Grandmother Project – Change through Culture (GMP’s) is an American and Senegalese NGO.  Their program in Senegal with schools and communities uses an intergenerational and grandmother-inclusive approach to promote positive change for women and children, especially girls. We have recognized that grandmothers are an abundant resource for promoting the education and well-being of families and their children and our program capitalizes on the grandmother resource to bring about positive change. 


In more traditional and collectivist cultures in Africa, Asia, Latin America and The Pacific, elders are respected and have authority in families and communities.  Grandmothers in particular play a pivotal role in families throughout the lifecycle on issues related to women and children. Most programs dealing with critical issues concerning women and children including: health/ nutrition; pregnancy; care of sick children; early childhood development; girls’ education, early/forced marriage; teenage pregnancy; and FGM do not explicitly involve grandmothers and focus rather on younger women and girls. We identified this blatant gap between grandmothers’ multi-faceted role and their non-inclusion in programs dealing with all of their domains of responsibility and influence. This gap is largely due to the intrusion of western ageist attitudes and results in: disempowering grandmothers; alienating younger women from older ones; and reducing program results because grandmothers’ role is not respected and because they do not have access to the same information as younger women.

GMP developed an approach to bridge this gap – our innovative Change through Culture approach builds on existing cultural roles, values and resources.  The approach involves all categories of community actors with particular emphasis on optimizing the grandmother resource. The strategy increases Grandmothers’ knowledge of “modern” practices, like education of girl children and delaying marriage of children under 18 years of age, to encourage them to choose the best mix of traditional and new ideas; and it empowers them to play a leadership role to catalyze change in communities for women and children, especially girls.  

Technical details & Operations

GMP’s current program has two strategies: 1) working with communities and schools in southern Senegal to develop, implement and evaluate innovative approaches to Values Education and to Girls’ Holistic Development; 2) training other organizations in the Change through Culture approach.

The first strategy, involving communities and schools in the Velingara area of Senegal has two components and their respective goals are as follows:

Component I: Integrating Positive Cultural Values into Schools

Goal: to improve the quality of education in primary and secondary schools, by making programs more culturally relevant, thus increasing pupil attendance and achievement.  

Component II: Girls’ Holistic Development 

Goal: To increase community capacity to promote girls’ education and to decrease child marriage, teenage pregnancy and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM)

Component I: Integrating Positive Cultural Values into Schools (IPCVS) 

This program has been developed in close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and responds to national concerns regarding the loss of cultural identity and values.

IPCVS objectives:

  •     Integrate positive cultural values and knowledge into schools
  •     Strengthen collaboration between teachers and communities
  •     Increase involvement of parents and grandparents in children’s education at home 
  •     Involve grandmothers in values education activities in schools 

IPCVS activities supported by GMP:  a series of participatory activities are supported by GMP to contribute to the objectives above.

  •     Teacher training workshops on the IPCVS strategy; 
  •     Development of IPVCS Teachers’ Guide & 5 reading booklets on cultural values and distribution of these materials to all schools; 
  •     Grandmother-Teacher workshops to increase their collaboration promoting children’s education;
  •     Story-telling contests; 
  •     Days of Praise of Grandmothers to increase recognition of grandmothers’ role in children’s education at school and at home.

In a 2018 competition organized by the African Union, out of 400 nominees GMP was one of 5 winners of an Innovation in Education Award for the IPCVS strategy. GMP was the only winner recognized for values education work. All others were technological innovations.  IPCVS has the potential to transform education across Senegal and we believe that approach could definitely be adapted and used in other countries across the Global South. 

Component II: Girls’ Holistic Development (GHD) 

This program was developed with the local Ministry of Education directors and with the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. It addresses various key facets of girls’ rights and development that are national and local priority concerns.

GHD objectives:

  •     Promotes change in culturally-embedded social norms related to GHD e.g. girls’ education, child marriage, teen pregnancy and FGM
  •     Strengthens grandmothers’ status and authority to promote change for girls in families and communities 
  •     Strengthens relationships between girls, mothers and grandmothers
  •     Increases the self-confidence and sense of empowerment of adolescent girls
  •     Strengthens the role of formal and informal leaders to catalyze change for girls
  •     Empowers communities to analyze alternative attitudes and practices and to make their own decisions on norms and practices to be preserved or abandoned in favor of GHD

GHD activities supported by GMP: a series of intergenerational and transformative learning activities are carried out with community actors, male and female, of three generations to contribute to accomplishing the objectives above.

  •     Intergenerational forums
  •     Days of Praise of Grandmothers
  •     Grandmother Leadership Training
  •     All women forums (with girls, mothers and grandmothers)
  •     Days of Dialogue and Solidarity
  •     Under-the-three participatory learning sessions with different community groups

GMP’s work is implemented by an 11-person team in Senegal that is supported virtually by the Executive Director, 3 part-time staff, and 12 volunteers.  In the Velingara area, the IPCVS program is implemented in 57 schools in collaboration with 252 teachers and coordinated by 5 Ministry of Education staff. 

GMP’s second strategy involves training other organizations on our Change through Culture approach.  This has taken place through annual 5-day workshops with participants from 9 other West African countries, primarily French-speaking (from 8 countries) and in English-speaking Sierra Leone.  This generic training deals with the cultural facets of African societies, e.g. elders, grandmothers, intergenerational relationships, and our systemic approach to understanding and involving all segments of the community in participatory learning and consensus-building for change.  Since 2014, more than 300 African staff of international and local NGOs, and also of government departments have been trained in our Change through Culture approach.  It is not easy to track former trainees following the training but the feedback we have received suggests that many of them have been able to implement all or part of the GMP approach in their own programs across West Africa.

Deployment & Impact

In the several programs involving a grandmother-inclusive approach, in Senegal and elsewhere, in all cases the results have been positive in terms of changes in grandmothers’ knowledge, attitudes and practice, and in the attitudes and behavior of other family and community members. The grandmother-inclusive approach has led to the following positive change related to:

  • Home treatment of child diarrhea in Laos
  • The diet and care of pregnant women in Senegal and Mali
  • Newborn and young child nutritional practices with children in Senegal, Mali and Djibouti
  • Early and forced marriage of adolescent girls in Senegal and Mauritania
  • Teen pregnancies in Senegal
  • Female Genital Mutilation in Senegal
  • Intergenerational relationships and communication 

In non-western cultural contexts in which extended families are strong, grandmothers play a key role in all aspects of the lives of women and children, especially of girls.  Programs to support these groups are more effective if they acknowledge and build on grandmothers’ culturally-designated role while at the same time involving other categories of community actors in order to promote community-wide and sustained change.