Protecting all children at-risk: how to scale up coverage and impact?
Irina Hotz, Co-Lead Learning Societies at the Jacobs Foundation, took part at a session on community empowerment during the 2020 Partnership Meeting of the World Cocoa Foundation. She shared her experiences in education in Côte d’Ivoire and how the learnings could be useful when thinking about tackling child labor and improving overall child wellbeing.
How everything started
During the World Cocoa Foundation Partnership Meeting I took part in a lesson learned session on Cocoa Action that took me back to 2016 and the first time we as a Foundation started interacting with the cocoa and chocolate industry. We had recently launched our largest ever single country program called TRECC, Transforming Education in Cocoa Communities, endowed with CHF 50M to mobilize an ecosystem of diverse stakeholders with the common goal of providing every child with a good start in life and the opportunity to develop to their full potential through quality education.
We knew we could not change the needle alone and realized that with the launch of Cocoa Action, the cocoa and chocolate industry players were substantial to drive large scale change. We thought there was an evident overlap in objectives, as education provides children with the opportunity to thrive, breaks the cycle of poverty and contributes to addressing one of child labor’s root causes.
The feedback we got from many industry players was mostly hesitant. In many of our interlocutor’s eyes, there was not a sufficient business case to invest in education infrastructure, let alone education quality. Quality education did not have sufficient immediate impact on the targets they had set themselves on productivity, women empowerment, and child labor.
This was 4 years ago; I am very proud and humbled to say we have come a long way since.
We have since partnered directly with 12 companies, 8 ministries and 20 civil society and research organizations in joint projects with the objective to scale evidence-based approaches to provide children with access to quality education and promote good parenting practices to foster early childhood development.
Within these partnerships we have co-funded together with industry and other partners many promising education approaches contributing to preventing and remediating child labor, including bridging classes preschool provision and educator training, parental training on early childhood development and teacher training on learner-centered pedagogies.
Three areas of focus
What we saw in many initiatives, including our own, were many small-scale, isolated projects. While in themselves oftentimes successful, in sum they were not able to address the ever-growing needs. Through the years, we came to understand that to promote children’s rights and development sustainably, a continued shift in mindset and action from all stakeholders would be needed. This most importantly included:
- Tackling root causes of child labor in addressing poverty, health, and education
- Focusing efforts on simple evidence-based solutions
- Joining forces to work systemically and in areas of greatest need
1. Tackling root causes of child labor in addressing poverty, health, and education
Child labor is a serious challenge that is driven by many dimensions affecting and influencing families, caregivers and children’s choices. Seeking the best for their children and families with often limited means, parents face difficult choices. This includes the question of enrolling and keeping children in school, which may not always seem to be the best choice if the school is too far away indirect schooling costs might excessive for the household budget or schooling quality is insufficient. In Côte d’Ivoire, almost 50% of children are not reaching minimum reading levels in primary school and parents’ perception of education quality has shown to be a driver for school enrollment and retention.
Simply building schools and providing materials is not enough. Evidence is showing us correlations between access to quality education, school attendance and lower child labor risks. A representative survey conducted in 2020 within the entire cocoa growing area in Côte d’Ivoire showed that schools with smaller class sizes or lower repetition rates have significantly higher attendance rates. While there seems to be a broader understanding of certain correlations and the effectiveness of certain programs, more evidence is still needed to understand the direct causal links between the crucial preventive measures such as education, poverty, health and nutrition and child labor.
2. Focusing efforts on simple evidence-based solutions
Multidimensional and complex issues don’t have easy solutions. Regardless of the complexity, however, experience across the globe and from the TRECC program has shown us that scaling requires simple solutions developed with the idea of subtracting activities rather than adding more activities. As effective as a single program may be, as it combines everything we believe is important and know to be effective such as teacher training, community support and mentoring, VSLAs, , scaling it as an entire program through governmental and or market systems is extremely difficult and complex.
Global evidence shows that only 1 in 20 pilot projects is effectively scaled and it takes 10-15 years to scale for those that do make it. Scaling requires to understand not only if an approach works overall, but which of its specific elements are most effective and scalable. Victims of this fallacy ourselves, the TRECC program has since also embarked on a pruning process. For example, of the 12 pilot to scale projects that we had jointly launched with 12 cocoa and chocolate companies, and the government we have continued with only the 6 most successful approaches based on independent evaluations. As we continue, we are mandating further rigorous evaluations to deepen our understanding of the key components of each approach to prepare for the scale of only the most effective elements and principles through large programs as well as government and market systems.
3. Joining forces to work systemically and in areas of greatest need
Last but not least, in order to scale impact, the shift from a project logic to a systems logic is essential. With this I mean moving away from company and organization individual projects and joining resources and expertise to work through existing systems. It also means taking a landscape approach, scaling across entire areas rather than a community by community and individual supply chain exclusive approach.
This became even more evident to us in the case of education. When we think about scaling for example the Teaching at the Right level methodology, or PEC (Programme d’Enseignement Ciblé), to improve learning outcomes, economies of scale and efficiency can only be achieved when working with the government through its own education delivery system. This allows scaling sustainably by entire education regions, reaching all schools in a specific area rather than individual schools scattered across various administrative entities.
In order to do so, not only coordinated but joint action is called for in a strong partnership with all involved stakeholders: Government, industry, civil society and donors. This last point continues to be in my view the biggest challenge of all three areas that require a mindset shift. Joining forces requires a common vision and joint understanding of objectives and partnership principles, a shared understanding of need and priority areas and it also requires a deep level of trust amongst all partners.
A promising partnership
This being said, there are many positive signs that things are moving in the right direction. A concrete example would be the ongoing discussions of a comprehensive children first PPP.
Even more encouragingly, two pooled funding initiatives called CLEF and ELAN have already been put forward as a concrete contribution to the PPP objectives. The two initiatives with a target capitalization of CHF 150M, aim to scale access to quality education and early childhood development services across the cocoa growing areas through government systems. They have already been endorsed by Côte d’Ivoire Council of Ministers, 14 visionary cocoa and chocolate companies and 3 philanthropic foundations, with more to join hopefully soon. It shows that the local ecosystem is ready to pick up the challenge and tackle the root causes of child labor, focusing on clearly outlined evidence-informed approaches, and investing jointly in a landscape approach starting with the areas of greatest need.
Irina Hotz is Co-Lead of the Learning Societies Porfolio at the Jacobs Foundation. With a background in the private sector and a degree in political science and economics, she spearheaded the cross-sectoral partnerships with the Foundation’s corporate partners in Côte d’Ivoire before taking a senior management role across multiple countries. Based between Côte d’Ivoire and Zurich from 2015-2019, she supported the local development of the TRECC program and successfully structured and managed its partnerships with the private sector focusing on quality education initiatives.