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The Importance of Early Childhood: A Q&A with DFID's Barbara Hewitt

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Pictured above interviewing a local education expert in Tanzania with Rafael Smith of

Amplify's latest challenge focuses on early childhood. We sat down with DFID's Barbara Hewitt to talk about why this topic is so important and the unique contribution the OpenIDEO community can make!

1. Tell us a little about your role at the UK's Department for International Development.

I'm a policy adviser in DFID's Human Development Department where I lead on behaviour change. I work across DFID's health, nutrition, education and WASH policy teams with a focus on promoting the relationship between behaviour and programme impact: for a programme to deliver it always requires a person, a group, a community, an organisation or an institution to behave in a certain way. An interesting part of my role involves looking at how the Human Development Department can innovate so that behaviour is integrated into our policy and programme design thinking. It's through this work that I became aware of and human-centred design: an approach and process which is hugely interesting because it puts people and the way they behave and interact with everything around them first, front and centre! 

2. Why is early childhood development an important issue for the global community to address?

There are a number of reasons, but for me early childhood development is a fundamental issue for the global community because it is about giving children, so far as possible, the best start in life irrespective of where they are born and whether they are born into poverty. If children grow up with the cognitive ability to be able to problem solve, for example, through analytical and creative thinking, they can have a tremendous individual and collective impact on the development progress of their present and future families, communities and countries. 

3. Why is Amplify asking the OpenIDEO community to address this challenge? 

Early childhood development is an exciting opportunity area for the international development sector. As we probe thinking and understanding on how best to support early childhood development, we want to invite some of the brightest minds to help us find innovative, feasible and impactful solutions. The OpenIDEO community is uniquely placed to inject a variety of new perspectives, backgrounds, expertise and mindsets into international development thinking, and to marry these inputs with traditional channels of influence to build new problem solving networks.

4. When I hear 'early childhood', I think about designing solutions around nutrition, education and healthcare – is that what the focus of this challenge is?

This challenge is about improving and developing new approaches to help give children in developing countries the best start to life. It is more than nutrition, education or childcare in isolation. It is about the lifecycle of children from pre-conception into adults. It is also about understanding the enormous impact that the very early stages of a child's life have on their ability to learn and their future life standard, opportunity and family foundations – from the health, nutrition and preparedness of the mother before birth to health, nutrition, play, cognitive stimulation and education in the child's first five years. Ideally, we want people to focus on this outcome and to design cross-sector solutions which take stock and account for health, nutrition, cognitive stimulation and play, education and water and sanitation. 

5. What are your hopes for the Zero to Five Challenge?

My ultimate hope is that through this work the international community will be in a stronger position to give more children in developing countries a fair chance in life. With this in mind, I hope the challenge enables people, groups and organisations from any geography, background or expertise with an interest in early childhood development to feel encouraged to get involved with an idea or suggestion and for it to be heard. Finally, I hope that the challenge generates evidence and insight to strengthen the case for action to help us support locally based solutions and to make the case that through innovation, open and diverse connections and networks we can learn more together. 

Now it’s time to add your voice! Head over to the Research phase and contribute a post.


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