Michelle Elcoat Poulton

From field work in The Gambia (North Bank) and Mali (Cercle de Kolondieba, Sikasso Region), Michelle became Regional Director for West Africa. She remained Director of SCF Mali, and took over supervision of programs in Burkina Faso, The Gambia, Senegal and Cameroon. At the same time she served as the voluntary Chairman of the Band Aid committee in Mali, and was elected Secretary General of the CCA-ONG, the NGO Coordinating Committee for Mali. Her pursuit of program excellence and her staff development achievements brought her the SCF Award for Outstanding Staff Member of the year in 1993.

Kolondieba, Mali, 1989, on the southern frontier with Ivory Coast in the forest region of Sikasso.

As West African Director of Save the Children, Michelle transformed West African perceptions of rural education. Primary education is theoretically free and universal: yet the plain facts are that there is no money, there are too few teachers and they are not paid. In addition, few students manage to pass through the 12 years of formal schooling in 12 years (probably not more than 1% which represents incredible waste of resources and children). Elementary schools needed redesigning. Michelle's support of community schools in Kolondieba (southern Mali) set a new standard with parents building their schools and paying their own teachers to teach reading, and writing and arithmetic - using not the colonial language (French in Mali) but the children's own native tongue. This work gave rise to a new national policy in 1992: La Nouvelle Ecole Malienne. Mali's village schools were immortalized in a UNESCO publication called Village schools which has become a standard reference for specialists in non-formal education. The concept of community schools using the children's native language as an educational tool has become an African commonplace. SCF Project Manager Solo KANTE and Education Minister Adama SAMASSEKOU were Michelle's partners in this exciting educational adventure which transformed Mali's education policy for the better.

Here Michelle receives the 1989 visit of Bill Dixon, Vice President of SCF. Michelle's team included (from left to right) Solo Kante, Boubacar Diarra, Dado Coulibaly (in right) and Adam Keehn.

Michelle's leadership in the health sector was equally important. Vaccination rates rose and she created an immensely valuable database, training villagers to keep their own records. Meanwhile a major women's credit program had been created which brought Sikasso's rural women into the banking system for the very first time. This is women's development and gender empowerment in action!

In was in 1995 that Michelle was asked to join CCF and take over the European Office, based in Geneva. This gave her the chance to expand her knowledge of civil society into the countries of former Soviet Union and its sphere of influence: Ukraine and Belarus, the three Baltic States, Albania, Poland, Hungary and then into former Yugoslavia. The work with victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident provided Michelle wih her most harrowing memories. For this work Michelle and CCF were awarded a Gold Medal by the Confederation of States in Moscow (1998).

She started the new Millennium in Richmond Virginia, where Michelle is currently the Vice-President for International Programs of the world's most respected non-governmental child development agency working in forty countries. She has become the 'Mother of 8 million children'. More important, she has produced teams that are capable of excellence in areas as diverse as child protection and maternal health, and in places as varied as the violent slums of Brazil, the war torn mountains of Afghanistan, the savage forests of Sierra Leone and the refugee camps of Eastern Chad.

Michelle is one of those leaders who will never claim the credit. For her it is always 'her teams' that produce great work, or 'her colleagues' who are exceptional. If that is so - and we have no doubt that it is true - it is because they enjoy exceptional, quiet, focused leadership from Dr Michelle Elcoat Poulton.


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