In 2016, the Center and its partners in Latin America launched two innovation clusters in the region: the Aceleradora de Innovación para la Primera Infancia in Mexico and the iLab Primeira Infância in Brazil. Both clusters drive the development of innovative two-generation strategies that address the unmet challenges of children and families facing adversity. These clusters have not only expanded the Frontiers of Innovation community beyond the U.S. and Canada, but also have significantly informed and transformed aspects of the community’s innovation agenda.
Core Elements of Our Approach:
- Local Partnerships Are Key
- Bringing the ECD Field Together for an Innovation Agenda
- Ethnography Uncovers Local Unmet Challenges
- Innovation and Co-Creation at Every Level
Members of the Mexico and Brazil innovation clusters describe their work and how it has changed.
The clusters’ first year was spent learning the science of early childhood development, identifying unmet challenges and initial science-based program ideas, conducting research in their communities to verify and adapt those ideas, and engaging in the Center’s innovation model. In their second year, the clusters began implementation and data collection. With the close of a third year, the projects within the clusters have concluded their initial implementation and are now analyzing their data and preliminary findings.
Brazil: iLab Primeira Infância ("the iLab") - Pilot Projects
Formação de Vínculo na Adversidade (Forming Bonds in Adversity)
Site: IPREDE (Fortaleza, Ceará)
A coaching program designed to enhance attachment and affection between young parents and their children through a combination of home visiting, video coaching, and personalized text messaging for parents and caregivers living in stressful environments in rural Brazil.
Fortalecendo Laços (Strengthening Ties)
Site: LAPREDES (Ribeirão Preto, SP)
A remote video coaching parenting program designed to strengthen positive mother-child interactions, particularly through play, and enhance mothers’ awareness of the profound impact of these interactions.
Programa BEM: Brincar Ensina a Mudar (Play Teaches Change)
Sites: Laços Fortes & Tempojunto (São Paulo, SP)
A play-focused online parenting program designed to empower mothers and female caregivers living in the slums of São Paulo to integrate play into their daily routines using resources available at their homes and communities.
Projeto Mosaico FÁCIL (FÁCIL Mosaic Project)
Site: IFAN (Aranaú, Ceará)
A home visiting program that coaches parents on responsive caregiving, playful learning, and domestic violence prevention to empower families to create a nurturing home environment. Key messages are reinforced through podcasts and personalized video vignettes.
Mexico: Aceleradora de Innovación para la Primera Infancia ("the Aceleradora") - Pilot Projects
Bienestar en tu Embarazo (Wellness in Your Pregnancy)
Site: DEI Comunidad (Mexico City)
A series of workshops for young pregnant women facing adversity that seeks to reduce toxic stress during pregnancy through the formation of a strong prenatal bond with their babies and a supportive, nurturing caregiving partnership with their mothers.
Padres Muy Padres (Very Cool Dads)
Site: Hospital Infantil de México Federico Gómez (Mexico City)
A combination of coaching sessions and educational podcasts that collectively prepare low-income working fathers to take a more active role in childrearing during infancy.
Tiempo Para Jugar (Time to Play)
Site: Un Kilo de Ayuda (Ganzdá, Mex.)
A play-based home visiting program in a largely rural community that aims to improve the quality of caregiver-child interactions by educating caregivers on the value of play and helping families identify opportunities to incorporate playful learning into everyday routines using local resources.
Local Partnerships Are Key
The creation of these innovation clusters could not have happened without the work and expertise of Núcleo Ciência Pela Infância (NCPI) in São Paulo, Brazil, and Universidad Regiomontana (U-ERRE) in Monterrey, Mexico.
This was the first time the Center co-founded an innovation cluster by working with existing organizations, and it proved vital. In Brazil, Fundação Maria Cecilia Souto Vidigal, a founding member of the NCPI consortium, was able to draw from more than a decade of experience working in the early childhood field to identify the individuals and organizations best equipped to take on a science-based innovation agenda. Fundação had also laid the groundwork for an extensive network of knowledge, advocacy, and action, making an innovation cluster a complementary next step in the Brazilian ECD landscape.
In Mexico, U-ERRE had recognized the value in establishing a centralized early childhood hub and considered an innovation agenda to be a critical component of that effort. In the months leading up to the project’s launch, the Center worked closely with the Aceleradora’s leadership team to survey the local ECD landscape and identify the individuals and organizations best suited to take on a science-based innovation agenda.
Leading organizations, researchers, program designers, and practitioners in each country’s ECD fields were subsequently invited to participate in a series of design workshops that introduced:
- the FOI innovation clusters model;
- strategies for identifying and understanding the causal mechanisms beneath local communities’ unmet challenges; and
- the Center’s science-based innovation approach for developing solutions to these challenges.
“I love the idea of learning [from] what doesn’t work as well. It’s freedom because if it doesn’t work, and you learn about it and you learn from it, you can help not only your own project, but help someone else with that experience.”
—Patricia Marinho, Programa BEM
Bringing the ECD Field Together for an Innovation Agenda
As the Center and U-ERRE sought to create an innovation cluster in Mexico, they also recognized an opportunity to strengthen an emerging national ECD sector. Thus, the groundwork for the Aceleradora was laid by first conducting a series of site visits with local partners to gain a more complete understanding of the Mexican ECD landscape, and then leveraging subsequent insights to inform the cluster’s development strategy and design.
Although this initial phase required more time and effort than originally anticipated, the groundwork had an unexpected and highly positive result—a ripple effect on Mexico’s ECD landscape that has advanced a national ECD community and captured the attention of senior leaders in the field.
“Until last year, interactions among organizations in the ECD sector were limited. This has changed for the organizations that are part of the Aceleradora. The hands-on workshops have allowed organizations to learn from each other and to start finding ways in which they complement each other…. In addition, many of the Aceleradora participants are already changing their programs and their approach to developing interventions. Not only do they have a better understanding of their beneficiaries, but they are thinking of science-based approaches that are relevant for their needs and context. Today, all participants—leading organizations in the Mexican ECD sector—have a better understanding of ECD science, including the benefits of play, and the importance of project design and evaluation.”
—Diego Adame, Mexico Initiatives Lead, The LEGO Foundation
Ethnography Uncovers Local Unmet Challenges
FOI’s previous experience in the U.S. and Canada has demonstrated the importance of orienting projects around explicit unmet challenges in the communities in which project teams work. This human-centered approach requires the incorporation of strategies to strengthen participants’ ability to learn about the children and caregivers in their communities—to better understand their lived experiences and identify unmet challenges that could serve as the basis for subsequent idea generation. Thus, the Center and its partners collectively developed an ethnographic inquiry element to firmly ground this process in the lives of local children and families.
Incorporating this work added clear strength and value to the idea generation process and significantly influenced the thinking and approach of several organizations beyond their involvement in the innovation cluster. Most notably, after discovering that most families in the town of Ganzdá were too busy with agricultural tasks and other social services to visit its ECD center, the Aceleradora’s Tiempo Para Jugar project team shifted its focus to the home as the primary point of contact with families. This discovery also motivated Un Kilo de Ayuda (the project’s organizational base) to guide each of its program sites across the country through a similar ethnographic agenda to inform their strategy going forward.
“As soon as we did [the ethnographic research], we found [it] very helpful to our intervention. The ethnographic research not only impacts this project or the village where we are going to work but our whole [organization]. We have been doing it in six different states and it’s working.”
—Odín Rodriguez, Tiempo Para Jugar
Because of the experience in Mexico and the overwhelmingly positive results, the ethnography component is now being incorporated into the entire FOI initiative.
Innovation and Co-Creation at Every Level
Having the space to try out new ideas and solutions—and to learn from what does and doesn’t work well—is key to the Center’s innovation model. This mindset has been reflected in the relationships the Center and its partners have with the organizations funding the Latin American innovation clusters. Donors have partnered in a new way by being actively involved throughout the entire cluster launch process—from strategic input, to problem-solving, to pilot selection. At all times there has been an openness to strategic adaptation and to learning together side by side as part of the FOI community.
The following funding organizations have been thought partners with the Center throughout this endeavor:
Local funders and thought partners working directly with the innovation clusters include: