Photo by Adriane Ohanesian/Theirworld

Millions of children in poverty in Africa do not have the necessary access to good nutrition, a vital component during early childhood development (ECD). A new snapshot released by Theirworld indicates that far too few children are receiving the necessary access to good nutrition and health from the moment they are born. Without this access, children living in poverty are disproportionately being left behind at every developmental milestone as compared to children who benefit from holistic and quality ECD programs. Business can play an instrumental role in ensuring that children around the world have access to good nutrition, as well as to comprehensive ECD programs.

ECD encompasses the period spanning from pregnancy to primary school and includes everything that affects an individual’s  physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development. Quality ECD is comprised of many elements, such as early learning, childcare, infant and maternal health, and, equally as important, good nutrition.

Theirworld’s snapshot uses 14 indicators to look at ECD in across 53 African countries, including vaccination rates, the percent of children who are stunted, rates of births that are attended by skilled health staff, and whether children are exclusively breastfed during their first six months of life. Despite evidence that quality ECD programs, and in particular support for adequate nutrition, during these early years strongly benefit children’s physical and cognitive development, these services are underfunded and out of reach for many children. Notably the gaps in access between the richest and the poorest children are extreme in many countries, so that many of the poorest children continue to be the most likely to be left behind.

These trends are not unique to Africa. Globally, less than 1 percent of total development assistance is used specifically for nutrition, and spending on pre-primary education only accounts for 1.15 percent of donor investments in education. These staggeringly low figures reveal a larger story of millions of children with missed opportunities and increased barriers that they must overcome.

They do not, however, need to overcome it alone. And, businesses can utilize their expertise and core assets for investing in ECD programs in their communities, as well as through family services for their employees within their business.

The various ways in which businesses can engage in children in the early years, and the case as to why they should, are outlined in GBC-Education’s recent report, Opportunities for Impact: the Business Case for Early Childhood Development. The report details the ways in which business can effect positive change for children as well as enumerates the benefits that business experiences by engaging in and supporting ECD.

Opportunities for investment and impact, as highlighted in this report, extend far beyond philanthropic contributions and can readily target the nutritional needs of the most at-risk communities. For example, Rainbow Light, a leading provider of natural nutritional supplements, utilizes their core assets towards combatting global malnutrition by providing free prenatal tablets and multivitamins to thousands of expecting mothers and children each year. For plantation workers in Indonesia, Cargill has launched comprehensive maternal and child health and nutrition programs, prioritizing nutrition for working mothers and their children by distributing food and vitamin supplements, creating supportive environments for breastfeeding, and monitoring weight as a measure of healthy growth and development at daycare facilities. The Henna preschool, supported by #smartinvestment Network Company Lion Sands Game Reserve, provides children with fruit, vegetables, and other wholesome foods through a school garden and educational nutrition project in South Africa.

Through leveraging its core assets, services, voice, expertise, funds, leadership or innovative solutions to provide children with quality nutrition resources and ECD programs, business has tremendous potential to shrink the ECD equity gap for the millions of children living in poverty.

To learn more about ECD and the work being done to support it, see our brief, visit our ECD page, or contact us at [email protected]