Global business leaders have a stake in early childhood development in the SDGs

Sara Watson

Pictured Left: Bernard van Leer Foundation CEO Michael Feigelson conveys Open Letter to UNICEF representative Pia Britto at the Global Business Summit on Early Childhood.

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) — an inter-governmentally agreed set of goals relating to international progress, ranging from ending poverty, violence and hunger to improving gender equity, jobs, energy, health and education—serve as a roadmap for the future. These goals set the stage for the outcomes that the international community will commit to achieve over the next 15 years.

There’s one particular goal within the most recent set of SDGs that has drawn attention from an unlikely source: Business leaders.

Namely, Goal 4.2 reads: “By 2030, ensure that all girls and boys have access to quality early childhood development, care and pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary education.”

Inclusion of this first-ever early childhood education goal was strongly endorsed  by the business community.   Back in March, in an unprecedented show of support, an Open Letter crafted by ReadyNation received the endorsement of 51 executives spanning four continents.  The letter called upon the United Nations to include and prioritize early childhood development in the SDGs. 

Then on October 2, ReadyNation released a second Open Letter to the United Nations, this one signed by more than 120 business leaders from five continents.  The letter celebrated the inclusion of early childhood education in the SDGs, ReadyNation released the new letter at the first-ever Global Business Summit on Early Childhood

These actions represented the only direct, public petition by a major business group specifically to highlight early childhood in this manner.

Remarkable, yes—but, upon closer consideration, not surprising.

The connection between business interests and quality early childhood education

Business leaders have become powerful, international champions for early childhood investments.  They see these investments as a way to strengthen the workforce, their customer base, and the informed citizenry of the future.

The letters to the United Nations are a great example of how business leaders can work to create positive change that has the potential to enrich and improve the lives of children.  But the work business champions are doing to achieve this goal doesn’t have to take place on the international stage.  Business leaders are acting at every level—from community investments to national policy advocacy to the sort of global —to provide all children with the good start they need to thrive.  They are speaking out in major media platforms, such as the recent op-ed by Eli Lilly's CEO in Forbes.

The letters, the UN’s inclusion of early childhood in its SDGs, and the Summit are all signals of a growing movement that highlights the indelible connection between today’s youngest learners and tomorrow’s workforce.  It’s a connection that exists the world-over, but also one that can be nurtured at the national, regional, local, and even neighborhood level.

All countries can benefit from having engaged, active business champions for young children.  And, as ReadyNation shows, it can be done. 

Of course, business leaders can do much more to ensure we have the educated, productive workers we need to meet the demands of the marketplace now and in the future.

ReadyNation uses its more than 1,300 members to champion this crucial cause—members ranging from current and former Fortune 500 CEOs to small business owners, and from companies such as Procter & Gamble, KPMG, and Univision. 

ReadyNation members author letters to the editor and op/eds, they take part in events, and they meet with policymakers in an attempt to achieve the goal of giving children the best chance possible to succeed in school and in life.  Together, these actions have begun to make a difference.  If you’d like to be one of the difference-makers, more information is at

Dr. Sara Watson is the Director of ReadyNation, a business organization with more than 1,300 executives in almost every US state that improves the economy and business through effective investments in children and youth. It is part of the Council for a Strong America. Previously, she held two leadership roles at America’s Promise Alliance: Executive Vice President for National Partnerships and Director and co-founder of ReadyNation.

Photo Credit: ReadyNation

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