In Latin America and the Caribbean, nine million children under the age of five are malnourished and 32 million children under the age of six are not enrolled in pre-primary education. To address this enormous gap, Fundación ALAS and the Earth Institute partnered to formally establish the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Secretariat for Latin America and the Caribbean with the aim of promoting research, creating and implementing public policies which would develop effective strategies and put comprehensive early childhood programs into practice in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Secretariat intends to work closely with governments, and local and international actors to identify best practices and challenges in early childhood in the region. “A good start has a lifetime return,” says Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, “while a start with the lack of a proper nutrition, health attention and stimulation can have lifetime consequences." According to Sachs, the goal is to reach comprehensive coverage in education, nutrition and health services for all Latin American children from birth to six years of age by 2020. President of the ALAS Board of Directors, Alejandro Santo Domingo, says that ALAS focuses on ECD as a strategy to "provide a platform for sustainable socio- economic development throughout the region."
The Early Childhood Development Secretariat at the Earth Institute, Columbia University, aims to analyze and identify the health, educational, and social interventions and policies that will most successfully support early childhood development in Latin America. Chaired by Dr. Julio Frenk, the ECD advisory board is composed of top researchers and experts who guide the work of the Secretariat with local stakeholders in Latin America.
On November 29 and 30, 2009, the topic of Early Childhood Development in Latin America and the Caribbean took center stage at the XIX Ibero-American Summit in Estoril, Portugal. Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs and Shakira Mebarak, Founder and Principal Activist of ALAS, introduced the ECD Secretariat and presented the second draft of the regional ECD report entitled “ECD in Latin America: A Commitment with the Future of the Region” as the first product of the ECD initiative. Argentine President, Christina Kirchner, accepted Shakira’s petition of prioritizing ECD in the upcoming Ibero-American Summit, which President Kirchner will chair.
In December 2009, the Early Childhood Development Secretariat published its first comprehensive report - “ECD in Latin America: A Commitment with the Future of the Region” - which can be found here.
The ECD Secretariat has developed a set of commitments on which the presidents of the region can agree. The Commitments of the Secretariat can be found here.
On December 17, 2009, the government of Panama, through the office of the First Lady and the Secretary of Social Development, forged an alliance between governmental entities, the private sector and civil society for the implementation of early childhood public policies in the country. The Early Childhood National Council will work towards an improved coordination and delivery of health, nutrition and education services for children from birth to 6 years of age.
On February 22nd 2010, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, the World Bank, and ALAS joined together to announce the launch “The Early Childhood Education Initiative: An Investment for Life.” The groundbreaking US $300 million joint initiative aims to mobilize policymakers and decision makers to scale up the implementation of Early Childhood Development (ECD) programs for young children in Latin America and the Caribbean. The initiative plans to expand programs by improving the capacity of countries to design ECD policy frameworks, deliver comprehensive quality services to their citizens and increase financing for these programs, as a cost effective way to increase social mobility, fight inequality and improve human capital in the region.