The Time is Now: Investing Early in Our Children’s Future

Innovation in meeting the needs of young children is not a new thing. Head Start and Sesame Street were both born out of the War on Poverty in the 1960s, and Mister Rogers Neighborhood celebrated its 50th year anniversary this year. Notable progress in developing new practice and policy models has been undertaken over the past few decades. Scalable, evidence-based models like Early Head Start, home visitation programs, Educare, and other system interventions such as professional learning standards, state-based pre-K, and quality rating systems—to name a few—are now broadly influencing early childhood opportunities for young children and their families.

Despite significant progress, there is much more work to be done to deliver on a vision where all children are flourishing toward education and life success. The United States still lags most OECD countries in its public investment in early childhood. A third of children in the United States today are not fully ready when they enter kindergarten; this number is even higher than 50% for children from a lower income background. Kindergarten readiness is generally defined as a combination of socio-emotional/executive function skills (e.g., children being able to communicate their needs, wants, and thoughts verbally, and to be enthusiastic and curious about approaching new activities) and cognitive/physical and health attributes (e.g., developing language and literacy skills, and basic math, social, and motor skills). A strong early start matters for lifelong learning and fulfillment. For instance, children who enter kindergarten unprepared are:

  • 25% more likely to drop out of high school
  • 40% more likely to become a teen parent
  • 50% more likely to be placed in special education
  • 60% more likely to never attend college
  • 70% more likely to be arrested for violent crime

 Why Now?

Scientific progress in neuroscience has clearly established why the early years matter, and recent research is rapidly advancing our societal understanding of brain development and quality of human interactions, including responses to stress and trauma. New technologies and platforms are fueling progress in a fragmented early childhood ecosystem. Furthermore, we can now make a powerful economic case for investing in our youngest children: well-designed programs can yield demonstrable societal returns. For example, the Nobel Laureate economist Jim Heckman’s research documents that there is a 13 percent return on investment for comprehensive, high-quality, birth-to-five early education and that returns are the greatest in the earliest years.

In parallel, new demographics with two-third of children under five in homes where both parents work, are hyper-connected and informed, and a new “majority-minority” of young children with a majority of children under five being non-white are driving demand for innovative quality early childhood solutions.

In this context, how can we accelerate the supply of affordable quality solutions so that all children can enter school ready to learn? How can we help advance the skill sets critical for the future of work right from the start? And, perhaps most importantly, how can we spur early childhood development to build new social capital, leveraging the evidence that high quality early childhood development can help foster family, friend and neighborly relationships that are needed to build a brighter, shared future for all?

A First-Of-Its Kind Event: Early Futures

Omidyar Network, Sesame Workshop and Promise Venture Studio have joined forces with the Campaign for Grade Level Reading, the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the Early Learning Lab, Gary Community Investments, the LEGO Foundation, Overdeck Family Foundation, and the Valhalla Charitable Foundation, to spark what we hope will be a larger movement for the country—and potentially the world—to focus on building on past and new innovations for our youngest children. We aspire to shine a bright light on promising entrepreneurial talent and innovations, and encourage  more leaders with innovative ideas to come forward.

Each of our organizations has been focused on early childhood—from investing, to building programs at scale, to new innovations—but we all recognize that additional collaboration and partnership will be critical for success in this next phase.  Together we can achieve a collective vision of impact for all young children.

Kicking off on November 27, 2018, Early Futures is a first-of-its-kind two-day gathering of leaders who have recognized that the early years are a critical time for new investments in our nation’s most precious resource, our children. A cross-section of 200 leaders from within and outside the field of early learning and development will convene to form partnerships, gain exposure to new ideas, and support a field that is percolating with exciting innovations and a new cadre of entrepreneurs.

Most importantly, this new community will examine opportunities to build new capacity in the early learning field as it enters a critical next stage. Attendees include some of the leading pioneers in early learning and healthy development whose track record of accomplishments have laid a solid foundation for sustained progress. Additionally, more than 50 non-profit and for-profit ventures in the inaugural class of Promise Venture Studio, a new non-profit venture studio attracting, supporting, and connecting entrepreneurs focused on early childhood development. The ventures were selected to demo their solutions from early to late stages of growth. They extend from platforms that encourage outdoor play or more quality in-home childcare, to services that support early identification of autism, treatment of opioid addiction or early language development, to programs that reach children and parents where they might need it most via tech solutions or in-person assistance. Foundations, impact investors, policy makers, educators, health care professionals, scholars, and media leaders make up the rest of this diverse and dynamic community.

Just like Head Start, Sesame Street, and Mister Rogers Neighborhood, the innovations we seed today will set forth a future where every child can fulfill his or her innate potential. We are excited about what the next decade of innovation will bring for our youngest learners. Let’s harness the power of science, innovation and design for scale, combined with access to all types of capital, to help pave the way for innovative early childhood solutions that positively impact a new generation of early learners. Let’s build the future of early childhood together.



Early Futures runs from November 27-28, 2018. Follow and join the conversation at #EarlyFutures.