Reflections on Accelerating ECD in Kenya

Content Manager • 29 November 2017

Over the decades, the critical importance and interconnectedness of Human Development efforts across the world has become increasingly sharpened with an exponentially growing tide of scientific evidence and social-cultural information becoming available over digital and social information networks. In particular, the striking body of overwhelming evidence through the Lancet Series and other sources on the Science of Brain Development in the Early Years - especially the first 1,000 days - has been irrefutable and very exciting.

Finally, we have a clear pointer to when the most accelerated period of brain development happens after birth and how it has significant implications for investing in new generations of children that can optimize their human development potential and be prepared for not just lifelong learning, but also, as the evidence clearly suggests, for lifelong social and economic engagement. An incredible “window of opportunity” for society to collectively maximize its investments in terms of human development returns.

This spotlight on ECD complements previous historic global efforts to focus on tertiary education in past decades and, more recently under Education for All (EFA), on Universal Primary Education and Secondary Education expansion. Now we can understand better the critical foundational prerequisites established in the earliest years to better prepare for lifelong learning and productivity.

From November 7th to 9th, the Institute for Human Development of the Aga Khan University in East Africa led by my colleague Dr. Kofi Marfo, hosted its Second International Conference on Early Childhood Development in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. This exciting and intensive three-day Conference was titled: “Early Childhood Development in Uncertain Times: From Awareness and Evidence to Commitment and Action”.

It was an interdisciplinary conference for researchers, practitioners, policy makers, program designers, students, governmental and non-governmental agencies, and civil society leaders. The Conference program and abstracts were based on an extensive agenda covering issues including strategic planning, research and knowledge management, communications and outreach, finance as well as innovation and catalytic funding opportunities. The Conference was invigorated with the latest brain science evidence published in the Lancet series on the importance of the Nurturing Care Framework extending across the domains of Health, Nutrition, Responsive Caregiving, Security and Safety, Early Learning and Cognitive Stimulation particularly in the first 1,000 days life when the greatest speed of brain development potential occurs. Also exciting was the convergence and cross cutting implications and connectivity presented by the SDG framework under the Agenda 2030 which further underscored the importance of cross thematic, cross sectoral and cross disciplinary collaborations and understanding to deepen investments and impacts on young children.

This was an opportunity for me to present and position the work of the SDG Philanthropy Platform at the UN in Kenya and ECD Action Network (ECDAN) in driving this exciting agenda forward with all stakeholders. It is clear that the SDG agenda advocates for cross sectoral collaborations and the ECD agenda clearly requires this synchronization of inputs especially in resource poor remote areas to leave no one behind. Therefore, our systems design workshop experience earlier this year through the Platform in Kenya with Stanford University and 35 diverse stakeholders, as well as our ECD innovation awards launched thereafter in Kenya were relevant to the discussions. This also helped to position the UN and the Platform credibly in the impressive array of Conference participants which included credible funding organizations as well as a wide array of implementing and research organizations and academia. There was some excitement as well around the opportunity of deepening the role of the SDG Philanthropy Platform in supporting the ECD Action Network ECDAN)mission in Kenya supported by the Hilton Foundation given the convening role and credibility of the Platform and the UN in Kenya. Finally, it was an opportunity to be invited to communicate the importance of the SDG and ECD agenda to the local media more broadly jointly upon invitation from the Aga Khan University leadership.

Further, in order to respond to the Addis Action Agenda for financing the SDGs, the SDG Partnership Platform was presented as an innovation to catalyze and unlock significant investments in Public Private Partnerships for accelerating Primary Health Care across Kenya with linkages to ECD with complementary supports being provided by SDG Philanthropy Platform Partners such as the Conrad Hilton Foundation

It is clear that the SDG agenda advocates for cross sectoral collaborations and the ECD agenda clearly requires this synchronization of inputs especially in resource poor remote areas to be true to the SDG motto to “leave no one behind”. Therefore, our systems design workshop experience through the Platform in Kenya with Stanford University and diverse stakeholders, as well as our ECD innovation awards were relevant to the discussions and helped to position the UN and the Platform credibly in the impressive array of Conference participants.

Moving forward, in order to accelerate ECD impacts in Kenya, we would need to identify and unlock critical the “SDG Acupuncture Points” (as Dr Bannerjee from Stanford would put it) by taking a systems approach for scalable solutions through innovative approaches and technology. A young life needs multiple SDG inputs concurrently in varying combinations from birth across the domains of the Child Care for Development (CCD) and Nurturing Care frameworks including health, nutrition, responsive child care (including love and affection), water, sanitation and hygiene and child protection. Yet our societies are often fragmented across multiple faultlines: public - private divides (which in turn have their own silos with respect to Ministries, National & Sub National Governments and mandates, private sector, philanthropy, civil society efforts etc.), thematic silos, geographical silos, and even inconsistency in proposed solutions despite the latest evidence.

Another key effort is to line up the entire continuum of potential financiers of ECD from market-led debt offers, through International and development finance institutions, through impact investors and venture philanthropists to social bonds, guarantee and equity arrangements and grants. This is increasingly urgent as countries such as Kenya move rapidly up the Middle-Income County (MIC) ladder and become more “bankable and debtworthy” and less “grantworthy” over time and bilaterals shift to emphasize trade more over aid and shrink ODA. This means that ECD stakeholders need to be equipped to actively engage in the transition from SDG Funding to Financing in these countries to ensure continuity of development funding and impacts.

Its time now to move from scientific evidence on the case for the multiplier effect of investing in ECD for human development to real action on the ground – perforating silos and galvanizing stakeholders around facilitative Platforms such as the SDG Philanthropy Platform is the way to go! Exciting times ahead for Kenya – stay tuned!

Author Arif Neky is Coordinator SDG Philanthropy Platform in Kenya.