When the renowned international journal The Lancet published the 2016 series Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale, a small group of internationally focused organizations came together to begin educating U.S. policymakers on the need to support children’s development around the world. The journal series found that globally, 250 million children younger than age 5 were not reaching their development potential. This finding gave the small group the spark and the evidence necessary to drive change. The group grew into the Thrive Coalition, now 42 organizations focused on building champions and raising awareness for the United States’ involvement in global child development.
Through an initial grant in 2020 to RESULTS Educational Fund and then another grant in 2021 to the American Academy of Pediatrics (the Thrive Coalition Co-Chair), the Global Education Fund (part of our Family Philanthropy Initiative) has been supporting the Coalition’s efforts to educate policy and decision-makers in the U.S. Congress and the administration on the importance of global early childhood development.
“The U.S. government, which was the biggest and most influential donor globally, wasn’t taking child development on in a big way,” noted Leila Nimatallah, Senior Policy and Legislative Specialist at Catholic Relief Services.
That changed recently when the awareness efforts of the Thrive Coalition helped support the passage of the Global Child Thrive Act, which was passed into law in January 2021. The law calls for a comprehensive, multisectoral approach to address the different aspects of healthy child development globally, including health, protection, nutrition, clean water and basic education. The Coalition’s process of educating policymakers started with a question to their international stakeholders on the ground: What would make the biggest difference for children? The ideas that stemmed from those stakeholders became the foundation of the education campaign that resulted in the legislation. Early childhood development must now be integrated into existing foreign assistance programs that serve vulnerable children and their families.
“What makes the Thrive Coalition so special is that it is actually a coalition of coalitions. It brings together different coalitions that work on specific aspects of early childhood development — whether it be nutrition, maternal and child health, or education — to come up with common priorities and a structure to work together. We present a united front with one voice for children,” explained Mandy Slutsker, Director of Global Child Health Advocacy at the American Academy of Pediatrics and Co-Chair of the Coalition. The Coalition’s broad constituency and comprehensive approach to global child development helped solidify a multisector approach in the legislation.
“What makes the Thrive Coalition so special is that it is actually a coalition of coalitions. It brings together different coalitions that work on specific aspects of early childhood development – whether it be nutrition, maternal and child health, or education – to come up with common priorities and a structure to work together. We present a united front with one voice for children.”
The work of the Thrive Coalition has now turned to lifting up stakeholder voices in the implementation of the legislation. “Every project we initiate globally begins with a meeting with the community. Our staff live in those communities. We are pulling in our local folks to ensure that their voice comes first as we support implementation,” said Nimatallah.
Knowing that implementation will be the key to realizing the goal of the legislation, the Coalition is now working to win over the “hearts and minds” of the more than 30 offices and agencies within the U.S. government that have a role in the implementation of the act. “There are a lot of missed opportunities to implement [early childhood development and education] interventions in existing programs, so we are getting United States Agency for International Development and other agencies bought into the legislation and what it does, and creating tools for stakeholders on the ground so they can engage to support implementation.”
The work of the Thrive Coalition will support the growth and development of a quarter of a billion children from developing countries that do not have the resources to support them in reaching their full potential. What an incredible step toward improving early childhood outcomes globally.