Within the normal course of a project, data is collected, information is analyzed, and results are interpreted to better understand reality. But there is one more element in the equation that both researchers and field implementers seek as the ultimate goal: moving from data to decision-making.
For 5 years, the projects supported by the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Innovation Fund, aimed at children from 0 to 5 years old in the most disadvantaged populations of the Latin American and Caribbean region, have generated studies with lessons and knowledge in ECD, which we can use to make evidence-based policy decisions.
The findings of these projects help us identify the effectiveness of these interventions and provide relevant information for making policy decisions to improve the quality of life of children in the region. We find that these projects share 3 strengths to support ECD in Latin American and Caribbean countries.
1) Innovation: know the most innovative interventions
Would we implement at scale innovations that have not been proven to work? Would we scale a program before testing it? Hardly.
For governments and policymakers, the cost is a central variable when implementing any social program. Nobody wants to implement a program that ends up being very expensive and does not have a positive effect on the families and children that it targets. For this reason, we are constantly aiming to identify those interventions that generate the desired impact, that reach the target beneficiaries, and that are as cost-effective as possible.
Implementing innovative projects and evaluating their impact requires organizations willing to take the first leap to innovate and committed to providing sustained support to the communities, and adequate financing for the project. This becomes especially relevant in ECD projects, where the largest impacts are only seen in the long term.
The Early Childhood Development (ECD) Innovation Fund supports these innovative projects, thanks to an alliance coordinated by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the FEMSA Foundation, the María Cecilia Souto Vidigal Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, Porticus and the Bernard van Leer Foundation, to offer financial and technical support to implement and evaluate these projects.
This strategic alliance has been supporting 20 projects and is preparing another 6 located in 10 countries across the region: Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Uruguay, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Haiti. These projects are generating evidence that can guide the decisions of policymakers, civil society organizations and directors, teachers and caregivers at preschools and daycare centers.
2) Evaluation: see what the results teach us to improve future programs
Properly evaluated ECD projects help to evaluate and measure what works and what does not, for whom and why. At the same time, they provide information on the possible adaptations that should be made to improve the impact of the programs. One intervention may not always work well on the field, or may not work well for everyone, so adjustments to the original design are usually required.
Thanks to the experience of the ECD Innovation Fund, today we know more precisely what works in health, nutrition, social protection and education for children from 0 to 5 years of age in Latin America and the Caribbean. The results are shared publicly in the Knowledge Hub on Early Childhood Development. In the Hub, you can find a description of the interventions, which can be replicated, scaled, and even adapted to other populations and places.
3) Adaptation: resilience to adjust to the context
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020, millions of children around the world have stopped receiving care, adequate nutrition, and education, which can negatively impact their development and produce learning losses at a high economic cost for them, and for all of our countries. According to UNICEF, for more than 168 million children around the world, schools have been completely closed for almost a full year. That is why they must return to schools to learn, share and play.
In this context, several projects of the ECD Innovation Fund were also affected, but they managed to adapt to continue serving children and their families and communities. That creative and resilient response could become a guide to move forward in uncertain times, where doing nothing is not an option as it could cause significant negative impacts on the future of children.
To the extent that we can promote spaces to share good practices and findings, innovative solutions in ECD could have a larger scope.
Finally, in addition to asking ourselves “What is behind the data?” we should also keep in mind who is behind the data. Behind each of our projects are boys, girls, parents, families, caregivers, communities, and the future of entire generations.
Through our work in the ECD Innovation Fund, we will continue working in the coming years with the aim to promote innovative approaches that can lead to improving the quality of ECD services and the development of all children in our region.
To stay connected and learn more about this innovative work, we invite you to explore the Knowledge Hub on Early Childhood Development where you will find all the details of these projects, and other resources, and useful information on ECD.
At the Inter-American Development Bank, we work to improve lives in Latin America and the Caribbean. Our vision for 2025 is to drive growth opportunities for all in a sustainable way. Find more information in this video.