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I’ll admit, that prior to participating in this years’ Think Future event, I considered the 2019 theme “Challenging Perspectives” a tall order. 

Out of the diverse group of attendees with varying backgrounds and professions, including a full-spectrum range of early childhood development (ECD) expertise, I was one of the individuals whose academic and professional life is completely dedicated to the early childhood sector.

The ECD “core story” – that in order to thrive, young children require ample opportunities that foster healthy cognitive, socio-emotional and physical development, enabling a solid foundation in which later-life skills can build — is one that I’m intimately familiar and advocate for daily. More so, the scope of my work over the past few years has predominantly been dedicated to fomenting and technically supporting innovative solutions within the Brazilian ECD landscape. 

Thus, while I arrived at Think Future excited and eager to engage in my passion area, I didn’t expect the degree to how my perspectives would be changed. 

Think Future went well beyond just connecting an international ECD network and group of global innovators by carefully crafting a journey that challenged the broad group of attendees at each step along the way.  

Watch the highlights film below to get a taste of the Think Future experience:

Now that some weeks have passed since I attended the event, I can say that three key insights have left a substantial impression on my own work.  

FINDING THE SWEET SPOT BETWEEN SCIENCE AND STORYTELLING

As an individual with a background in developmental neuroscience, I’ve always valued research and data. What do we know from scientific studies and how can we utilize this information to inform and improve ECD policy and practice? This question guides not only my own perspective but also the bulk of our initiative’s efforts.

 On the first night of Think Future, I was struck by a comment from Johnny Miller, a photographer of international acclaim who said:

“the more human our picture, the more human our response.” 

He went on to elaborate that humans aren’t strictly rational beings and that most of our decisions and actions are influenced by a complex web of socio-emotional processes. Frequently, what captures our attention or brings us to action is not a fact, but rather a compelling story or image that connects with us emotionally. 

This talk that emphasized the power of imagery and storytelling, a resounding theme throughout Think Future, sparked a series of reflections that challenged my own science-heavy approach. 

While I still whole-heartedly encourage and believe in the power of science to inform our work, these valid points initiated an internal questioning of “how can we utilize both research as well as storytelling to generate and implement positive change?” There is no need for a false dichotomy between art and science, but rather their consideration as complementary forces, which can be harnessed together to bolster the impact of our ECD efforts.  

THE PROMISE OF UNLIKELY COLLABORATIONS

As a central pillar of Think Future, the promise of unlikely connections made its mark as we heard about individuals and organizations from diverse areas collaborating for a common cause. As a multisectoral area, ECD in particular begs solutions that are crafted from teams with diverse expertise and backgrounds, which can work together to complement and foment solutions for complex problems. 

As an international event occurring in South Africa, Think Future enabled both myself and members from the Brazilian Country Delegation to expand this premise even farther: these unlikely connections can go beyond individuals and organizations, to encompass system-level country collaborations. 

Our team was pleasantly surprised by the numerous contextual parallels between South Africa and Brazil, and the ample opportunities to learn from each other’s efforts and initiatives to generate large-scale, ecosystem change.

In just a few weeks, several South African-Brazilian initiative collaborations are already underway- opportunities we had never imagined previously.

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTENTIONAL REFLECTION

Lastly, my final insight is one that appears rather obvious but is frequently neglected: the importance of scheduled, intentional time for reflection. 

Often our day-to-day is inundated by the challenges of managing multiple projects. When in this “survival mode,” time for reflection is often the last priority. I found it curious, and later ingenious, that the Think Future agenda had gaps: no coffee breaks, no networking, but simply moments for your own utilization.

Taking just a few minutes as processing time during a conference, or a few hours for project reevaluation out of the work-month, can provide large returns on our efforts.

I was reminded that built-in reflection time should not be seen as a luxury, but rather a necessity in order to improve the efforts in which we dedicate so much time and energy. 

Indeed, it was through these very moments of intentional reflection that I was able to organize my key learnings from Think Future and begin to take stock how many of my perspectives were indeed challenged. I thank the team and network for such an eye-opening opportunity! 

About the Author

Christina Kirby helps to manage the science and innovation initiatives, including the iLab Portfolio, within the collective impact group Núcleo Ciência Pela Infância (NCPI) in São Paulo, Brazil. She fosters initiatives regarding Early Childhood Development (ECD), working at the intersection of research, policy, and practice. Prior to joining the NCPI collaborative, Christina spent substantial time teaching in Colombia, Brazil and the United States, in addition to several years conducting developmental cognitive neuroscience research. 

She completed her master’s from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Mind, Brain and Education (2017) and was a Harvard Post-Graduate Fellow at the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, Brazil Office (2018). She graduated with the highest academic honours from the University California Berkeley receiving a B.A. in Psychology (2014) and focus in Neuroscience.