Children who do not receive quality early childhood care and education (ECCE) are less likely to reach their full potential, with negative social and economic consequences to themselves and the societies in which they live.1 It is clear that vulnerable children benefit the most from high-quality ECCE,2 yet they are the population with the least access to such services.3 Whether in developed or developing countries, ECCE that is considered to be ‘high-quality’ tends to be run like a business and generally serves the most affluent. Donor-dependent non-governmental organizations (NGOs), voluntary organizations and even publicly funded services often do not meet professional standards for quality, nor do they always reach the most vulnerable children and families.4

What happens when a social enterprise approach is used to address this issue? This case study presents two examples . one from a developed country (the United Kingdom) and one from a developing country (Kenya) . that highlight how a social enterprise model can be used to provide high-quality ECCE services to low-income communities in a way that is both sustainable and scalable.


The term ‘social enterprise’ refers to a business that is dedicated to a social mission, where the business model and the profits earned by the business are both aimed at advancing the social mission and ensuring social impact.5 Social enterprise models are emerging as innovative, sustainable and locally designed solutions to persistent social and economic problems in a variety of sectors6,/p>

Ensuring young children’s access to quality and affordable education and care in resource-poor communities is a social mission. A business model that achieves this mission in a sustainable manner is, therefore, a social enterprise. In recent years, developed and developing countries alike have seen a growing number of promising social enterprise models for scaling up quality early childhood programmes. The following cases elaborate how high-quality ECCE business models with a social mission can succeed in reaching the most vulnerable children and families in a range of contexts.

The London Early Years Foundation (UK)


The London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) is the UK’s largest charitable social enterprise for child care. Founded as a charity in 1903 to support mothers struggling with high infant mortality, LEYF changed and reshaped itself over the years, setting up nurseries in the 1930s and playgroups in the 1960s, while also supporting training and development for practitioners and advocating for children and families. In 2009, LEYF was reconfigured to function as a social enterprise and began to grow, slowly at first and then with an aggressive growth strategy since 2013. It currently operates 38 community nurseries for children ages 6 months to 5 years, across some of the poorest neighbourhoods in London.


LEYF has developed a business model designed to provide all children with highquality care and education irrespective of their social or economic backgrounds. In 2015, 3500 children attended LEYF nurseries weekly. Almost half of these children (48%) had their tuition subsidized by LEYF,7 which makes up the cost difference between a government-funded nursery and a LEYF nursery. Currently, LEYF provides the highest proportion of subsidies for 2-year-olds in London.

LEYF employs 600 staff and 60 apprentices. Its commitment to excellence in early childhood education, training and action research translates into high staff retention, with up to 70% of apprentices promoted to full-time posts. LEYF also aims to recruit 50% of its management staff from within the organization.8

To validate the effectiveness of its programme, LEYF designed a social impact approach based on research showing that high-quality early childhood education is a key factor in children’s future emotional and educational success.9 The validation approach has two main components:



  • Measuring the impact of the organization as a whole, using the ‘Magic Sum’. The ‘Magic Sum’ uses four weighted hypothesized drivers of child development to measure a single ‘Impact Unit’. The four drivers are: Duration, Dosage, Quality and Home Learning Environment.
  • Measuring the impact of different interventions on individual children. LEYF measures the progress made by individual children and different cohorts of vulnerable children using the UK Department of Education’s ‘Development Matters’ framework.10LEYF aims to reach 5000 children by 2018. Its growth model involves acquiring nurseries – often located in poor neighbourhoods – that are in financial trouble and operating at a low educational standard, as rated by the UK Government’s Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted). The organization turns the nurseries around in approximately six months to a year. As of November 2015, all of LEYF’s nurseries were rated as either ‘Good’ (69%) or ‘Outstanding’ (31%) by Ofsted, which exceeds the average ratings for London and the UK.

    Challenges to growth include slow access to affordable social investment finance, staff recruitment, and the demands of government policies and regulation. LEYF overcomes these barriers by strengthening its organizational values; embedding leadership for excellence across the organization; adhering to the LEYF pedagogy; providing training and support; and keeping a very close eye on the bottom line.


    LEYF has demonstrated that delivering high-quality child care with durable social impact on children, families and communities is possible. LEYF’s example has inspired similar initiatives in other countries, such as AeioTU, an ECCE social enterprise in Colombia.11

    Kidogo (Kenya)


    Access to ECCE services within Kenya is inequitable. According to Oxfam, children living in the country’s urban slums suffer the highest rates of stunted development due to poor nutrition, unsafe environments and inadequate stimulation, which in turn leads to reduced learning, poor performance in school and lower income earning capacity as adults.12 In the absence of publicly funded creches or pre-schools, and with extended family tending to live in rural areas, working mothers in urban slums face a difficult decision of where to keep their young children while they are at work. Children are usually either left at home alone or with an older sibling, or placed in a congested, unlicensed home-based day care facility for a fee.

    Kidogo is a social enterprise established in 2014 to address the child care crisis faced by working mothers living in East Africa’s informal urban settlements (slums). It aims to deliver the type and quality of child care that is currently only available to high-income communities in East Africa, at a price point that is affordable to working families in urban slums. Kidogo’s programmes are non-denominational and are offered without regard to race, tribe, gender or faith.


    Kidogo uses a ‘hub and spoke’ model for ECCE provision. It first builds and operates community-based early childhood centres (‘hubs’) that provide children from age 6 months to 6 years with a holistic early childhood intervention based on best practices. From 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, children are engaged in a mix of individual and group play-based activities to promote physical, cognitive, linguistic and psychosocial development, facilitated by certified early childhood teachers from the local community. Nutritious and balanced meals are also served. Child care hubs are designed within the urban slums as safe, child-friendly spaces that also act as central meeting points for teacher and parent trainings.

    The start-up of each centre requires approximately US$10,000 in grant capital. However, Kidogo’s fee-for-service model . which charges parents US$1 perday, roughly the same price mothers are already paying at overcrowded, informal and often unsafe day care facilities . ensures that hubs reach an operational break-even point within their first year. This means that in the absence of external funding, the funds generated from parents fees are enough to cover the ongoing operating costs of each centre, including rent, teacher salaries, food and curriculum materials, essentially making each hub financially sustainable.

    Once a hub has been established, the social enterprise then partners with local women (‘mama-preneurs’) to start or grow their own home-based day care centres (‘spokes’) through a micro-franchising programme. Kidogo packages materials, curriculum and daily schedules into a ‘business-in-a-box’, and combines it with practical training and ongoing support from the hub to improve the quality of home-based child care spokes.

    Through start-up funding from Grand Challenges Canada, Kidogo currently operates two child care hubs and works with five mama-preneurs in two of Nairobi’s slums (Kibera and Kangemi). The social enterprise currently reaches over 250 children every day and has plans to scale up in 2017.

    Kidogo has learned that effective scale-up, in whatever form, requires strong human resources and systems. Concerted efforts must be made to recruit, train and retain staff . activities that are not emphasized nearly enough in the non-profit sector. While monitoring and evaluation is a common practice, Kidogo also emphasizes the importance of documenting and evaluating processes (how things are done) in addition to traditional output and outcome indicators. Process challenges become more difficult to manage at scale and serve as ideal opportunities for learning and improving programmes.


    The Kidogo team is rigorously testing their model and its impact on child development through a case-control study with Aga Khan University’s Institute for Human Development. The goal is to conduct longitudinal studies that follow children through primary school and beyond.

    While still in its early days, Kidogo’s innovative ‘hub and spoke’ model and play-based approach to early childhood show promise to unlock the potential of hundreds of thousands of children living in poverty and change the trajectory of their lives. It also sets an example for other countries in providing quality child care with a focus on equity.

    Kidogo’s programmes ensure children growing up in urban slums have a solid foundation . physically, cognitively and socio-emotionally . to excel in school and in life. Moreover, since limited child care services pose a barrier to improving familial livelihoods, Kidogo’s programmes also increase productivity and reduce absenteeism for working mothers, and relieve older siblings from child-rearing responsibilities, allowing them to return to school. The model of a child-centred approach with ripple effects on the family and community is designed to help break the cycle of poverty and promote equity over time.


    Traditional thinking suggests that an organization must achieve a level of scale to have a significant impact. While organic growth is one way to reach more children, Kidogo believes it is not the only way to generate systematic change: an organization can also license or share their product . a curriculum or teacher training methodology, for example . for others to implement; an innovative service delivery model can be replicated and expanded to another community; and advocacy efforts can be used to influence policy, impacting the lives of an entire country.

    Lessons Learned

    Social enterprise models provide innovative and alternative solutions to financing ECCE in both developed and developing countries, helping to level the playing field for disadvantaged communities.13 In designing an ECCE social enterprise model in a given community, consideration should be given to the following steps:

    1. Assess existing gaps in public and private ECCE provision and workforce capacity that prevent services from reaching the most vulnerable.
    2. Identify local opportunities to fill these gaps, with a particular focus on investing in quality ECCE.
    3. Explore initial funding opportunities to demonstrate proof-of-concept.
    4. Build on existing cultural and traditional child care practices in the community. Local traditions and informal and formal child-rearing networks can form the foundation for quality ECCE.5. Focus on holistic, child-centred pedagogy with an emphasis on delivering quality services, and build in processes to rigorously assess this quality and its social impact.
    5. Engle et al., 2007, 2011.
    6. Heckman, 2006.
    7. UNICEF, 2012.
    8. Lloyd and Penn, 2013.
    9. Martin and Osberg, 2007.
    10. Teasdale, 2010.
    11. LEYF, 2014.
    12. LEYF, n.d.
    13. Heckman et al., 2013; Conti et al., 2012.
    14. Early Education, 2012.
    15. AeioTU-Fundacion Carulla, 2015.
    16. Taylor and Goodfellow, 2009.
    17. Ulkuer, 2014.


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    • Heckman, J. J. 2006. Skills formation and the economics of investing in disadvantaged children. Science, Vol. 312, pp. 1900.02. doi:10.1126/science.1128898
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    • Lloyd, E. and Penn, H. (eds). 2013. Childcare Markets: Can They Deliver an Equitable Service? Bristol, UK, Policy Press, University of Bristol.
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    • –2014. LEYF Impact Report 2014: Changing the World One Child at a Time. London,
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    • Taylor, W. and Goodfellow, T. 2009. Urban Poverty and Vulnerability in Kenya: The Urgent Need for Co-ordinated Action to Reduce Urban Poverty. Oxfam GB Briefing Note. Oxford, UK, Oxfam GB.
    • Teasdale, S. 2010. How can social enterprise address disadvantage? Evidence from an inner city community. Journal of Nonprofit and Public Sector Marketing, Vol. 22, No. 2, pp. 89.107. doi:10.1080/10495141003601278
    • Ulkuer, N. 2014. Desk review: designing social enterprise models for early childhood development. Unpublished manuscript.
    • UNICEF. 2012. Inequities in Early Childhood Development: What the Data Say. Evidence from the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys. New York,

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