Michelle Elcoat Poulton

Dr Michelle Elcoat Poulton's career in child development has spanned all the continents. In West Africa - as Director of Save the Children - Michelle transformed UNESCO's and Mali's perceptions of rural education through her support of community schools in Kolondieba (southern Mali). This was 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 commonplace.

In Central Europe and in West Africa, she has transformed civil society and brought NGOs into the political process as joint decision makers with government and international organizations, especially in the areas of child welfare and maternal health. As President of the NGO Committee for UNICEF, Michelle has built on her achievements in West Africa where she was one of those who brought technical expertise to local non-governmental organizations and created the platform that allowed African civil society organizations to participate in policy formulation. This has reached the state where Civil Society can be considered in West Africa as the second of Six Pillars of the State (after the Executive, and ahead of the Legislature, the Judiciary, Religion, and the Security Forces).

As European Director of the Christian Children's Fund based in Geneva, Michelle became involved in the crafting of civil society in a post-Soviet world where voluntary associations had always been discouraged. Her work with children victims of the Chernobyl nuclear accident and children who were victims of sex tourism has been pioneering and has received wide recognition in the former Soviet states, where large numbers of sister organizations now exist - Belorussian Children's Fund, Ukrainian Children's Fund, Latvian Children's Fund etc, each sounding more exotic than the next in a range of exciting languages we cannot understand! Michelle understands more than most, and she communicates fluently in English, French and German, understands Spanish, Italian, Mandinka, Bambara and Persian, and was getting competent in elementary Russian until she moved to Richmond Virginia to take up higher responsibilities in the CCF organization and in Child Fund International.

Michelle is of course bi-national: she was born in France of a French mother, with a British father of Irish origin who was raised 'Geordie' in Newcastle. Her birthplace of Quimper places Michelle squarely in the capital of Brittany, making her a Celt on both sides of the family. Brittany is also where her children were born in the coastal city of St Brieuc, the same town where her parents were married after the war. Here beside the ocean are the places and spaces where Michelle finds spiritual peace, near the house on the cliffs that she and her husband keep as the family home and permanent retreat.


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