HarperCollins Speakers Bureau

Molly Melching

Human Rights Advocate, Non formal Education Specialist, and Expert on Ending Harmful Traditional Practices


  • African Development
  • Non Formal Education
  • Human Rights
  • Changing Harmful Social Norms Such As Female Genital Cutting and Child Marriage
  • Women's Empowerment and Gender Issues in the Developing World


Africa, District of Columbia
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Molly Melching has lived and worked in Senegal, West Africa since 1974 and has dedicated her life to the empowerment of communities at the grassroots level. Highly regarded for her expertise in non formal education, human rights training, and social transformation, Melching is an American woman whose experience as an exchange student in Senegal led her to found the human rights organization Tostan and spend almost four decades of her life working with the young girls and women of Africa.Her inspiring story is the subject of Aimee Molloy's riveting biography However Long the Night: Molly Melching's Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph (HarperOne). A dynamic speaker, Melching is an excellent fit for civil and human rights organizations, women's rights and advocacy groups, schools and universities, corporations, and cultural societies. Melching also makes appearances with author Aimee Molloy, bringing to light one of the world's most pressing problems and inviting audiences to help spread this urgent message.

Melching's early experiences working with children in Dakar, Senegal and living in a rural village for three years enforced her beliefs that many development efforts were not addressing the true needs and realities of African communities. In collaboration with the villagers, Melching began to develop a new type of learning program that actively involved both adults and adolescents by using African languages and traditional methods of learning. Their efforts grew throughout the 1980s, leading Melching to found Tostan in 1991. Tostan is an organization whose innovative grassroots education model engages communities for three years in cross-cutting themes of democracy, human rights, problem-solving, hygiene, health, literacy, project management skills, and parental education.

Melching's work with Tostan has brought her international recognition, especially her efforts in spearheading the grassroots movement for the abandonment of female genital cutting, and child/forced marriage. The program has led to more than 6,500 communities in eight African countries abandoning the practice of female genital cutting and has received numerous awards, including Sweden's Anna Lindh Human Rights Award, the Conrad N. Hilton Humanitarian Prize, UNESCO's King Sejong Literacy Prize, and the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship.

In 2012, Fast Company named Melching in its "League of Extraordinary Women" and Forbes has called her "one of the most powerful women in women's rights." She is the recipient of The University of Illinois's Alumni Humanitarian Award, The Sargent Shriver Humanitarian Award, The Meredith McRae Leadership Award from the International Women's Forum, the Women of Impact Award (Women in the World 2013) and the Distinguished Service Award from the government of Senegal.

Praise for Molly Melching:

"What an incredible evening we had with Molly! Proof that 'one person' can move mountains and change the world. When you meet someone like Molly you might think that we do live in hopeful times, if you know where to place your gaze!"
-- Mary Carrington, Attorney

"I was riveted by the story of Molly Melching -- and her step-by-step journey as an adventurous and idealistic young woman determined to live in the larger world but discovering her life's work in a small corner of Africa. Working alongside the villagers of Senegal, teaching them first about health practices and gradually about human rights, she started a movement to end female genital cutting that has transformed a country and has the potential to transform a continent. Listening to her speak about Tostan, the amazing organization she founded, one cannot doubt the power of one individual to change the world.
-- Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey, Author of A Woman of Independent Means

"I saw Molly at a recent book stop in California. Wow. Molly is a quietly intense person overflowing with a sense of mission. You feel it. She is a doer. She asks for nothing. And she has humor. Truly remarkable. Hers is a story we all benefit from. She is who I would have liked to be... perhaps, in another life. "
-- George St. Johns, Appraiser

"What an inspiring, enlightening, and wonderful evening you provided for all of us. Meeting extraordinary Molly was an absolute revelation and hearing her so eloquently speak of her goals and accomplishments just makes one want to 'jump on board' to help her lead us to a better world. Having visited the places she mentioned made me even more cognizant of the hurdles she faced and is seemingly conquering. What a woman! Hopefully, she will get the Nobel Peace Prize. She certainly deserves it!"
-- Maralou Harrington, Supporter

"I have been reflecting all day on last night. Molly was wonderful. I am looking forward to reading the book. Sort of makes one feel so sad that we could do so much more in the World with guidance from people like Molly running it."
- Patricia Steinmann, Registered Nurse

"Today's lunch table conversation at the office was all about your presentation yesterday. You reached into peoples' heads and hearts with your message of respect and real change."
-- Foundation leader in Palo Alto, California

"Molly Melching is one of those special women who can talk about the most serious and complicated issues in the simplest and most entertaining way. When she speaks and describes her life and work in Senegal, you can picture in your mind's eye, where she is, what she's doing and how she's doing it. Molly has a unique approach to whatever task she tackles. Her complete understanding of both men and women in tense situations allows her to accomplish a successful end result few others ever achieve. But what makes her speaking engagements so entertaining is the explanation and descriptive ways she tells her stories. You come away from an encounter with Molly with a total understanding of what she has accomplished coupled with an enormous feeling of gratitude that such an incredible woman exists in the world today and harbors such humility."
-- Jackie Frame, Organization Executive Director

Praise for However Long the Night:

"Molly Melching saw a deeply disturbing but deeply entrenched practice and refused to accept that it couldn't be stopped. Her relentless efforts are proof that commitment and partnership can drive transformational change."
-- Hilary Rodham Clinton

"The story of Molly Melching and Tostan proves that determined and loving individuals can accomplish the seemingly impossible--abandonment of a harmful tradition that is thousands of years old."
-- Former President Jimmy Carter

"Melching's incredible journey from Illinois to Africa, from graduate student to great humanitarian, is paralleled by the journey of the countless women touched by her work: a journey to understanding, empowerment and human dignity."
-- Lisa See, bestselling author of
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

"There is no way to overestimate the gift that Tostan and its leader, Molly Melching, have given to the world. The amount of suffering they have alleviated is beyond anything we can gauge. What a story, what a power, and what a blessing."
-- Marianne Williamson, New York Times bestselling author of
The Law of Divine Compensation

"Molloy offers a moving account of one woman's struggle to empower African women and challenge tradition...Reading like a novel, this book demonstrates the power of education and grassroots organizing."
Publishers Weekly

"Melching's transformation from Midwestern college graduate to thrill-seeking international crusader makes for compelling reading...Molloy has a reporter's knack for selecting and arranging the most salient details of Melching's experiences, and the resulting story is moving and memorable...Uplifting and inspirational."
-- Kirkus Reviews