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On August 13, the Inter-American Dialogue’s Education Program, the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN), UNICEF’s Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean and United Way convened a virtual seminar to reflect on the role of the private sector in early childhood development in Latin America. Private sector panelists from Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico shared their experiences with investment programs in child development, as well as the role that public-private partnerships can play in early education.
This virtual panel featured Eva Fernández, manager of Early Childhood Development at FEMSA Foundation in Mexico, Cristina Gutiérrez de Piñeres, executive director of United Way Colombia, Grácia Fragalá, vice president of the Higher Council for Social Responsibility and director of social responsibility at the Federação das Indústrias do Estado de São Paulo (FIESP), and Carolina Crosta, responsible business coordinator at Telefónica Movistar Argentina. The seminar was moderated by Ariel Fiszbein, director of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Education Program, and Shekufeh Zonji, global technical lead of ECDAN, with the participation of Yannig Dussart, UNICEF’s Early Childhood Development manager for Latin America and the Caribbean, Eduardo Queiroz, United Way vice-president for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Elizabeth Lule, executive director of ECDAN. The event was attended by 398 participants.
The panelists presented their vision on the private sector’s role in early childhood development and the long-term returns of investing in this key stage. Fernández emphasized the need to develop a systemic, long-term and collaborative vision that recognizes the direct relationship between entrepreneurial success and social development. As part of its early childhood agenda, Fundación FEMSA has worked on several initiatives with other organizations. The first of these initiatives, Resilient Communities, supports social-emotional skills development within families and provides child development services. Fundación FEMSA is also working on a program to rethink public spaces from a child’s perspective. Through its collaboration with Universidad Regiomontana and Harvard University’s Center for the Developing Child in the Early Childhood Accelerator, Fundación FEMSA has found a seedbed of programs in Mexico with great scale potential. FEMSA’s regional alliances, such as the Ready to Play program with Sesame Workshop to promote hygiene, nutrition, and socio-emotional development practices, and Attachment Seeds with United Way Colombia to enhance maternal bonds in marginal and post-conflict contexts, represent its focus on collaboration.
In Mexico, the non-profit foundation participates in the Early Childhood Collective, along with other organizations, to raise awareness among parents/caregivers about the importance of early childhood as a developmental stage, and in the Early Childhood Pact, a public-private initiative to establish a national agenda for child development. In collaboration with the LEGO Foundation, the Tecnológico de Monterrey and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, FEMSA has launched training seminars for government officials in the creation of early childhood public policies.
Cristina Gutiérrez de Piñeres presented the work by United Way Colombia to reduce dropout rates in the country. Gutiérrez spoke about the importance of transcending the concept of traditional alliances through new methodologies. For example, together with Fundación Santo Domingo, Fundación Pies Descalzos and Fundación Carulla, United Way Colombia created Primero lo Primero, the first collective impact vehicle in the country, to articulate efforts on a larger scale and improve early childhood services from a systemic perspective. Gutiérrez de Piñeres shared that this collective impact vehicle seeks to reach a national scale, identifying issues and generating evidence for public institutions. She highlighted five key aspects for the success of collective initiatives: 1) a common agenda, 2) a vision of change, 3) shared measurements, 4) mutually reinforcing actions, and 5) an additional support structure to coordinate actions.
Gutiérrez de Piñeres pointed to the significant lack of evidence for decision making processes as one of Colombia’s most prevalent historical challenges, which has prompted United Way to focus on evidence gathering for child development public policies. She also highlighted the importance of developing innovative methodologies to transform actors into solution managers. To promote diversity, she emphasized the need to uphold common commitments with other organizations and companies. Finally, she detailed the launch of the Brain Matters documentary on the importance of early childhood development from a neuro-scientific perspective, available to parents, teachers and entrepreneurs.
At FIESP, Grácia Fragalá has worked to integrate social development into business management and to encourage socially responsible practices. Based on the strategies of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, FIESP seeks to assist companies in the implementation of sustainable development objectives in their business strategies. In addition to external programs, Fragalá emphasized the importance of partner companies implementing development policies for their own workers, such as flexible schedules, extended parental leave, and daycare services.
Fragalá highlighted the importance of early childhood as a catalyst for sustainable development, which is why FIESP’s programs seek to accelerate integral development for children aged 0 to 6 through programs for families, schools, and communities. These programs are divided into two main categories. The first focuses on creating business networks for investment and consciousness-raising. For example, the Entrepreneurs and Companies for Early Childhood program, in partnership with the José Luiz Egydio Setúbal Foundation and ReadyNation, seeks to mobilize entrepreneurs through training and educational workshops. Through partnerships with UNICEF, United Way, and the Maria Cecilia Soto Vidigal Foundation, FIESP has created a business network to invest in projects for workers across various industries, as well as a best practices guidebook to replicate successful early childhood business initiatives. The second focuses on early education initiatives. FIESP supports and expands the projects of the Industry Social Service (SESI) in early education, mainly the development of methodologies for local authorities and teacher training programs. Fragalá spoke of the importance of seeing early childhood development as multifactorial, including education, nutrition, health care, and social-emotional development.
Carolina Crosta highlighted that Telefónica Movistar Argentina’s organizational strategy focuses on human rights policies, based on the principles of responsible business that the company promotes internally and externally. Regarding methods to promote and sustain early childhood care in the private sector, Crosta focused on an effective approach’s three pillars: 1) a transversal approach linked to broad notions that guarantee greater continuity and sustainability, 2) an inclusive, versatile and dynamic approach, and 3) a multi-sector approach. Crosta reiterated that, when talking about early childhood, it is impossible not to talk about the right to care, which includes the reproduction of life, care management, and self-care. Crosta pointed out that, in Argentina, evidence shows that the management of care falls on households, and within households, on women, marking key links between care and economic, social, and gender inequality.
Crosta spoke about the Argentine social landscape and the policies that Telefónica Movistar Argentina has incorporated internally in response to these needs. In Argentina, nearly 25% of households are affected by some form of domestic violence, in addition to low rates of co-responsibility in care, which is why Crosta emphasized the importance of basing care policies on rights and maintaining a gender focus that promotes parent involvement and recognizes diverse family configurations. Some of the measures that Crosta mentioned as part of Telefónica Movistar Argentina are: extended maternity/paternity, hospitalized newborn, and homo-parental leaves, installation of breastfeeding facilities, awareness-raising programs on the importance of early childhood and breastfeeding as a bonding exercise, promotion of co-responsibility and gender equity. Finally, she stressed that incorporating these elements into the company is not only a matter of social responsibility, but also of business management, since consumers increasingly choose brands with aligned values.
The event concluded with a brief set of questions from the audience about the role of the private sector in early childhood development, focusing on three main issues: 1) how to meaningfully motivate the corporate sector to invest and collaborate in early childhood development, 2) how the new reality generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has affected care and education networks and services, and 3) how to influence the positioning of early childhood on the public agenda and advance public-private partnerships in constrained political systems.
Eduardo Queiroz highlighted the importance of “translating” the science behind early childhood development, generating accessible explanations for companies, workers, and families unfamiliar to neurobiological factors, to help them understand why early childhood is a fundamental stage that requires investment and collaboration. The four panelists agreed that investment in early childhood is not part of an isolated philanthropic agenda, but rather of a holistic business management strategy. They also emphasized the economic implications of investing in early childhood, the evolution of philanthropy, and the links between corporate and societal success.
This event is the third in a series on early childhood and the COVID-19 crisis. Find other events in the series here.