Together with a group of experts, I spoke at last week’s Clinton Global Initiative on something I have become more and more convinced of the longer I do this work with Save the Children. The best investments we can make for children are those that are made early. The overwhelming evidence shows that if you want to spend money wisely on development, invest in early education and healthcare. The return on those investments will far surpass those you make later in children’s lives.
In fighting child mortality, we know that malnutrition is an underlying factor in nearly one-third of under5 deaths. And malnutrition leads to the stunting of children – 170 million children who will never reach their full potential either physically or mentally. The cost of this burden on a country is substantial: a loss of 2-3% of GDP is the annual result of reduced productivity due to stunting. And in poor countries, the terrible burden of child deaths often comes in the very first month of life. In some countries like Nepal, where there has been significant progress on reducing child mortality, newborn mortality rates have remained stubbornly high—almost 50% of child deaths occur among children under one month old. But inexpensive and simple solutions can help save babies—things like trained birth attendants at delivery, immediate and exclusive breastfeeding, and follow-up care from a community health worker can mean the difference between life and death for an infant.
Once kids survive, the cost of early childhood education and development is proving to be highly cost-effective in ensuring that all children can get through primary school with a basic education. In a study in Mozambique done in conjunction with WorldBank and written up in the Lancet, an investment in early childhood development cost as little as $2.50 per month per child and showed significant increases in primary school enrollment. And we know that a country’s investment in children’s education and development early on can yield returns of up to 15-17%.
But don’t take my word for it—listen to the others in this session at CGI make the case as well in our discussion about The Early Years: An Irresistible Investment Opportunity. Every child deserves the right to a healthy and productive life. The right way to make it happen is to make early investments that will last for a lifetime.