Approximately 250 million children under the age of 5 are at risk of not reaching their full potential. With mounting evidence, the need to accelerate access to quality early childhood development (ECD) programs is well understood. These programs have positive impacts in a variety of areas, including education, health and nutrition, social and child protection, and WASH—and perhaps most importantly, they help young children thrive, providing a strong foundation for life-long success. The importance of the early years of a child’s life is also reflected in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Yet, worldwide, there is an unsettling lack of funding for ECD programs. In a 2016 report, Results for Development (R4D) found that only 2% of aid to basic education is allocated to early childhood education and bilateral sources of aid are especially limited. For instance, the UK and the United States – two of the top three donors to basic education – have invested very little in early childhood education. The report highlights a clear need to increase support for ECD services, presents recommendations for funders and governments, and calls for more public and private domestic funding for ECD programs.
This month, as we prepare for another trip to Tanzania to visit Amani Girls Home, Mama's Hope Organisation for Legal Assistance (MHOLA), Tanzania Home Economics Association - Mwanza (TAHEA Mwanza), and Tumaini Letu – grantees of the Better Way Foundation, we revisit two interesting approaches our local partners are taking to boost sustainable ECD financing at the local-level.
Amani Girls Home, MHOLA, TAHEA Mwanza, and Tumaini Letu serve low-income populations, so they must think innovatively about how to finance infrastructure and delivery of ECD services with community and parental support. The first approach they have adopted incorporates microfinance groups to strengthen parental and community income, savings, and overall investment in ECD. Through these groups, members are supported with microfinance capital and trainings and often encouraged and, at times, required to invest a certain amount in ECD activities for their children and the community at large. In the groups supported by Tumaini Letu, for example, it is mandatory that members meet certain savings targets each week, which are then available for borrowing among members. After a cycle ends, the interest paid by borrowers of the group is distributed among the group members who then decide how much to contribute to the community day care center, feeding activities, or health services for the most vulnerable children.
In addition to saving and lending activities, the microfinance group members often receive skills training and information about the importance of early childhood which can lead to further household investments in young children. Amani Girls Home provides members of women’s saving and lending groups with training on child rights, financial literacy, entrepreneurship skills, and bio-intensive agriculture. Community-managed microfinance groups supported by MHOLA and TAHEA Mwanza similarly provide income generation support and serve as fora to impart ECD-related and other life and business skills to parents and community members.
The second approach of integrating advocacy into resource mobilization efforts stems from the realization that longer term support from the public sector is needed to sustain financing for ECD services. These advocacy efforts raise awareness among government officials about the importance of ECD and encourage them to increase spending on ECD.
Tanzania has a policy context ripe for ECD support. In 2009, the country passed a law guaranteeing children aged 0-18 access to minimum services in health, education, nutrition, and social protection. In 2014, Tanzania adopted a policy that mandates all public primary schools have one pre-primary classroom and calls for one year of compulsory pre-primary education for 3-5 year olds. In the past few years, the government also announced “fee-free education.” However, the government has to-date invested relatively few resources in support of these ECD policies, leaving the provision and funding of these services in many areas of the country to donors, parents, and community members for the time being.
Amani Girls Home, MHOLA, TAHEA Mwanza, and Tumaini Letu, as well as other organizations in Tanzania, continue to push for this to change. The four organizations recognize the importance of engaging government and regard government actors as partners. They consult government officials as they set their organizational priorities, invite government partners to partake in trainings and meetings, and share data on populations requiring ECD services. The organizations also attend government meetings. For example, in collaboration with a district-level network of NGOs, Tumaini Letu attends village, ward, and district-level budgeting meetings. Through this forum, they were able to impress upon officials the importance of investments in ECD and increase district-level support for early childhood programming from Tsh 10 million annually to Tsh 25 million. This amount included financing for education programs, a community health fund, and targeted support for vulnerable families. Similarly, Amani Girls Home, TAHEA Mwanza, and MHOLA staff also attend budgeting meetings at the district-level, where they present on their work and advocate for larger investments in early childhood services.
The way forward
The provision of ECD services to young children and families is a critical need, but one facing major resource constraints. Continued dialogue among ECD practitioners and supporters and new approaches from both the public sector and community-based efforts are required if sufficient support for vital ECD services is to be generated and sustained. The integrated microfinance schemes and advocacy efforts adopted by Amani Girls Home, MHOLA, TAHEA Mwanza, and Tumaini Letu are just a few of the innovative efforts from which we can learn and draw inspiration in the quest to expand, improve, and sustain ECD services for children around the world.
Have thoughts on these methods or other innovative grassroots resource mobilization methods to boost ECD support? Leave a comment below to move the conversation forward.
Sonaly Patel is a Senior Program Associate at Results for Development (R4D), where she works across the global education portfolio on impact evaluations and funder strategy development. Most recently, she provided research and analytical support for the Global Book Fund feasibility study and on the assessment of Better Way Foundation’s grantmaking to early childhood development grantees in Tanzania.
Photo Credits: Frans Peeters ; Tumaini Letu