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Invest in Early Childhood Development

By Anne Lydia Sekandi

Uganda’s vision to transform itself from a low income, peasant-based economy into a competitive upper middle income country by 2040 will largely depend on the investment it makes into early childhood development (ECD), according to Mr. Patrick Badagawa, Executive Director of Private Sector Foundation Uganda (PSFU). 

Mr. Badagawa told top business executives attending Uganda’s First National Business Leaders’ Forum on Early Childhood Investments that while they had signed off on Uganda’s ambitious Vision 2040, one of the key issues to address was the need for timely and strategic investment in Uganda’s human capital.  He said investing in Early Childhood Development was not an option, because today’s children would soon join the labour force, and be expected to deliver Vision 2040.  

“The return on investment in children is enormous for any country,” said Badagawa, adding that “If you want to compete and add value, the most important resource that any economy will have are those 18 and 19 year olds who are joining the labour market, but trying to develop their brains at that time is too late."

UNICEF Representative, Ms. Aida Girma, who also spoke at the First National Business Leaders’ Forum on Early Childhood Investments, said advocating for and promoting greater Public and Private Sector investment in young children will ensure that they are well-nurtured to grow into a strong, healthy and productive work force capable of contributing meaningfully to the country’s development and competitiveness.   She added that focus on ECD was especially critical because a large number of children in Uganda are poor and deprived in their early years, and most likely to suffer irreversible damage that may hamper the development their full mental capabilities. 

An estimated 8 million children in Uganda – practically one-quarter of Uganda’s population today –are poor children, according to the Child Poverty and Deprivation Report launched in Uganda earlier this year.  Ms. Girma noted that the Report cites nutrition as one of the biggest challenges, saying that an estimated one-third of all young children in Uganda – over two million children – were currently undernourished, with stunted physical and cognitive growth which was permanent and irreparable. 

“These children have already lost their full potential, and are deprived for the rest of their lives.  It is estimated that stunting costs Uganda over 5 percent of its annual GDP every year.  How, then, can they ever contribute meaningfully to Uganda’s Vision 2040?” She said.

UNICEF recently entered into a strategic partnership with PSFU to strengthen policy advocacy around Early Childhood Development in Uganda.  Since launching the partnership, UNICEF and PSFU have since collaborated on several key events, including launching the Children’s Rights and Business Principles (CRBP) in Uganda in partnership Global Compact Network Uganda and Save the Children in Uganda in September.  Up to 200 business executives, government and civil society representatives and media attended the launch, presided over by the (now) Prime Minister, Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, representing the President, and attended by the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Development, the Chairman of Global Compact Network Uganda and Country Director of Save the Children in Uganda, among others.  An adolescent girl and boy also spoke at the event, calling on the business executives to Invest in me”.

Uganda’s Finance Minister, Mrs. Maria Kiwanuka, has applauded PSFU’s focus on early childhood development as a major step towards national development.  

“To develop human capital we must invest in children, and it is not just for Government but for everybody and I'm glad the Private Sector is now on board,” she said.  "As government, we are committed to support the business community to promote your efforts to invest in Early Childhood Development.  Our children are a growing concern."

UNICEF has nominated PSFU Executive Director, Mr. Badagawa, to represent the Private Sector (and Africa) on an international panel that will be constituted as part of events to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC@25) at the UN General Assembly in New York on November 20th this year. 

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