we partner, how we deliver our programs. For example, Tostan is currently working on strengthening the connections between CEP and post-CEP programs within the local governmental priorities as governments seek to decentralize services and become more accountable. This new innovation piece is indeed game-changing for our impact and sustainability.
The second word that comes to mind is sustainability. I also see opportunities for the organization to become more self-sustaining. The Tostan Training Center is attracting remarkable interest from partners in all corners of the globe as well as dozens of likeminded NGOs who we share with and learn from. This Center will be self-supporting soon and I think this type of approach can grow further.
I am also deeply impressed by the level of support and commitment of Tostan’s thoughtful and programs-driven partners, who believe so whole-heartedly in the Tostan approach that they contribute without restriction. This is a remarkable community that I am excited to meet and learn from.
The third word is impact. I think Tostan is bringing a missing voice and approach to the development space, one that really does lead to important and impressive impacts. In this sense I think Tostan’s biggest potential in the coming years is to leverage our unique approach and extend our influence to the global community. Together with those like-minded partners we will prove the long term, multi-dimensional impact of empowering communities to lead their development agenda.