Post-Budget Urgency: A Plea for Business Investment in Early Childhood Development

Post-Budget Urgency: A Plea for Business Investment in Early Childhood Development
Post-Budget Urgency: A Plea for Business Investment in Early Childhood Development

In the wake of the recent budget speech, South Africa stands at a crossroads, and the implications for Early Childhood Development (ECD) are glaring. Despite the national discourse surrounding the importance of prioritizing ECD, the budgetary allocation remains dishearteningly meager. Ilifa Labantwana’s 2024 National Budget statement, in collaboration with Real Reform for ECD, underscores persistent challenges: chronic underfunding, insufficient infrastructure, low wages, and unfavourable working conditions plaguing the ECD sector. Astonishingly, the ECD subsidy has remained stagnant at R17 per child per day for six consecutive years, diminishing its real value by a quarter.


This insufficient funding has tangible and lasting effects on South Africa’s youngest citizens. Already, approximately 27% of children under the age of five years are stunted due to malnutrition. Stunting is not only a proxy for poor cognitive development but also the single best predictor of an adult’s economic potential.

When malnutrition – and its resultant stunting – in young children is combined with other factors like lack of access to quality early learning opportunities they enter primary and secondary schooling at a distinct disadvantage. This has an immediate and long-term impact on their development, well-being and academic performance. This was evident in South Africa’s dismal 2021 results in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), where 81% of Grade 4 pupils couldn’t read for meaning in any language.


The consequences of this underinvestment are far-reaching, as millions of young children continue to fall through the cracks, stunting not only their individual potential but also hindering the nation’s socio-economic growth. The post-budget landscape reinforces the urgent need for innovative solutions, and the Collective Impact model, with a dedicated backbone organisation, emerges as a beacon of hope in light of the persistently inadequate budgetary allocation.

The Collective Impact model, illustrated by initiatives like the DO MORE FOUNDATION’s “Everyone Gets to PLAY,” transcends conventional government resource allocation by fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders. At its core, a backbone organization acts as a central coordinating force, bringing together the public sector, businesses, NGOs, and communities. This collaboration enables the pooling of resources beyond government allocations, incorporating additional expertise and innovative solutions to tackle the multifaceted challenges faced by young children in vulnerable communities.

There are numerous examples of how multi-sectoral collaborative models like the “Everyone Gets to PLAY” model has successfully addressed ECD challenges in other emerging countries like Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. With corporate funding and philanthropic investment, The Aga Khan Foundation’s Madrasa Early Childhood Programme evolved from a local pre-school to a regional initiative, establishing training centers, conducting research, engaging in policy endeavors, and advocating for children. Initially dependent on the Aga Khan Foundation for funding, the program’s financial support expanded significantly through collective impact, gaining support from diverse corporate donors and philanthropic organizations. This intersectoral collaboration played a pivotal role in establishing over 200 community pre-schools, benefiting more than 67,000 young children.

As the dust settles after the budget speech, a critical call to action echoes: business and the philanthropic sector must step in to fill the gap left by limited government resources. Businesses play a pivotal role in securing the future of our nation by investing in ECD. Beyond philanthropy, corporate entities can utilise their Corporate Social Investment spend to engage in strategic partnerships, providing financial support, resources, and expertise to initiatives that champion the well-being and development of our youngest citizens.


The urgency of this call cannot be overstated. Investing in ECD is an investment in the future workforce, fostering a generation of resilient, skilled individuals who will contribute to the nation’s prosperity. The time for businesses to act collectively, to leverage their resources and influence for the greater good, is now. As the private sector rises to this challenge, we can collectively ensure that no child is left behind and that South Africa’s future is built on the strong foundation of well-nurtured, thriving young minds.