BLOG April 27, 2017

Business Leaders for Early Childhood: A Growing Global Trend

Below: Radu Enache, Sara Watson, Jack Brennan, and Gideon Badagawa at the World Bank Early Years Roundtable

Authored by:

  • Jack Brennan, Chairman Emeritus, Former CEO and current Senior Advisor, Vanguard; Co-Chair, ReadyNation CEO Task Force on Early Childhood
  • Gideon Badagawa, Executive Director, Private Sector Foundation Uganda; member, ReadyNation
  • Radu Enache, Former General Manager, Hewlett-Packard Romania SRL; Former President, American Chamber Board in Romania; Founding Board Member, ReadyNation RO
  • Brad Sparks, Executive Director, Global Corporate Citizenship, KPMG International; member, ReadyNation

The four of us, along with ReadyNation’s Global Director Sara Watson, recently had the great honor of speaking at the Partners Roundtable on Investing in the Early Years, a World Bank Group 2017 Spring Meeting event held in Washington, D.C.

The Roundtable, introduced by World Bank President Dr. Jim Kim, featured leaders of the world’s prominent NGOs in the children’s arena as well as Indonesia’s Minister of Finance - but it also brought together the four of us to highlight the crucial role business can play - and is playing - in preparing our next generation for success.

Each of us has been able to engage this topic in different ways, but with the same goal in mind.

Every nation’s future strength — economic and societal — is dependent upon a commitment to developing high-quality early childhood programs.

In the United States, ReadyNation has been at the forefront of this movement, doing everything from hosting the first-ever Global Business Summit on Early Childhood in New York City (after a dozen national business summits) and activating its members to meet with policymakers and author opinion pieces, to releasing insightful research reports to educate elected officials and the public about these pivotal issues. Vanguard was proud to participate in the Summit, as well as to author other media pieces and help encourage policymaker actions.

Meanwhile, ReadyNation International co-sponsored the first Business Summit on Early Childhood in Romania last year where the Romanian Ministers of Finance and Education affirmed the importance of the early years on future workforce development and economic growth. That summit helped set the stage for the recent development of a network of business champions for children in that country (ReadyNation RO), with support from the Open Society Foundations and in collaboration with Step by Step Romania. With funding from five foundations, led by the Jacobs Foundation, ReadyNation International also organized the first European Business Leader Forum on Early Childhood, which took place outside Zurich last October.

Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU) has spent the past three years turning member businesses and organizations into voices for change on behalf of young learners, through their initiative Early Steps Programme. PSFU also worked with Uganda’s Ministry of Gender, Labor, and Social Development in an unprecedented step that involved the private sector in reviewing and promoting child-related policies for the first time in the nation’s history. PSFU staff were instrumental in having the National Development Plan to include a chapter on early childhood for the very first time. Through PSFU advocacy, the Government of Uganda has committed to establish an ECD centre for every primary school in the country and draft clear legislation for preschool for the first time. In 2016, the Foundation successfully advocated for increasing the share of the national budget devoted to education (and particularly early learning) from 11.1% to 12%. PSFU’s programme has strengthened the drive to jointly work with ReadyNation and UNICEF (Uganda) to entrench child rights in corporate business agendas.

Recognizing that investment in education is a critical component to strengthening economies and building tomorrow’s workforce, KPMG’s Global Board recently established a new ambition – to empower change through a global commitment to promoting and enabling Lifelong Learning. The journey towards Lifelong Learning begins in the early years and KPMG is actively involved with a range of programs around the world that support early childhood education. For example, KPMG’s Family for Literacy is harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of KPMG partners, employees, and the extended KPMG family, to lay a foundation for lifelong learning at the start of a child’s education through the promotion of literacy by providing access to books. KPMG is complementing such programs by leveraging its global voice to advocate for education and using the skills of KPMG professionals to support Lifelong Learning in communities around the world.

Although the synergy between the business community and advocacy for public investments in early childhood may take different forms in various nations, it’s the commonality that merits the greatest attention: All of us have come to recognize the essential truth that every nation’s future strength—economic and societal—is dependent in large measure upon a commitment to developing high-quality early childhood programs and providing as much access as possible to those programs, especially for at-risk populations.

Our efforts coalesce around a particular group of actions—ways that business leaders can get involved in the cause. We must educate key audiences about why this issue is of major concern to business leaders. We must influence policy change so that our leaders make effective public investments in early childhood. We must support communities by emphasizing corporate social responsibility directed at children, particularly disadvantaged children. We must create supports for the parents who are also our employees and their families.

We noted during the Roundtable that the work that we’ve done is a sign of a growing movement within the business community. We’ve built that movement upon the research-backed conclusion that business interests align with investing in young people in a way that will enrich their educations, future careers, and lives.

But this work is not simply a sign of the movement. It’s a signal.

A signal to other business leaders that they have a vested interest in building the workforce they need through support for early childhood programs. A signal to policymakers that prioritizing early childhood will pay dividends today and tomorrow. A signal to the world that the future of their societies and economies will rest upon a foundation of the skills we impart to our youngest learners.

Whether as business leaders or as citizens, we can think of no nobler cause.

Further Reading