Harvard executive programme on scaling early childhood programmes

Demonstrating that a project benefits young children is one thing; delivering that model at scale, to benefit millions of children, presents different challenges altogether. Together with the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University (HKS) the Foundation has developed a one-week executive education programme for professionals working to scale early childhood initiatives.

The challenges of going to scale

The programme is not about early childhood itself, but about the leadership, strategic thinking and other skills needed to bring initiatives focused on early childhood to scale.

Models of delivering services to children and families that work in a pilot project or small geographical area will not necessarily work at scale. Challenges include training new staff; adapting to new contexts, and populations who may have different needs or expectations; maintaining a consistent level of quality; finding synergies and avoiding overlaps with existing large-scale services; and building political support and popular demand to ensure sustainability.

A training course for professionals

The Foundation has supported the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in developing a one-week executive education programme for teams of senior government officials, NGO and business leaders, researchers and foundation staff from around the world working to identify and scale real-world initiatives focused on early childhood development. The programme was developed by senior faculty at the Kennedy School and is taught by Harvard faculty. Teams are supported to continue their collaboration in the months and years following the programme. The course will run for five consecutive years.

April 2018 was the third time we organised this programme, with seven country teams and 44 participants. They included a team from Jordan, focusing on how to scale the home visiting programme of IRC/Sesame Workshop; a team from Bangladesh working on a scaling strategy for a “1000 days” approach for early child development; and a team from Ecuador, aiming to learn how to integrate early childhood development interventions (nutrition, health, parenting) into national policy. All teams will continue to work on implementing their scaling strategies in the coming year. The Foundation will remain in close contact with all country teams to capture learnings and provide further guidance and support where needed during the scaling process.

Why we started this - based on successes in Brazil

The programme follows the success of a similar initiative run by the Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child for which the Bernard van Leer Foundation provided funding. This programme trained 125 Brazilian public and private leaders to better understand the science of early childhood development.

They included members of the Federal House and Senate from multiple political parties, who together drafted a new law – the Marco Legal da Primeira Infância – on promoting early childhood development. Two course graduates subsequently became mayors, in Boa Vista and Arapiraca, and started implementing municipal policies to benefit young children. One participant from Brazil in the 2017 course said:

‘In addition to the knowledge acquired, the course improved conceptual and programmatic alignment among state coordinators. The group is now more cohesive and responds more swiftly to the demands of implementing the programme.’