A “Pénc” for African Wellbeing: Convening social change actors at a critical moment

Guest post by

Elena Bonometti, CEO of Tostan

African, community-centered, collaborative models are showing a way forward that is organized around locally driven and globally supported efforts. Locally-led initiatives, capacity development for communities and agency-first programs are mapping ways to both address unequal and antiquated power dynamics, and ensure that communities are centered and leading as they face shared global challenges.  

Yet even with promising directions like these, the realities of rapid, multiple global crises and growing challenges have also created a largely unaddressed and growing risk: those at the center of social change and wellbeing efforts are being stretched increasingly thin. In particular, there is a growing risk that the wellbeing of the social sector and community leaders is declining when the world needs it the most. 

Wellbeing can be defined in numerous ways. In Tostan’s work in partnership with communities, it is communities that define what wellbeing means for them and their goals. Commonly we see themes around health, finance, education, women’s leadership, equality, and governance emerging. These are lessons we must take into professional, personal and community-wide projects to consider wellbeing not as a “nice to have” but as absolutely essential to social cohesion. 

The potential challenge  of a decline in wellbeing is especially relevant  in West Africa, where a  social sector already confronted in recent decades by major issues — in health, education, economic hardship and many others — now faces many new challenges simultaneously – as climate change joins pandemics, challenges to peace and security and the erosion of democracy, and increasing inequality. 

Yet West Africa also has many positive aspects and major contributions to make to our world – ways of seeing and being that promote inclusion and respect and increasingly feel relevant to a fragmented world. As my colleague Carina Ndiaye, Chief Partnerships Officer for Tostan puts it:

In Senegal we call it Teraanga. For openness, sharing. It means: we invite you to come in.  But this cultural norm is present throughout the region and throughout the continent…Through Teraanga, the concept behind the Hindi word Namaste (meaning: the light in me sees the light in you), is extended and reinforced to say, what is mine is yours. Not only materialistically, but the earth, the sun, the sea, and the unseen as well. From visitor to member. From transitory to influenced. In our culture, the ‘you’ never stands alone. What affects you, what ails you, what reinforces you also affects me and my community. And community means any, and everyone, who walks our way and crosses our path.

In Senegal and across West Africa, when challenges arise, a community gathering – referred to as a pénc in Wolof – is called to bring together the community for discussion. 

For all these reasons Tostan and our partners will host an African-based, African-led, globally connected pénc – a convening at the intersection of wellbeing as a global goal–and growth of wellbeing as a daily practice in our organizations, communities, and personal lives. To support the emergence of sustained impacts in wellbeing through practices of wellbeing. wellbeing within ourselves, our organizations, our communities, our nations, and around our world. 

Together with partners like you we hope to convene a discussion among African actors about critical local, regional and global issues at the heart of wellbeing across the continent.