Investing in Young Children: Two New Resources on Early Childhood Development

by Quentin Wodon

In recent years, a broad consensus has emerged on the fact that investing in young children is one of the best investments countries can make. And yet while investments in early childhood development (ECD) should be a priority, many countries and communities still fall short.

Tomorrow, the World Bank will release two new publications to serve as resources for those aiming to invest in ECD, whether they are government agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) including service clubs, or private firms. Both publications can be downloaded electronically free of charge.

Essential Interventions and Policy Principles
The first publication, titled Stepping up Early Childhood Development: Investing in Young Children for High Returns, provides a simple framework for thinking about investments in ECD. It describes and reviews available evidence on 25 essential interventions that have been identified as essential for a child’s growth and development (see figure below).

25 Essential ECD Interventions
25 Essential ECD Interventions

These interventions can be delivered through five packages at different stages in a child’s life: (i) a family support package to be provided throughout the ECD period, (ii) a pregnancy package, (iii) a birth package (from birth to 6 months), (iv) a child health and development package, and (v) a preschool package. In addition to these essential interventions and integrated packages, in order to create well-performing ECD systems, the guide calls for countries to be mindful of four policy principles. Countries should (1) prepare a multi-sectoral ECD diagnostic and strategy; (2) implement widely through effective coordination mechanisms; (3) create synergies and cost savings among interventions; and finally (4) monitor, evaluate, and scale up successful interventions. To a large extent these common sense principles are also likely to apply to NGOs, service clubs, and private firms.

Lessons from Past Investments

The second publication, Investing in Early Childhood Development: Review of the World Bank’s Recent Experience, indicates that operational and analytical investments in ECD have increased sharply in recent years at the World Bank. The review considered activities implemented from June 2000 to July 2013 within the Bank’s Education, Health-Nutrition-Population, and Social Protection-Labor Global Practices. Over 13 years, the three Global Practices invested $3.6 billion in ECD in 2013 U.S. dollars (in nominal terms, the amount was $3.3 billion). All geographic regions invested substantially, but the Africa and Latin America and Caribbean regions led the way with the largest IBRD and IDA investments, respectively.

Between fiscal years 2001 and 2011, commitments remained relatively stable in real terms, but in fiscal years 2012 and 2013, they more than doubled, and the trend has continued in 2014. An increase has been observed for both operations and analytical and advisory work. This increase in investments in ECD was related in part to a number of recent policy statements made by the World Bank on the importance of ECD, among others for nutrition, education, and social protection.

For NGOs or organizations such as service clubs, some of the lessons learned from the investments matter probably more than the level of the investments. To gain an understanding of which investments worked well, or required improvements, seven operations were selected for a more detailed analysis. The review highlights six lessons from those case studies that are probably relevant not only for governments but also for NGOs, service clubs, and private firms: (1) Designing ECD projects, due to their complexity and the time lag between investments and impacts on children’s development, requires careful attention to results frameworks, monitoring and evaluation, and a clear definition of roles and responsibilities of all actors; (2) Commitment from all levels of government as well as local communities is crucial; (3) Parents are key stakeholders who should be included in project design and implementation; (4) Coordination across sectors and administrative levels is essential; (5) Projects should be designed to ensure that quality interventions are accessible and culturally relevant to all children, and especially those facing disadvantage; and finally (6) Knowledge exchange (e.g., south-south activities) can be valuable exercises to improve ECD systems. None of these findings are surprising, but the case studies suggest how good practice in these areas leads to better outcomes.

Finally the review mentions a number of new initiatives taken over the last few years, including (1) the ECD module of the Systems Approach for Better Education Results (SABER) framework, which aims to provide a holistic multi-sectoral assessment of programs and policies that affect young children’s development; (2) the eLearning ECD module of the World Bank’s Education Staff Development Program, which brings together theory, practice, and shared experiences so that ECD policymakers and practitioners can engage in informed policy dialogue and decision making (this resource is also available free of charge; see this blog post series); and (3) the Early Learning Partnership (ELP) initiative, an innovative program initially focusing on the Africa region to promote scalable, sustainable, and impactful approaches for young children’s development and early learning. The ELP program is now becoming global and is being scaled up substantially thanks to support from the Children Investment Fund Foundation.


The evidence in the literature on the returns to investments in ECD is clear. Investing in ECD has high potential to help eliminate extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity. The demand from World Bank client countries for investments in ECD is rising, and the World Bank has scaled up its operational and analytical portfolio in this area. But this rising demand is also likely to be observed among communities, and NGOs and service clubs as well as private firms can play a key role in this area. The private sector can probably learn from the lessons learned over the last dozen years by the research and implementation communities, including multilateral donors such as the World Bank, on how to ensure the largest possible impact for investments in young children.

Note: This post is reproduced with minor changes from a post published today by the author on the World Bank’s education blog at

2 thoughts on “Investing in Young Children: Two New Resources on Early Childhood Development

  1. Am happy to read the information about ECD. This is really very true. But I feel young children still lie in the hands of their parents especially mothers in developing countries. Therefore helping and building the capacity of mothers through trainings and supporting projects run by women in developing countries will raise family’s economic trend in development.
    For many centuries, over 80% of the population in Kabale region where I live depend on rain-fed agriculture. Given the terrain, characterized by steep hill side slopes; deep and narrow valleys; lakes such as lake Bunyonyi, forests; hot springs and wetland; people in this region have faced unique challenges with cumulative changes in climate. Located in the south western corner of Uganda, Kabale district is in part underlain by siltstones and mudstones making most parts of the district prone to climate induced hazards such as landslides. With the increased population, and capitalistic tendencies, over 58% of the wetlands have been reclaimed; land has been greatly fragmented, the soils exhausted, and steep slopes over cultivated leaving the hills bare and vulnerable to climate change induced disasters. Already the district has, in the last 10 yers, experienced floods, landslides, prolonged drought and change in seasons leading to low production with associated food insecurity and malnutrition. Socially, Bakiga are patriarchal and in the rural context, this implies that the women is responsible for all domestic chores ensuring the family has sufficient to eat and other development issues yet, they do not own at least by inheritance the land. A number of interventions have been introduced by non governmental organizations such as giving goats or heifers. However they have faced challenges in implementation because they are not gender sensitive and do not work out through the entire household production chain.
    Therefore one village Uganda project will train women using transformative methodologies to first build their capacity to exploit their environment, rethink their roles and finally integrate the various interventions into sustainable land use options to household production all year round. The project will carry out trainings in self awareness to enable beneficiaries reflect and explore their capabilities- to touch their emotions so as to build confidence. During the same training phase, the beneficiaries will be trained in community based adaptations to climate change strategies. The major expected output of these trainings will be skills in climate hazard mapping, awareness about the climate change reality. The action and strategies will then be packaged into a sustainable homes campaign that will be launched during the mid life of the project. Some of the anticipated ventures of the sustainable homes, will include sustainable organic vegetable and seed production. This will therefore increase not only food in homes but also raise income at house hold level as well as fighting mulnutrition and food security.
    Thank you so much those who can join me for this great cause of early child development initiative.
    Rtn Herbert Bagyenyi Kajoki.

  2. This blog has just been posted to Facebook in RFPD Hq and RFPD, a public group.  

    George Prather, PhD

    Information Technology Manager for The Rotarian Action Group for Population and Sustainable Development


    Sent: Monday, December 15, 2014 at 3:27 PM

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