Harvard executive program on scaling early childhood programs

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

The challenges of going to scale

The program is not about early childhood itself, but about the leadership, strategic thinking and 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 is supporting the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in developing a 1-week executive education program 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 program is being developed by senior faculty at the Kennedy School and will be taught by Harvard faculty. Teams will be supported to continue their collaboration in the months and years following the program.

Examples might include:

  • India: Scaling mother tongue early learning and parent support programs in Odisha; and scaling child-friendly cities with a focus on child- and family-centered urban planning
  • Israel: Expanding and replicating a successful for-profit catering company that employs Bedouin women to prepare meals for school children and also offers parenting courses
  • Ivory Coast: Incorporating early childhood development into a program to promote primary education in cocoa-growing communities
  • Netherlands: Scaling a program to support at-risk pregnant mothers in the city of Rotterdam through existing health care service providers
  • Peru: Scaling a home visiting program in three states of Peru by building the capacity of community health workers and municipal program managers

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.