Nairobi, Kenya. © Adriane Ohanesian / Theirworld
“Investing in early childhood development is no longer a question of corporate citizenship or brand building – it is an economic imperative. Companies must invest in our young children, both to empower their current workforce, and to build the next generation of talent that will lead their business growth for decades to come.” –Afzal Habib, Co-founder & Chief Imagination Office, Kidogo
There is no question that investing in our children is the smartest investment we can make for our future. Kenya has an opportunity to reap enormous benefits by ensuring that the future generation has the care and support needed to reach their full potential from day one by investing in quality early childhood development (ECD) services.
The business community can — and should — play a key role in these efforts, benefiting from more productive and engaged employees, a stronger and healthier future workforce, and a thriving economy.
A new report by the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education), Investing Smart, Investing Early: A Business Guide to Early Childhood Development in Kenya, outlines a pathway for the private sector to do exactly this, identifying clear opportunities for impact through family-friendly corporate policies and investment in local community ECD services.
Research tells us that the first five years of a child’s life provide a critical foundation of growth and development that is needed for future health, development, and success. With 700 neural connections developing every second and roughly 90 percent of the brain developed by age 5, there is no time to wait when it comes to investing in the future of our youth. Children who have access to ECD services – including learning opportunities, play and stimulation, adequate nutrition, health care, and protective services – are more likely to become “healthy and productive citizens with the intellectual skills, creativity, and well-being to reduce global inequities and ensure sustainable global development.”
Yet, across the globe over 250 million children are at risk of not reaching their full potential. Sub-Saharan Africa faces the highest prevalence of at-risk youth and in Kenya roughly 38 percent of children ages 3 and 4 are not meeting cognitive and socioemotional development milestones. Despite recent gains in improving outcomes for children and families, such as reduced stunting and improved maternal health, there is much that must be done to reach and support Kenya’s most vulnerable and excluded groups.
The government alone is unable to offer the scale of services and support needed to meet this urgent need. We must look across every sector and industry for leadership, and particularly to our business leaders, in expanding access to quality and comprehensive ECD for every Kenyan child. Investing Smart, Investing Early offers business leaders a practical guide to private sector investments in the early years that offer business, social, and equity benefits, and that maximize both short- and long-term returns.
Family-Friendly Corporate Policies and ECD Investments Support Children, Communities, Businesses, and the Economy
Reduced absenteeism, improved productivity, employee retention, and enhanced morale and loyalty are just a few of the outcomes businesses can expect when investments are made into corporate policies that support families and children. By implementing paid parental leave policies and flexible working options such as telecommuting and flextime, offering health care benefits and creating safe spaces for breastfeeding mothers to express milk, and ensuring parents have access to quality, affordable child care, business can expect to see improved productivity and performance benefits that far outweigh the costs. Improvements in employee engagement alone has the potential to increase effort on the job by 57% and to decrease the likelihood of resigning by 87%, as compared with those employees who find themselves disengaged.
In the long-term, ECD investments help families to balance work and life responsibilities while ensuring that children ages 0-5 have everything they need to grow up healthy and smart. When companies invest in ECD, they are supporting interventions that ultimately lead to the development of a more skilled and healthy workforce, enhanced economic growth, improved social and economic equity, and increased gender equality. Children with access to quality interventions from a young age are better prepared to meet the needs and challenges of the 21st century. Without these interventions, Kenya risks losing out on opportunities for economic growth and poverty reduction that would save lives and boost livelihood for the entire nation.
Investing in Local ECD Services Makes Good Business Sense
Every dollar invested in preschool education has been shown to return up to $7, and nutrition investments nearly double this. Business can go further to invest in the local communities by supporting and complementing existing ECD services or investing in the expansion of new services. Here are 6 ways business can get involved:
- Support high-quality childcare and early education programs and facilities through financial donations or in-kind contributions of resources and services.
- Invest in critical missing elements from existing programs, such as nutrition or water and sanitation facilities.
- Offer consultation to local ECD providers to provide business acumen and expertise that enhances services.
- Help enhance and expand ECD services through research and development investments.
- Ensure that your own business practices are child friendly and that no child is exploited through business activities associated with your company.
- Serve as a champion for ECD by using your voice and influence to expand and enhance ECD across Kenya.
As stated by Sarah Brown, GBC-Education Executive Chair, “If we are serious about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we must all work together to ensure that every child – no matter who they are or where they were born – receives these critical interventions in the early years.” Let us be the leaders our children need by giving every child the best start in life.
Read on in our full report to learn how leading Kenyan companies are making smart investments in the early years.