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 2019 was the fourth time we organised this programme, with nine teams from 13 countries totalling 44 participants. They included a team from Kenya, pioneering new business models for childcare in informal settlements; a team from Europe, looking at how to coordinate parenting programmes in the region; and a team from Peru, aiming to improve how emergency response systems meet young children’s needs.
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. Attendees at early iterations of the course 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.

The seventh edition of the Executive Leadership Course in Early Childhood Development for Latin America took place in March 2018. Tullio Ponzi, Executive Secretary of Urban Innovation of Recife, was one participant. He later said:

‘What was most striking was how my team of technicians and urban planners absorbed the concept and guidelines I shared from the course and how we came to re-signify every square meter of city, or urban space. It was as if every square meter of city returned to the children was a victory.’