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Investing in Early Childhood Development CSI projects can provide business its greatest bang for buck

By Transform Marketing

The first 1 000 days of a child’s life is the bedrock for a stable, productive, healthy nation


When it comes to corporate social investment spend in South Africa, education remains the most popular cause for companies.


According to the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Handbook, the country’s leading publication for responsible business practice, 78% of firms supported the sector last year.


Average CSI spend on education also increased from 44% in 2022 to 48% in 2023.


Notably, early childhood development received on average 26% – or just more than a quarter – of education spend.


As Dr Nicky Roberts, director of education consulting firm Kelello Consulting, stated in her keynote address at the 2023 Trialogue Business in Society Conference, ECD stands to benefit greatly from CSI initiatives.


Roberts believes that since there is a need to better understand how South Africa’s multilingualism affects early learning, companies would do well to support research in this regard as well as provide “nuanced, quality African-language materials”.


Yet this is only one area where corporate investment can benefit the ECD sector.


Tanya Townshend, fundraiser for Home from Home, an organisation that provides and supports family-style foster care to orphaned, abused, neglected and vulnerable children in Cape Town, says it is “crucially important” for companies to invest in projects that give disadvantaged children a head start before school.

“The first 1 000 days of an infant’s life offer a unique opportunity to lay a solid foundation for health, growth and neurodevelopment. If a child’s body and brain develop well, this not only influences the ability to survive but how they grow, learn and rise out of poverty,” she says.

“Research shows that early childhood education is one of the best ways to help a child develop the social, emotional and cognitive skills they require to prepare for primary school and beyond.”

She says ECD investment is one of the most important tools available to ensure children benefit from formal schooling and from improved health and social and economic outcomes later in life.

There currently are 162 children of school-going age housed in Home from Home foster care homes. Of these, 15 fall within the ECD age bracket.

Townshend points out that about a third of South African children under the age of three are stunted, a reflection of chronic malnutrition.

“The effects of stunting last a lifetime. It leads to impaired brain development, lower IQs, weakened immune systems and greater risk of diseases later in life.

“Children who are stunted frequently have lower productivity and earn up to 20% lower than average wages as adults. Stunting can reduce a country’s GDP by as much as 3%.”

Home from Home has found that receiving stimulation and good nutrition is enormously beneficial to children as they overcome past traumas while growing up in a loving family environment.


South African Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has frequently emphasised the importance of investing in ECD centres to reduce poverty, improve academic performance and decrease the probability of prematurely dropping out of school.

No less an entity than the Industrial Development Corporation has answered her call by throwing its weight behind ECD programmes.

While IDC CSI manager Tebogo Molefe acknowledges in the Handbook that ECD programmes may not seem an obvious route to generating employment, improving this area in informal settings creates the foundation for learners’ successful participation in formal education, which in turn increases the likelihood of individuals positively contributing to the future workforce.


Boosting ECD also presents the opportunity to upskill the existing informal workforce operating in townships and rural areas. Infrastructure can be improved through building projects while childminders can receive formal training.


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