Partnership with United Way transforms cities in Latin America

Published December 17, 2021

The Bernard van Leer Foundation’s Urban95 programme has launched a new learning partnership with United Way’s regional office in Latin America. The aim is to nurture a community of leaders in cities across the continent to share their knowledge and experiences on making cities friendlier for babies, toddlers and their caregivers.

Latin America has some world-leading policies in early childhood at country, state and municipal levels. But Covid-19 has worsened problems with inequality and poverty, and many families lack accessible services, transport, and safe, clean, green spaces.

As well as local branches of United Way in Chile, Colombia and Guatemala, the partnership brings in the FEMSA Foundation, municipal governments and urban entrepreneurs interested in identifying and scaling up ideas to change how families with young children live, play, interact and move through cities.

Photo: Courtesy of United Way Chile


Advocacy and social media outreach are an essential part of the project, to raise leaders’ awareness about the needs of urban babies, toddlers and caregivers, and to spark a movement among citizens for wider transformation.

Posts on Instagram are sharing stories of children such as 12 year old José Luis, who lives in the San Francisco community in Mixco, Guatemala. “I’ve been coming to the market to accompany my mum to work since I was 3 years old,” Jose says. The project is transforming the park where José Luis played as he grew up. He remembers the unsanitary conditions from his childhood, and is looking forward to playing there in the future with his 4 year old sister.

In Barranquilla and Cartagena, Colombia, the partnership is focusing on improvements to public space, mobility and data-driven decision-making. Children who will benefit include 2 year old Maria, who wants to play in the fresh air, and 3 year old Adrian, who needs safe streets to learn to ride his bicycle.

The importance of play is uppermost in the project’s interventions in La Pintana in Santiago, Chile, where a key partner is an expert in designing play spaces. La Pintana has only 1.6 square metres of green space per inhabitant, well below the average for the city, and security concerns hold people back from using the public spaces that exist.

As explained by Cecilia Vaca Jones, Executive Director of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the aim is to “work on various aspects of urban planning and design, and life in the city, in order to improve health and wellbeing, and to foster healthy interactions between young children and their caregivers.” The interventions to transform public spaces in all the cities will be sustained through partnerships with municipalities and mobilising community participation.

Thinking about cities from the point of view of the youngest children not only gives them a good start in life, it creates the basis for an equitable and peaceful society.

Follow the partnership’s progress on social media using the hashtag #TransformamosDesde95cm.