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By María Caridad Araujo.

Lee este artículo en español.

One of the main challenges facing early childhood development programs in Latin America is how to scale up models that have been successfully implemented in smaller-scale environments, such as in a few communities or nursery schools. To “think bigger,” a program also needs to take into account how to replicate such successful implementation in the public sphere, that is, central and local government institutions that have the capacity to reach the entire population but that face their own types of constraints in terms of budgeting, technical capacity, and political cycles, to name a few.

For example, in the United States, childhood development programs that had a large impact and were sustained over the long term – such as the Perry Preschool or Abecedarian –were implemented on a small scale in which it was financially and technically feasible to offer high-quality services to a disadvantaged population. At the same time, the evidence of the impact of other services implemented on a larger scale, such as Head Start, has been less clear and/or of a more modest magnitude.

Thinking Big for Those Who Are Smallest

Scaling up a childhood development program requires a very specific toolbox and implies certain risks. As in the case of all new endeavors, there is a probability that the initiative will fail if there is not timely identification of problems that arise, some of which are not always possible to anticipate.

Our experience working with the countries in the region has helped us identify certain elements of such programs that make it particularly complex to scale them up in the public sphere:

1. Are personnel with the professional profiles required by the services being offered available in all the areas where the programs are going to be implemented? Is it possible to easily replace staff if – as is common in the childhood development sector – there are problems of high turnover? Does the public sector have an adequate selection and hiring process to address such circumstances?

2. Can the planned training model be replicated accurately and at a reasonable cost? Is it feasible in terms of the space, time, and resources that the program has at its disposal?

3. What tools are there to assist staff who implement the program? How are those tools aligned with a strategy of continuous quality improvement?

4. Do public systems for hiring, procurement, and the transport of staff and goods operate with flexibility, transparency, and agility?

5. Is the generation of follow-up information on the children and on quality standards for services and their providers carried out in a manner that is cost-efficient and does not represent an excessive burden for technical staff? Do managers make their decisions informed by this information and in a timely manner?

The Innovation Fund

The challenges posed make it clear that scaling up childhood development programs in the region is going to require a good deal of innovation – innovation in approaches to interventions, in curriculum, in hiring processes, in mentoring and supervising staff, in strategies to retain and develop professionals, in administrative hiring and payment mechanisms for staff and services, and in the way follow-up information is collected and systematized. Innovation will also be needed to respond to problems that arise along the way.

The need to innovate in order to scale up childhood development programs with an emphasis on quality prompted the Inter-American Development Bank to join forces with leading civil society organization to establish the Early Childhood Development Innovation Fund.* The purpose of this alliance is to finance, design, implement, and evaluate innovative and scalable approaches to improving the lives of children under 5 years of age in the region, focusing on the most disadvantaged groups within the countries.

We are about to launch this initiative, and we could not be more excited about it. Keep following us; in future posts we’ll talk about the projects that this Fund will support. Any questions can be sent here.

What innovation initiatives for early child development do you know about? What are the risks and opportunities? Tell us about them in the Comments section or at @BIDgente on Twitter.

* The Early Childhood Development Innovation Fund is led and managed by the Inter-American Development Bank, and supported with the resources and experience of its partners, FEMSA and the Open Society Foundation at the regional level, and the Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation in Brazil.

María Caridad Araujo is a Lead Specialist in the Social Protection and Health Division at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). 

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