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