How the Aliko Dangote Foundation plants the seeds of early learning

At a training session for “aunties” in Nigeria who teach pre-school children, Aisha Mohammed Abubakar displays a picture she sketched to lead children in telling stories about food. (Photo: Dangote Foundation)

Why should companies give back by supporting education for children—even those who are too young to be employees or consumers? We spoke to one of our founding members, the Aliko Dangote Foundation. We wanted to learn from successes in its Five Cowries Arts Education Initiative, an early years program in northern Nigeria.

The Dangote Foundation supports preschool programs in northern Nigeria that echoes the #ActForEarlyYears campaign by the Global Business Coalition for Education and Theirworld. Our worldwide campaign highlights the case for investing in the care, education and health of children around the world ages 0 to 5.

The Aliko Dangote Foundation is the private philanthropic organization of Aliko Dangote, Africa’s foremost industrialist. The Dangote Group is a Nigerian multinational industrial conglomerate including cement, salt, sugar refining, mining, transport with operations in over a dozen African countries. It is the largest philanthropic foundation in Africa.

We spoke to the foundation’s managing director and CEO Zouera Youssoufou, and projects director Zakari Momodu, and Polly Alakija, chair of the board of trustees at Five Cowries. As usual, we asked five questions. We’ve combined their answers.

Why should businesses get involved in education around the world or in their home country?

Early education is the very bedrock of productivity. Education is not a two-year or 10-year investment, nor is it restricted to the classroom. At Aliko Dangote Foundation we invest in the first 1,000 days of a person’s life. If the foundational building blocks are compromised, everything you add later will be so much less than it could be. Early age education is the natural next building block.

Tell us about a program that might possibly be replicated in another country.

We’ve developed Mu Shuka Iri (Let’s Plant a Seed), which trains local women — known as “Aunties” — to become community educators, using Montessori methods, in Kano, Nigeria’s second largest state. The program aims to increase acceptance for formal education in local communities, prepare young children for success in school and support healthy development in the early years. By the end of the training, the Aunties are qualified to train others or set up their own childcare facility.

How would you describe the Aliko Dangote Foundation’s approach to the challenge of improving education and welfare for children in Nigeria?

The Aliko Dangote Foundation is dedicated to improving nutrition, health, education, and economic wellbeing. We work with mothers to improve all those outcomes. That includes an understanding that your kids should be ready to go to primary school – that they arrive at school when they’re six years old with the basic knowledge of how to count, or the names of colors in English.

We teach them in their own language and English so they understand concepts much better. We want to make learning interesting, fun, accessible, understandable.

What are the challenges of doing an early years education program in Nigeria?

There are so many children in Nigeria – more than 10 million – who just are not going to school. With many of them, their parents are asking themselves, “What is the point of formal education?” With high levels of unemployment among university graduates, it is challenging to convince some parents that going to school is worth the investment in time and resources.

The problem has to be tackled from when children are little. There’s no point talking about secondary school, high school, university, or doctoral programs if we can’t even get the little kids to go to school.

As a founding member of the Global Business Coalition for Education, what has your foundation gained from being a member of the network?

It has been a great relationship, which we are still expanding today. The Global Business Coalition for Education provides us with a window into what’s happening beyond our shores, beyond our immediate environment. It also shines a light into our corner of the world from the global perspective.

The Global Business Coalition for Education is a movement of businesses committed to ending the crisis in global education. We work with a company’s social impact team or their foundation to support education.

Aliko Dangote Foundation is the private charitable foundation of Nigerian industrialist Aliko Dangote, with a mission to enhance opportunities for social change through strategic investments that improve health and wellbeing, promote quality education, and broaden economic empowerment opportunities. To advance its human capital development agenda, the foundation works with communities, state and national governments, and reputable international and domestic charities, non-governmental organizations and international agencies.

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