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.

2017 was the second year of the programme, with seven teams and 44 participants from various countries attending the course. As we aim to do every year, the groups were carefully selected by our Harvard selection team. All groups were from countries the Foundation is working actively in, except for two groups that were composed by two of our partners.

The objective of each participating team in 2017 was:

  • Brazil: to scale ‘Criança Feliz’, a home visiting programme integrated with the social welfare-focused cash transfer programme ‘Bolsa Familia’ that will train child development and/or health agents to provide support to vulnerable families;
  • Liberia (Open Society Foundation): to provide access to quality early childhood services to caregivers and children from pre-birth to entry into primary school;
  • Côte d’Ivoire: to scale up early childhood initiatives using the health and nutrition sector;
  • Israel: to enhance early childhood development and urban experiences for low-middle income families in Tel Aviv;
  • Latin America: to focus on dealing with stunting, through scaling nutrition and parenting support together with ministers and vice-ministers of health (selected by UNASUR) from Peru, Paraguay and Ecuador and Bolivia;
  • The Netherlands: to promote healthy child development (reducing risk factors to childhood obesity) by focusing on emotional well-being and confident, responsive parenting as well as promoting a heathy lifestyle for the whole family;
  • India: to scale improved learning environments, demonstrate better language proficiency and school readiness with a model of mother tongue-based multilingual early childhood education in 7202 Anganwadi Centres (‘Courtyard Shelters’ in Hindi).

What's next?

The second year of the programme was a great success. All teams returned home with a better sense of the essential elements in a scaling process, such as making an impact, measuring and evaluation, and the importance of thinking ahead of the operational design at scale.

To capture the impact of the course we will hire a consultant to critically assess the post-course effects on the first two cohorts. More information about this will be available on the website soon.

We will be selecting teams for the course in 2018 in the coming months. Participation is by invitation only – we regret we will not be able to accept applications.

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.