Diverse voices unite to join the Act For Early Years campaign

YouTuber Ms Rachel speaks at the Act for Early Years event.
Teacher and YouTube star Ms Rachel tells how her son received support in his early years

From government ministers and UN agencies to an influential YouTube star and Sesame Workshop, everyone is recognising the need to work together to end the early childhood crisis.

Leaders, experts, businesses, celebrity champions and activists have committed to join the global Act for Early Years campaign.

Voices as diverse as government ministers, influential YouTube star Ms Rachel, United Nations agencies and Sesame Workshop recognised the crisis and the need to work together to drive much-needed investment in the early years.

They gathered yesterday in New York at the Act For Early Years event, co-hosted by Theirworld, the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN) and Sesame Workshop during the United Nations General Assembly.

Investment in the early years unlocks potential across the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But the world is not on track to reach its targets by 2030 and now is the time to make bold investments in early years childcare and education.

Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown told the event: “This is a really crucial moment for us to be meeting. It’s the midway point of the SDGs but we are in the middle of a global early years crisis.

“More than half of the world’s young children are missing out on the early childhood care and education they urgently need. This is why we have launched the Act For Early Years campaign and welcome so many early years champions here.

“Success can only be achieved by working together – experts, businesses, champions, youth activists, government leaders – to act for early years.”

Theirworld Chair Sarah Brown watches Elizabeth Lule, Executive Director of the Early Childhood Development Action Network (ECDAN)

ECDAN Executive Director Elizabeth Lule said young children were also being impacted by other factors, such as climate change, conflict and poverty. She added: “We need to work together in solidarity and unlock the financing we need. Often the investment is too little and too late. It’s time to act together.”

The event featured an announcement that Theirworld will partner with Ukraine’s government to transform the lives of the youngest children in the war-torn country. We will support a national early childhood education and development initiative to give children the best start in life.

A panel of experts discussed evidence of progress on the provision of early childhood development and pre-primary education.

Yevhen Kudriavets, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Education and Science, said the early years are crucial for creating a solid and safe future for the country’s children. He said: “We are prioritising early years in the after-war recovery.”

Pictured from left to right; Yevhen Kudriavets, Ukraine’s First Deputy Minister of Education and Science; Hon. Dr Dorothy Gwajima, Tanzania’s Minister of Community Development, Gender, Women and Special Groups; Harriette Chiggai, Presidents’ Women rights Advisor, Kenya

Dorothy Gwajima, Tanzania’s Minister for Community Development, Gender, Women and Special Groups, told how her country is ensuring that every early childhood programme is a centre of excellence. She added: “We have a programme where communities own the agenda of making sure children are protected and we are starting to build ECD centres owned by the community.”

In Kenya, early childhood development is devolved to the counties, which ensure there are appropriate community facilities. Harriette Chiggai, the President’s women rights advisor, said: “There is no better investment in the world than investing in our children. The future of all our countries is dependent on the children we bring up.”

George Laryea-Adjei, Director of Programmes at UNICEF, talked about countries that have made specific progress on early childhood development – Rwanda, Burundi and Serbia.

Before a second panel discussed how to catalyse a movement for early years reform, a film was shown that spotlights Sesame Workshop’s support for Act For Early Years. Watch it here.

Then Sherrie Westin, President of Sesame Workshop, the global impact nonprofit behind Sesame Street, told how the organisation has focused on preschool for five decades. She said: “So much of what we’re creating is not only a tool for the child’s education but a catalyst for engagement with adults.”

Brazilian climate activist Amanda Costa has been appearing at events during Climate Week at the UN General Assembly. She said: “Children are most affected by the climate emergency. So why aren’t they at the centre of the climate change policies? The challenges are great but the power of mobilisation is even greater.”

Mwajuma Rwebangila, Executive Director of Tanzania Early Childhood Network, said her country had launched an early childhood development programme in 2021. She added: “Government cannot work by itself – civil society organisations have worked together to support the government in driving the agenda.”

Earlier this week, former tennis star and childhood education champion Roger Federer backed the Act For Early Years campaign. Janine Händel, CEO of the Roger Federer Foundation, told yesterday’s event that he can become the voice of the sector rather than of one organisation. She added: “Roger speaks the language of people who have not been reached so far. The case for early learning is evident – but we need to coordinate and act together.”

The event also featured Ms Rachel, a teacher and YouTube star whose channel of toddler learning videos has more than six million subscribers. She told how her son struggled to communicate as a toddler and said: “We were fortunate to have access to experts in this field and they really helped us to support him from 15 months to five years old. Now he is a passionate reader. We want all kids to have this wonderful chance.”

Two of Theirworld’s network of 2,000 Global Youth Ambassadors in more than 120 countries addressed the event. Ceren Yürümez from Turkey said: “Young people don’t just have energy. They are knowledgeable. Believe in us, work with us. Make sure that our voices are heard because we are speaking for children who don’t have a voice.”

Act for Early Years branding, with letters and doodles inspired by young children, was on show at the event

Tyra Gravesande from the United States said: “The youth are actively seeking change and driving social movement. We must recognise the importance of authenticity – rooted in real stories and the stories of young people.”

Other speakers included:

Luis Benveniste, Director of Education at the World Bank: “Change is possible and it doesn’t have to take long. In five years, Morocco went from having no early care programme to having 80% coverage.”

Jo Bourne, Chief Technical Officer of the Global Partnership for Education: “We are seeing a lot of demand from governments to work on early childhood. We spent about $255 million on early childhood programmes in countries where we work – an increase on previous years.”

Anka Lee, Deputy Assistant Administrator at USAID: “We need to be better coordinators. We need to be more thoughtful about how we make sure we integrate and have the right standards.”

We need to invest in the builders of tomorrow. It’s about quality early childhood development and education.

Sidsel Marie Kristensen, Chief Executive of the Lego Foundation

Lisa Bohmer, Director Global of the ECD Initiative, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation: “Too often we have great plans and not enough funding. We need to simplify our asks sometimes.”

Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive of Dubai Cares: “We need a path. We need agencies working together to put together goals to work towards.”

Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait: “ECW is absolutely convinced that if we don’t prepare children in the first few years of their life we are not preparing them for future learning and not for the future shocks they face with the climate crisis.”

Asif Saleh, Executive Director of BRAC: “We have the solutions. We have the communities ready. This is the time. Education and ECD are very fundamental basic things that need funding.”

Afshan Khan, Coordinator of Scaling up Nutrition: “Without the right nutrition, children cannot learn. When we talk about financing, children should be at the centre of everything.”

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