After two years of analysing the international evidence on drivers of quality – i.e. the factors that translate into sustained, positive outcomes for children in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) and two years of testing and iterating on those key elements in the South African context, Earlybird is finally ready to bring our high-quality ECCE model to market.

Our Company’s guiding mission is to maximise our social impact by providing our high-quality ECCE services to businesses looking to attract and retain top talent. Through direct financial and in-kind support, we also seek to support the non-profit arm of our organisation, which works to deliver a similarly high-quality ECCE offering at a subsidized rate to children from low-income communities who may not otherwise have access to such services. This internal cross-subsidization approach makes us a social enterprise with two main delivery channels for our offering:

 

A turnkey on-or-near site employer-sponsored educare solution

Working parents unfairly continue to face the difficult proposition of finding ways to spend the time they want to spend with their kids during the precious early years, among the demands associated with pursuing successful and fulfilling careers.

This burden falls disproportionately on mothers. Returning to work after maternity leave is a particularly tough time for both moms and their babies, borne out by the significant attrition of women from the workforce observed during post-childbirth.

In recognition of this challenge and of the bottom-line benefits to supporting working parents*, many large corporates internationally (Google, IBM, JP Morgan, Intel, MasterCard, CitiGroup, Accenture, Siemens) and increasingly in South Africa (Old Mutual, Multichoice, BMW, Discovery Health, FNB, Nedbank, Edcon) have begun to provide workplace-based educare as part of their employee wellness package.

As demand in this realm inevitably grows, Earlybird will partner with other businesses looking to become ‘employers of choice’ in the South African market to provide our socially inclusive, evidence-based ECCE offering to their employees.

 

A Community-based subsidized social franchise network

The non-profit arm of our company, Earlybird NPC, is funded through revenue from our corporate educare sites and grants from a variety of sources. Earlybird NPC runs the Blue Door Franchise programme, which partners with NQF-level 5 qualified ECD practitioners looking to set up a high-quality early childhood development centre in their community. We work with partner NGOs, such as Sikhula Sonke, to identify potential franchisees. As part of their on-boarding, franchisees are required to source an appropriate site and gain approval from the local ECD forum. We then work together to recruit, screen, train, and hire teachers; setup the requisite infrastructure (including at times an edutainer setup provided by our partners the Bright Kid Foundation); fit out the classrooms with our standard manipulatives kit; get the franchise running with our various administrative support tools and register the centre with the Department of Social Development.

Once the centre has launched we provide ongoing support in the form of our proprietary “Bird Seed” learning games and activity guides. Additionally we provide roaming in-service coaching and mentoring of children, diagnostic screening, observational and game-based formative assessment of children and family engagement – our aim is to develop clusters of centres in order to facilitate affordable provision of additional wraparound services such as counselling, primary healthcare and home visits.

 

 

* A major apparel manufacturer in the USA, Patagonia Inc. recently released data from the 30-year period during which their workplace-based educare has been running: 100% of moms return to work after maternity leave (compared to US National average of 62%), 25% lower turnover among employees who put their kids in the program, 50% of managers are women, and 50% of the company’s senior leaders are women.

 

 

About the Author

Megan Blair is a former teacher and Fulbright scholar, she draws on her experience from both the practical and academic side of the education aisle as she and her team at Earlybird work to build a scalable, high-quality preschool model for workplaces and communities.

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