Ukonga – Investing in Young Minds.

An innovative approach to scaling parenting interventions through the massive network of savings and credit groups that exist in South Africa.

The need

Primary caregivers play a critical role in their children’s development. Parenting programmes that are designed to support primary caregivers in this role take many different forms. While some programmes have been shown to have a positive impact on parenting practices, the challenge lies in taking these initiatives to scale given the extent of need and the reality of resource constraints.

Innovative approaches to scaling parenting interventions are desperately needed, particularly in the most marginalised communities.

The innovation

Shared savings and credit groups are hugely popular in South Africa, particularly in marginalised communities where access to formal banking is a challenge. The most common model is the ‘stokvel’, with over 800 000 groups and about 11.4 million members (often, women) in the country. Stokvel groups typically meet monthly and collaborate around shared savings for education, infrastructure, funeral policies, bulk grocery purchases or Christmas savings, amongst others. Many large businesses employ ‘brand ambassadors’ to service these stokvels and to promote their products (such as soaps or washing powders) through talks and demonstrations at monthly stokvel meetings.

The Ukonga initiative looks at ways of harnessing this network of brand ambassadors to deliver early years messages, alongside the products they promote, as an innovative approach to scaling parenting programmes.

The project trains brand ambassadors to be ECD “champions” to energize and engage stokvel members about early learning. Every month, caregivers (stokvel members) are encouraged to do ‘just one thing’ with their child – a different activity or task that will stimulate growing minds. The messages are designed to be complementary to the product that the ambassador is employed to promote, integrating for example fun parent-child activities into the daily laundry routine in instances where the product is a washing powder.

Key insights

The popularity of stokvels make them an ideal means of engaging caregivers about ECD. It is much more effective to use spaces where caregivers regularly go and enjoy going, rather than to create a new and separate gathering/intervention.

Innovation Edge welcomes opportunities to partner with big brands to harness this incredible platform to take parenting interventions to scale.

The project team

Expressive Through the Line is a marketing company working with stokvels. Their objective is to develop win-win strategies for both stokvels and brand manufacturers.

The Ubunye Foundation is an Eastern Cape development trust dedicated to unlocking the potential of rural communities through an integrated community development approach.