Early Childhood Initiative launched by Shakira and Zoellick Helps Half Million Kids in its First Year

February 22, 2011

WASHINGTON, February 22, 2011- One year after the launch of a pioneering initiative to improve the well being of Latin American kids, more than half a million young children have benefited from the Early Childhood Initiative: An Investment for Life, a joint venture of the World Bank and Shakira’s advocacy group ALAS. 

In the initiative’s first year, governments in Latin America and the Caribbean have received over $100 million in funding from the World Bank –one third of the initial 3-year pledge of $300 million- to support Early Childhood Development (ECD) policies and programs. These provide nutrition, healthcare and stimulating environments to infants from birth through 6 years of age –a period of development crucial for achieving a child’s full potential. 

The project, launched in February of 2010 by World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick, artist and children’s advocate Shakira Mebarak, aims to mobilize all sectors of society towards the implementation of comprehensive, well-articulated, and efficient ECD policies and programs to equalize opportunities for low income children early in life.

"I am pleased to highlight the great advances in policy, programs, and service delivery in the initiative's first year. We look forward to continue working closely with ALAS and Shakira to expand the initiative to more countries in the region in the months and years to come," said World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick. "Improving opportunities in early childhood is central to our joint efforts to provide opportunities for all and reduce inequality,” Zoellick added.

Scientific evidence, according to World Bank research on cognitive development in the region, suggests that overall development outcomes in children are low and determined by their socioeconomic status, due in large part to the mother’s education and income level.

I’ve been dreaming for many years of a better world. I’m convinced we can only achieve this by investing in children and giving them the chance to improve their lives,” said artist and ALAS founder Shakira Mebarak. “Investments in ECD programs are among the most effective -and cost-effective- a country can make. Participating children demonstrate improved health and academic outcomes, while showing higher productivity and income in later years,” Shakira added. 

Currently, the Early Childhood Initiative supports ECD programs in Argentina, Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and Peru, through loans and grants. Colombia, Jamaica, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Nicaragua among others, benefit from ongoing technical assistance. 

Latin America and the Caribbean have made great strides in improving outcomes in children, but inequality persists between and even within countries. Over 9 million children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition and 22 million lack access to early basic care.

ECD Learning: In response to interest expressed throughout the region, the Early Childhood Initiative has led the establishment of an open group of ECD experts and practitioners from more than 17 countries to share knowledge and discuss relevant ECD issues on a regular basis within their own Community of Practice, now at 950 members. 

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.

In 2008 ALAS brought together the most talented artists in a large music concert that served as a platform to communicate the importance of the early years under the motto "We can solve in 6 years what we couldn't in 100". It has been the biggest music event in Latin America with 13 artists performing simultaneously in Argentina and Mexico, and 400,000 on site fans and millions of viewers in 13 countries. The event was free of charge for the public and it was the first time ECD was introduce to Latin America's society in a massive way. This is how ALAS came to life as the civil society assuming a new role that will contribute to Latin America's human, social and economical development.

Note to editors:

ALAS is a Latin American nonprofit organization founded in December 6, 2006 by the most prominent Latin American artists and business leaders who saw in promoting ECD the opportunity and way to end with the intergenerational cycle of inequality in the region. ALAS, chaired by Colombian business leader Alejandro Santo Domingo, seeks to mobilize all sectors of society towards the implementation of ECD comprehensive public policies that allow a universal access to a proper nutrition, stimulation and attention to health for children between 0 and 6 years old. 

The World Bank is an active member of ALAS’ Early Childhood Development Secretariat for Latin America —SEDITAL— , a platform of innovative knowledge and policies on ECD that serves countries in the exchange of information and experiences with international organizations to promote research and policies that will contribute to strategize and implement effective comprehensive ECD programs in the region.

The Secretariat brings to the partnership nine countries committed to ECD – Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay – and ten solid partners from international organizations and NGOs.

Media Contacts
In The World Bank
Stevan Jackson
Tel : (202) 437 6295
Ricardo Vargas
Tel : (202) 458 0777
In ALAS Foundation
Ruth Infarinato
Tel : (786) 267-0579