2023 review: a big year of unlocking big change

From the new Theirworld film looking back at some of our highlights of 2023

Theirworld continued to make a major impact in a packed and rewarding year of campaigns, projects, research, innovation and youth activism.

What a year! Throughout 2023, Theirworld continued to mobilise our network of youth activists, campaigners, businesses and partners as part of our mission to ensure all young people have the best start in life, a safe place to learn and skills for the future.

We launched a campaign that has grown to become a global call for investment in the early years. We reached more than 1.5 million children through our projects in countries from Nigeria to Ukraine.

We continued to support pioneering research into the causes and effects of premature birth. We awarded grants and mentoring help to innovative organisations. And our 2,000 Global Youth Ambassadors ensured the voices of young people were heard loud and clear.

Our new film below gives a flavour of how we unlocked big change in 2023.

Now here’s a more detailed look at some of Theirworld’s work throughout a challenging and rewarding year.

Act For Early Years campaign

In April, Theirworld launched the Act For Early Years campaign – calling for a global revolution in the education and care of the world’s youngest children. It urged G20 countries to ensure quality childcare and pre-primary education for all.

The campaign was backed by an extensive Act For Early Years report, which laid out the challenges and the case for investing in and prioritising the early years, along with a global survey on parents’ struggles to get childcare that was covered in depth by major media outlets.


Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown and Roger Federer promote the Act For Early Years campaign

The campaign was ramped up over the summer, when celebrities from several countries took part in the Global Tantrum – a series of comic videos with a serious message. They included British star Matt Lucas, American singer Kimberley Wyatt and Kenyan actor Jacky Vike.

Act For Early Years was taken to New York in September during the United Nations General Assembly. We co-hosted an event with the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) and Sesame Workshop, where voices as diverse as government ministers, influential YouTube star Ms Rachel and UN agencies spoke about the need to work together to drive investment in the early years.

An important moment came when tennis legend and early education champion Roger Federer supported the campaign. He said: “Millions of children around the world aren’t getting the care and education they need. It’s time to Act For Early Years.”

Last month, Theirworld and ECDAN coordinated an open letter to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, urging him to use his country’s presidency of the G20 to champion the world’s youngest children. It has now been signed by more than 100 leading organisations.

Our community projects and partners

Our projects impacted more than 1.5 million children this year. They include working with local partners to address challenges and drive progress – from early childhood education centres and girls’ entrepreneurship clubs to refugee education and skills initiatives. During 2023, we shared the news of these community projects.

Children in AREAi’s Fast Track programme use the Mavis talking pen and books (AREAi/F. Oguche)

AREAi was a winner in the 2021 Theirworld Education Innovation Awards. Further support from Theirworld has helped the growth of an innovative programme to teach reading and mathematics skills to children living in Nigerian displacement camps.

MyBestStart. Theirworld supports a programme for children in Lebanon who are unable to access preschool – through a combination of online lessons at home and in-person teaching.

Skills for Their Future. To mark International Day of Girls in ICT in April, we made a new film showing how girls in Tanzania had been prepared for technology careers through a programme run in partnership with BRAC Maendeleo Tanzania.

LEAP (Learning, Educating And Protecting) Together – run by Chance for Childhood. Learning support assistants and parenting workshops are key parts of this project supported by Theirworld in Kenya that has worked with more than 200 street-connected children.

Earth Warriors. A project supported by Theirworld in Zambia and Botswana will reach more than 2,600 children aged three to 11 at 20 schools, teaching them about the region’s most urgent environmental challenges. It is also training about 100 teachers.

Ahead of World Youth Skills Day in July, Theirworld announced a partnership with JA (Junior Achievement) Africa to equip girls in Zambia and Zimbabwe to become entrepreneurs and community leaders through a programme called Rise Up Girls.

In the Netherlands, Theirworld is supporting a pilot project run by Designathon Works that will deliver climate education to children aged eight to 12 at a new school for refugees.

Supported by Theirworld, the ZanaAfrica Foundation is tackling taboo topics in Kenya by providing sanitary pads and giving introductory health lessons to thousands of teenagers.

Education in emergencies 

Some of our projects work to deliver education to children and young people affected by emergencies such as conflicts and natural disasters. Our main focus this year was on the ongoing effects of the war in Ukraine. 

In February, we told how a programme supported by Theirworld is helping Ukrainian children in the UK keep in touch with their roots. Stay With Ukraine uses online lessons to let refugee children continue their Ukrainian studies. In June, we reported the programme had reached 700 students in 33 countries.

Theirworld’s Global Business Coalition for Education also supported a project to distribute more than 70,000 laptops and learning devices to Ukrainian refugees in various countries, as well as to displaced children in Ukraine and teachers.

Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown and Theirworld President Justin van Fleet outlined plans to expand our education support for Ukraine’s children when they met President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv in September. Sarah said: “By working together, we believe in the Ukraine dream to build a peace one day that will last generations.”

Theirworld then announced we will work with Ukraine’s government by supporting a national early childhood education and development initiative.

Apart from our Ukraine work, Theirworld is also supporting an emergency programme to provide vital mental health services to children affected by a devastating earthquake in Turkey.

Our Global Youth Ambassadors

Theirworld’s Global Youth Ambassador (GYA) programme is a network of 2,000 young people from more than 120 countries working together to end the global education crisis.

Our Global Youth Ambassadors Siyu (Suzanna) Chen, Nelly Cetera, Tyra Gravesande, Manfred Kyenkyehene Osei and Ceren Yürümez at the Act For Early Years event (Theirworld/Ilya Savenok)

They played a key role this year in promoting the Act For Early Years campaign – spreading the message around the world. In September, five GYAs had an unforgettable week during the UN General Assembly as they attended events and met government ministers and education campaigners.

GYAs also set up Task Teams to raise awareness and influence policy-makers on health and climate issues as they affect education.

And Nhial Deng became the second GYA to be awarded the prestigious $100,000 Global Student Prize. He was recognised for his remarkable work in a Kenyan refugee camp.

The Education Innovation Awards

The Theirworld Education Innovation Awards offer non-profits, NGOs and charities in countries with marginalised learners the chance to secure scale-up grants, mentoring and masterclasses.

Book Dash was one of the winners of the second round of our Education Innovation Awards

In January, our second round of awards were launched, with £80,000 grants on offer to three organisations. Later in the year, we revealed the winners. They involve free children’s books produced in a day in South Africa, a phone app from Jordan packed with play-based classroom activities and a project to build creativity in Nigerian children through technology.

Applications for the third Education Innovation Awards were invited in June – with a focus on bold and creative early childhood projects.

Research on premature babies

Created by Theirworld in 2004, the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory in Edinburgh identifies causes of premature birth and develops treatment to support the youngest babies, saving lives every day. The pioneering Theirworld Edinburgh Birth Cohort research programme began at the laboratory in 2015.

Professor James Boardman with a premature baby at the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory in Edinburgh (Theirworld/Phil Wilkinson)

In March, we reported that a study of babies from the cohort showed the benefits of breast milk for the part of the brain used for learning and thinking. In May, research involving cohort children showed premature babies from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to experience problems with early brain development. Professor James Boardman, whose team conducted the research, said it presented “exciting new opportunities” for targeted support.

To mark Baby Loss Awareness Week in the UK in October, we looked at the role of the Jennifer Brown Research Laboratory over almost two decades.

Focus on fundraising

In June, our amazing supporters walked more than 20 million steps when they took part in Theirworld, Your Walk – a challenge to raise money and help us support some of the world’s most vulnerable children.

Two weeks ago, Theirworld took part in The Big Give Christmas Challenge. With every donation matched by generous funders, we raised £37,345 to support projects for 60,000 young children in four countries.

Global Business Coalition for Education

Theirworld’s business initiative continued to mobilise companies to support education. In February, it made two major announcements on education in emergencies.

On behalf of the business community, it pledged an additional $50 million of support for the Education Cannot Wait fund. And it launched the Global Disaster Relief and Education Response Fund to provide businesses with on-the-ground information and ready-to-go partnerships to raise and distribute funds within 30 days of an emergency.

Last month, the Global Business Coalition for Education revealed the overall $100,000 winner of its Big Ideas, Bright Cities challenge to help boost youth skills across the United States.

Our Small Grants Programme

Theirworld’s Small Grants Programme gives up to £10,000 to charities and non-profits helping disadvantaged and overlooked young people in the UK and around the world.

Last month we announced the 2023 Small Grants Programme recipients – 17 of them from 11 countries. We also spotlighted the work of the Teapot Trust, which received a grant in 2022 to support young people experiencing trauma because of physical health conditions.

Adeyinka Aliyah took part in the STEMposium, part of the STEMXX project run by The Sapphires Development Initiative

During 2023 we also looked at two other organisations awarded Small Grants last year. The Blessed Life Foundation Uganda creates opportunities for young village women by teaching them the skills needed for work. The STEMXX Nigeria project, run by The Sapphires Development Initiative, educates and mentors schoolgirls to become advocates for science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their communities.

Our schools resources

Last month Theirworld released a new set of school resources that focus on disability and girls’ education. The packs for UK school students and teachers have engaging and thought-provoking activities and feature the experiences of some of our Global Youth Ambassadors. Kainat Riaz, who features in the girls’ education resources, said: “For me, education is like a light – without light you can’t see anything.”