WASHINGTON DC, February 22, 2010 -Latin American children took center stage Monday at the World Bank after internationally-acclaimed artist Shakira and the multilateral institution launched a joint initiative to expand much-needed development programs for young kids.
Shakira and World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick announced a US$300 million plan --the “Early Childhood Initiative: An investment for life”-- to provide funding and technical assistance aimed at supporting the implementation of Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs in Latin America and the Caribbean, during a ceremony held at the Bank’s Washington DC headquarters. The venture will also seek to expand a learning community of practitioners to exchange knowledge and experiences.
Under the newly-formed partnership, Shakira and the Bank will work together to raise awareness of the importance of ECD programs, while promoting the adoption of such initiatives for the benefit of millions of young Latin American children who lack access to basic services.
ECD programs provide children with adequate nutrition, healthcare and stimulating environments from the moment of conception through age six –a period of development crucial for achieving a child’s full potential. By World Bank calculations 9 million children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and 22 million lack access to early basic care in the region.
Addressing over 300 local guests –including representatives of governments and international organizations- and a global audience of thousands connected via the web, Zoellick argued that investing in ECD was not only the right thing to do to improve the lot of poor children, but also "the smart thing to do."
“These early investments pay off because they mean more children stay in school, get better grades, and keep out of trouble. Also, healthier children grow into more productive adults,” said Zoellick at the signing ceremony of the partnership between Shakira’s ALAS Foundation, Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the World Bank.
Research indicating that 85% of a child’s brain is fully wired at age five supports the argument that those early years are critical to develop a child’s full potential, Zoellick noted. Just last week, the Bank released "The Promise of Early childhood Development in Latin America and the Caribbean", which collects the latest scientific evidence on why early childhood development programs are vital, while showing that delays are difficult to revert later in life.
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Citing her first-hand experience in helping poor kids succeed, Shakira urged Latin American leaders to understand the value of investing in young children, from 0 to 6, when their brains and social and cognitive skills are developing.
“The World Bank, ALAS, and the Earth Institute will work closely with governments to ensure that they will receive specific guidance on how to implement best practices in early childhood development,” said the Grammy-award winning Colombian artist and founder of ALAS, a coalition of artists and business leaders advocating for better services for the region's children.
The new partners will present their recommendations for making quality ECD programs a reality at the UN Millennium Development Goals Summit in September and also at the Ibero-American Summit in Argentina in November. Additionally, an ECD Committee has been set up including top officials from ALAS, the Earth Institute, international organizations and the World Bank, which is represented by regional Vice President Pamela Cox.
“To every leader in Latin America and the Caribbean, who we will personally see this next summit, we call on you to take the advantage of the Early Childhood Initiative and let the World Bank experts help you, and help you design innovative and effective programs, apply for funding, and invest in the future,” said Shakira.
World Bank Human Development Director Evangeline Javier points out that although the region has been at the forefront of ECD initiatives, public spending on these programs needs to be increased. “At present, investments in ECD initiatives range from less than 1 percent to roughly 12 percent of the total educational expenditures of countries in the region,” Javier said.
Experts agree that the Early Childhood Initiative is a first step towards changing this trend, but contend that policy makers and government leaders need to get on board with the plan to make it work.
“We are excited to see that leading artists and businessmen under ALAS have committed to raising awareness on ECD and are partnering with knowledge institutions, such as the World Bank and the Earth Institute, to promote best practices in ECD as informed by solid research,” said education specialist and author of ‘The Promise of ECD in Latin America and the Caribbean’ Emiliana Vegas. “However – she warned- it is ultimately up to each country’s leadership to commit to investing in ECD, so that children throughout the world may reach their full potential.”
Over the last 20 years, the World Bank has been helping governments from over 50 countries invest in Early Childhood Development. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Bank has financed over 30 ECD projects, including technical assistance, research and program funding.
In a few weeks, the Bank’s Board of Directors will consider the very first project under the Early Childhood Initiative, helping to train parents and caregivers of children from birth to 4 in the poorest 172 municipalities in Mexico.
Additionally, the World Bank is partnering with the World Food Program to focus on nutrition and health for 100,000 Haitian children under age 2, starting with a focus on the first 3 months. Through the World Health Organization and the Pan American Health Organization, the Bank is financing care for pregnant women and lactating mothers, providing a package of services for children under the age of 2.
Other World Bank ECD initiatives in the region include:
Brazil: The Bank is cooperating with researchers at Brazil’s Institute for Applied Economic Research to conduct an evaluation of publicly provided daycare centers (for children age 0-4 years), taking advantage of a lottery system to allocate limited spaces in municipal daycare centers (creches). Initial results show effective support for mothers under stress as a result of the centers. A policy program with Rio municipality is under preparation to support ECD policy reforms.
Chile: Working in close cooperation with a local Chilean researcher, the Bank is preparing a policy note for the Ministry of Finance on appropriate institutional arrangements for investing in ECD. The study focuses on the institutional framework for supporting, accrediting and assuring the quality of ECD services by providing an analysis of "good practice" examples from around the world that exemplify a range of different approaches relevant to the Chilean context.
Colombia: Preliminary discussions include providing quality Early Childhood Development services among poor Colombian families as part of the World Bank’s technical assistance program with Colombia.
Dominican Republic: Since 2002, the Bank has financed the ECD project ($42 million) in the Dominican Republic, increasing the availability of high quality educational services for young children, and creating 17 Regional Model Centers for early childhood education and care. In addition, it has supported more than 60 subprojects through a competitive Grant Program for inter-institutional support for child development.
Jamaica: In Jamaica, the Bank is co-financing the implementation of the National Strategic Plan for Early Childhood Development (NSP). Specifically, the NSP improves the monitoring of children’s development, the screening of household-level risks, and the systems for early interventions. Another key focus area is enhancing the quality of early childhood schools and care facilities, as well as strengthening early childhood organizations and institutions.