Be Local, Be Responsive: Firelight’s New ECD Strategy

If there are two characteristics of the Firelight Foundation’s giving that have remained constant over the years, they are as follows: this is a funder that offers strong support to community-based organizations and one that its willing to back groups that other foundations may be reluctant to support. But all things do not remain constant at Firelight, which is entering into a new phase in it early childhood development (ECD) work. Before I get into that, let’s dig into Firelight’s ECD background.

Back in 2012, the Firelight Foundation, along with help from the Conrad N. Hilton and Bainum Family foundations, began implementing its three-year ECD initiative. The overall goal was to “...increase the percentage of young children affected by HIV and AIDS who achieve age-appropriate milestones in the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive domains.” Instead of swooping in and dictating how the initiative was to be implemented, the foundation tapped into the deep local roots and knowledge base of community-based organizations (CBOs) in Malawi, Tanzania, and Zambia.

Related: The Firelight Foundation’s HIV/AIDS Grantmaking: Three Takeaways

While Firelight has enlisted the help of CBOs in its ECD initiative, it didn’t take a hands-off approach. The foundation supported what it refers to a Lead Partner organization, which helped to coordinate, train, and mentor a group of five CBOs. The Lead Partner organizations were not used as a method for Firelight to keep tabs on the CBOs, but rather a tool to help bring organizations together for increase opportunities and capacity building efforts in the field of ECD.

Fast forward to 2015 and Firelight and its partners have helped to established or strengthen nearly 70 new and existing ECD centers. Now the foundation has decided that the time has come to move to the next task in early childhood development. Firelight isn’t abandoning ECD or moving on from it, instead, it’s going deeper.

In this next phase, the foundation’s ECD initiative will be zeroing in on the quality of ECD centers for preschool aged children, and the role that parents and caregivers play in the early childhood development of infants and toddlers.

Here’s the plan for how this is going to break down:

In Malawi, Firelight is supporting the Namwera AIDS Coordinating Committee and CBOs to “improve the quality of care and education at their ECD centers.” The foundation is also working with the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme–Uganda to develop “affordable, high quality, and culturally relevant ECD services in eastern Africa.”

In Tanzania and Zambia, the foundation, along with its Lead Partner, Tanzania Home Economics Luapula Foundation and CBOs will be working to build ECD programming capacity that will work to help “families and communities to provide their youngest children (birth to 3 years) with nurturing relationships and supportive environments to promote their holistic development.” For this leg of the initiative, Firelight will be working with the Madrasa Early Childhood Programme in Zanzibar and Kenya.

Firelight and its partners are hoping that this next phase in ECD will help lay the groundwork for the implementation of new high quality ECD programs while at the same time, improving the overall quality of care and education at existing centers. Another point of interest for the foundation is to help ECD programs become more responsive to the needs of their participants including parents, caregivers, and of course, the young children the centers serve.

Sometimes in the world of philanthropy—especially big philanthropy—the importance of enlisting the support of local and community organizations can be overlooked in favor of measurable outcomes and impact. However, it goes without saying that these local organizations know best the needs of the communities in which they live. Firelight certainly subscribes to that notion.