No one is born a good citizen; no nation is born a democracy. Rather, both are processes that continue to evolve over a lifetime. Children must be accorded the right environment right from birth as the years from conception to the first five years are critical period in laying the foundation for the child’s lifelong growth and development. It is essential that all sectors work together as there is no alternative to growth and development but to take appropriate measures to support their full development and growth of their potential. Maybe you’re wondering: Why hasn’t foreign or domestic aid had more impact on economic development and poverty reduction? One major reason is that we’ve so badly neglected Early Childhood Development (ECD). One of the biggest obstacles to this better world is our collective failure to help parents provide adequate nutrition, safe environments and sufficient stimulation to their children during the first 1,000 days of their lives. Scientific and economic evidence shows that this failure has life-long consequences. It can lead to stunting and other limitations in development, which are caused by a lack of nutrition, a lack of sufficient stimulation, and exposure to environments that cause stress among children.
Why invest in ECD?
Governments that don’t invest in a skilled, healthy, productive workforce are harming their future economic growth. Evidence suggests that an additional dollar invested in quality nutrition and preschool programs will yield a return of between $6 and $17 dollars. Parenting programs added to nutrition interventions from birth to 2 years result in higher IQ, reduced depression and violence at age 18 years and above and 50% earning at age 22. If children fail to get what they need – enough nutrition, nurturing, stimulation, and a sense of security – during the most critical years of early childhood, the impact on their lives and futures is enormous as stunting not only leaves children vulnerable to infection, but it can permanently limit their physical and cognitive capacity.
Looking forward, although survival rates of children have improved in Kenya, statistically Kenya still does not prioritize ECD with the effect that 1 in 4 children are stunted, and 1 out of 5 Children are not fully vaccinated. I’m deeply concerned that our failure to tackle this challenge is condemning millions of children to lives of exclusion lives where they won’t have the brain power to succeed in school or in an increasingly digitalized workplace. The good news is that we know the cost-effective, evidenced-based solutions that can solve this problem its early childhood development, or ECD.
What we are doing
At KANCO, we recognize early childhood development covers the physical, cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development of children, starting before birth until they enter primary school. These interventions start with adequate maternal and child nutrition and include early stimulation and learning activities. Providing early childhood development is both morally right and economically smart. Without it, inequality starts at birth, meaning children risk lifelong cognitive deficits through no fault of their own. Children who are poorly nourished, who are stunted, and who do not receive adequate parenting or stimulation before their fifth birthday, are likely to learn less at school and earn less as adults, perpetuating the cycle of poverty across generations. Competing in today’s digital economy requires a workforce with well-developed brains. How do we expect employers to invest in a country if its workforce is not sufficiently developed physically and or cognitively?
One important factor is a substantial shortfall in political and financial commitment at the national level. New estimates for FY 2015/6 budgetary allocations further affirms that point in that the vote-head on School Health, Nutrition and Meals, which is an important solution to enhancing school attendance for children from poor households, reduced from KSh 2,304,070,927 to KSh 1,475,706,546, representing a 36% reduction.
We must end childhood stunting and promote optimal development of young children through delivering universal access to ECD services as quickly as possible. The time also has come for a “whole of government” approach across different ministries and multiple sectors, and coordinated and sustained engagement with the private sector, foundations and civil society to scale up ECD interventions. We also need a National plan to hold all of us accountable for our policy decisions, financing, and faster progress. Depending on the path we choose, the journey to a world where everyone has the opportunity to reach their full potential can be long and arduous, but the path has shortcuts! More investment in ECD!
 (Gertler et al., 2014