Focus Area

 Early Learning in the Home

Innovation Lever
Existing, product, platform or service
 Proof of Concept
Sifunda turns routine shopping trips into learning adventures with the use of colorful, playful in-store signage. The initiative was designed on the premise that everyday environments can be used to spark simple, loving, brain-building interactions between parents and young children.
The Problem.
In the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second. After this period of rapid growth, connections are reduced through a process called pruning, so that brain circuits become more efficient. Sensory pathways like those for basic vision and hearing are the first to develop, followed by early language skills and higher cognitive functions. Many parents do not see themselves as their child’s first and best teacher or understand why and how they might use everyday interactions to boost their child’s early language development. 
The Innovation.
 By adapting a US study to South African conditions, Sifunda’s project team placed conversation-prompting signage within selected retail outlets in lower-income areas. Shoppers with children encountered playful characters that captured their attention from the moment they entered a store. Children were encouraged to search for the characters that appeared in floor stickers, on overhead banners, or on the glass covering display cases. At each interaction site, a colourful character prompted adults and children to interact in a number of ways – by discussing shapes and colours, naming objects, or talking about where products come from and how they can be prepared. The positive outcomes are mutually reinforcing: parents/caregivers practice a positive parent behavior and children are exposed to more positive interaction and learning opportunities. The theory of change assumes that parents and children will carry the type of interactions they practice within the store into the larger environment and into the home, leading to richer verbal interactions across moments of the day. In addition, the gain for the business – with a small, low-tech input, supermarkets can capture and deliver an entirely new value to customers by pivoting the existing store platform to support early learning. Sifunda demonstrates that what is good for our children is good for business. The longer-term strategy is to extend the Sifunda concept into other sites across the everyday environment within a given community, with the supermarket as the vertical “anchor” for scale complemented by horizontal reinforcing prompts in locations such as taxi ranks, government offices, clinics and such.
Why we invested.
We were interested in exploring and supporting the use of everyday spaces to encourage positive interactions, and more importantly, in the design of an early years intervention that was integrated into an existing platform for scale – a supermarket chain with an already massive footprint in low-income communities.
The Project Team
South Africa Partners builds mutually beneficial partnerships between the United States and South Africa in the areas of health and education.