Rapid advances in neuroscience and genomics have led scientists to reach the unmistakable conclusion that the experiences and relationships we have as children exert a lasting biological influence on our learning, behavior, and health across the life course. Despite this growth in knowledge, an untold number of children are growing up in environments devoid of the experiences and relationships they need to thrive.
Equally disturbing is the fact that every year, millions of children die because they don’t get optimal nutrition during the critical period from their mother’s pregnancy through their second birthday. Children who miss out on good nutrition during this time never fully grow physically or mentally, limiting their ability to learn in school and reducing their productivity as adults.
Global challenges, as complex as those mentioned above cannot be solved by any one solution, individual, or organization. Among many other reasons, important variables that influence the intended outcomes are not and often cannot be known or predicted in advance. Recognizing these realities, a growing number of thought leaders are setting out in search of new, innovative ways to achieve broad-scale impact.
Take for example, the All Children Thriving partnership. Focused on developing new tools and holistic approaches to help mothers and children thrive in the developing world by ensuring a healthy birth for both mother and child and setting children on a path to healthy physical growth and cognitive development, All Children Thriving includes recent initiatives and commitments from Grand Challenges Canada (Saving Brains); the Saving Lives at Birth partnership (including the US Agency for International Development, the Government of Norway, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Grand Challenges Canada, the UK Department for International Development, and the Korea International Cooperation Agency); and a set of four new and interlinked initiatives, three through Grand Challenges partnerships in Brazil, India, and South Africa, and one from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Particularly exciting is how each of these initiatives not only builds on the work and learnings from past initiatives, but also frequently represents a new experiment or approach to advancing our shared work. Another promising new initiative in this vein, Family Care First (FCF) launched last fall with leadership from USAID. Initial programming focused on Cambodia has been collaboratively co-created with the Global Alliance for Children, Save the Children, and over 20 other local and international NGOs. Because a stable, protective, and nurturing family is central to securing many of children’s developmental needs, FCF is designed to promote comprehensive and effective care systems that prioritize family care and to support scalable pathways out of adversity for children. Its primary objectives are to prevent avoidable child-family separations and to improve the lives of children who are already living outside family care.
What makes FCF so unique is that it is designed to harness the power of collective impact. More specifically, it has set out to bring together donors, implementers, researchers and policymakers around achieving a common agenda; challenged all sectors to work together in both identifying and engaging necessary resources; and embraced shared measurement as a means to ensure the type of rapid learning that has been shown to lead to systemic change.
Central to FCF is also a strong emphasis on gathering data. Many of the challenges associated with children living outside family care have not been effectively tackled because they have not been reliably measured. Many countries, including Cambodia, do not yet know how many of their children live outside families or are at risk for separation, much less which interventions are most needed or effective to help them. Collecting and using data smartly will also help solutions adjust quickly to changing contexts and become more efficient in delivering the desired outcomes.
Innovative efforts like these represent the next generation of global development—efforts that harness the power of partnerships, collaboration, and data to drive transformational change. We are confident that taking such bold steps to help children and their families live full and productive lives will pay dividends for generations to come.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Steven Buchsbaum, Deputy Director of Discovery & Translational Sciences at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation