Shakira, World Bank Launch US$300 Million Early Childhood Initiative

February 22, 2010

WASHINGTON DC, February 22, 2010 - Grammy Award-winning artist Shakira and World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick today launched a US$300 million joint initiative aimed at expanding development programs for young children in Latin America and the Caribbean.  

The “Early Childhood Initiative: An investment for life” seeks to focus cost-effective policies and resources in the region, while mobilizing public support to improve opportunities for its young citizens and thereby help overcome deep inequalities, said Zoellick during a signing ceremony of the partnership agreement between Shakira’s ALAS Foundation, Columbia University’s Earth Institute and the World Bank, held at the Bank’s Washington D.C. headquarters.  

Early Childhood Development (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. The initiative will help expand ECD programs in a region where 9 million children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and 22 million lack access to early basic care.

“If we want to build a better world, we have to give children the chance to improve their lives, no matter where they are born or how difficult their circumstances.  By giving every child a fair start in life, we are improving our collective future,” Shakira told the an audience of 100 VIPs, including Latin American and Caribbean ambassadors and officials from the education sector, along with representatives from other international organizations.

The Colombian artist is a leading activist for children and the founder of ALAS -a coalition of Latin American artists and business leaders promoting the adoption of comprehensive ECD programs in the region. 

The groundbreaking initiative will provide over the next two years US$300 million in loans, grants and trust fund resources, as well as technical support, towards the design and implementation of ECD policies in Latin America and the Caribbean. It will also expand a learning community of practitioners to exchange knowledge and experiences.

ALAS – and Shakira in particular – have made an enormous contribution to placing young children at the heart of the public policy priorities  in Latin America ,” said Zoellick.“We are pleased to work with her, ALAS and the Earth Institute to offer hope and opportunity for children who deserve a better future.”

Zoellick and Shakira explained that investments in ECD programs are among the most effective –and cost-effective–  a country can make as participating children demonstrate improved health and academic outcomes, while showing higher productivity and income in later years. They noted that delays in early childhood interventions are difficult and costly to reverse later in life, as the Bank’s recent publication The Promise for Early Childhood Development in Latin America illustrates. 

Citing Haiti’s emergency response as a timely example of working with partners, Zoellick said that ECD initiatives will play a key role in Haiti’s reconstruction, where attention will be placed on rebuilding not only the country’s infrastructure but also the potential of its people. He stressed the importance of partnering with UNICEF, UNESCO and the World Food Program, among others, to provide urgent relief to the Haitian children and mitigate the long-term impact of the January 12 earthquake on an entire generation of Haitians. 

One of the initiative’s first programs will be a partnership with Mexico’s state agency CONAFE to provide training for parents and caregivers to improve their competencies and practices in caring for children 0-4. The initiative will focus on the poorest 172 municipalities in Mexico, located primarily in its southern states.  

In addition to providing funds to participating countries, the Early Childhood Initiative will work with the ECD Secretariat for Latin America and the Caribbean, a project of ALAS, the Earth Institute, and the governments of Mexico, Colombia, Chile, Panama, Paraguay and Argentina, to develop best practices and identify promising pilot projects for children under 6.  This work will be presented at the UN’s Millennium Development Goals Summit in September and the XX Ibero-American Summit of the regional Heads of State in November in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

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. At present, private and public investments in ECD initiatives range from less than 1 percent to roughly 12 percent of the total educational expenditures of countries in the region, according to World Bank estimates.

Note to editors:

  • In 2009, ALAS, in a partnership with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, created the ECD Secretariat for Latin America and the Caribbean with delegates from international organizations and representatives of the governments of Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Panama and Paraguay. Last December, Shakiraaddressed the XIX Ibero-American Summit alongside economist Jeffrey Sachs. Together they secured a commitment to make early education a central topic of this year’s Summit in Mar del Plata, Argentina.
  • Shakira founded the ‘Fundación Pies Descalzos’ in 1995. Today, it supports 6 schools in Colombia and over 6,000 students and their families with nutritious meals, education, and psychological support services, all of whom have been affected by poverty and population displacement. In 2008, Shakira founded the Barefoot Foundation, a U.S. 501(C)(3) dedicated to universal education. In January 2010, the Barefoot Foundation and Board Member Howard Buffett announced plans to build a Barefoot School in Haiti to support recovery efforts.

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.   

Media Contacts
In The World Bank
Stevan Jackson
Tel : (202) 437 6295
In ALAS Foundation
Ruth Infarinato
Tel : (786) 267-0579