At the Seventieth Session of the United Nations General Assembly, currently underway, leaders from across the world have adopted a new set of global development goals that will establish the Development Agenda for United Nations Members States through 2030. To achieve the goals, access to quality early childhood development is recognized as essential for not just human development, but also sustainable development.
The week marks a unique moment in history, not only did Pope Francis open the UN Sustainable Development Summit during his first papal visit to the United States but for the first time in history, early childhood development is included in the global development agenda.
We are living through a knowledge revolution about how the brain develops in the first years of life, which affects how we meet young children’s needs. Early childhood development programmes are one of the most cost-effective ways to set the foundation of children’s health and education and to increase skills, abilities and productivity. Evidence increasingly points to investment in early childhood as one of the most cost-effective ways to achieve sustainable development. A study on increasing pre-school enrolment in 73 countries found higher future wages of $6 – $17 per dollar invested, indicating potential long-term benefits ranging from $11 to $34 billion. Cost-benefit ratios show that for every dollar spent on improving early child development, returns can be on average 4 to 5 times the amount invested, and in some cases, much higher.
However, close to 200 million children, or approximately 1 in 3, under 5 years of age, are not achieving to their potential. The challenge is in closing the gap between what the evidence tells us and what we do so we can unleash the enormous potential of our youngest citizens and build more prosperous and equitable societies. We need to commit to action that will make the development and wellbeing of young children a priority.
On this historic occasion, UNICEF convened a small gathering of thought leaders committed to prioritize early childhood development. The Meetings of the Minds event was held on Tuesday 22 September 2015 at 10 a.m. at the Headquarters of the United Nations in New York.
The objective was to help secure support from leaders in the public and private sectors in order to advance the case for increased investment in early childhood development to further the Sustainable Development Agenda. The four key pillars of investment are investing early, investing equitably, invest in quality, and invest in results.
“What we are learning about all the elements that affect a child’s brain – whether her body is well nourished, whether her mind is stimulated, whether she is protected from violence — must change the way we think about early childhood development … and how we act,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “To give every child a fair chance in life, we need to invest early, invest equitably, and invest smartly – not only in education, but in health, in nutrition, and in protection.”
This event has the endorsement of highest levels of political leaders through the attendance of the Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Executive Director Anthony Lake and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira. Neuroscientist Dr. Jack Shonkoff presented the latest scientific research. The attendees also included CEOs of some of the biggest companies in the private sector that know investing in early childhood development is a valuable investment for their businesses and the economy of the country.
UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira urged leaders gathering at the United Nations for the 2015 Sustainable Development Summit to significantly increase investment in early childhood. “More than 100 million children are out of school and 159 million boys and girls under five are physically and cognitively stunted due to a lack of care and proper nutrition. Every year that passes without us making significant investment in early childhood development and initiatives that address these issues, millions of kids will be born into the same cycle of poverty and lack of opportunity. UNICEF and I have joined forces and are here today because investing early in children is an urgent matter and there isn’t another moment to lose,” said Shakira.
Pia Britto is Senior Advisor on Early Childhood Development at UNICEF.