The upcoming Think Future conference, hosted by Innovation Edge – an investment fund for early childhood development (ECD) innovation – in partnership with Yellowwoods, is aimed at exploring and co-creating action around five of the critical ingredients needed by today’s children to succeed in tomorrow’s world. The global mix of change makers and risk takers will focus on disrupting current ways of thinking about and approaching early childhood challenges in order to nurture imagination, ingenuity, aptitude, empathy and resilience in all young children and equip them with the skills needed for lifelong learning.
The conference is hosting a breakaway session specifically targeting business, to show business leaders how investing in ECD can – and should – be more than just a CSI initiative. Sonja Giese, Executive Director of Innovation Edge, says that ECD should be ‘baked in’ to business, rather than ‘bolted on’. “Responsibility for the development of human and social capital is a collective one. Each stakeholder group brings particular strengths and resources, and business is no exception. This sector can offer unique competencies, which are desperately needed but remain largely untapped. Social impact, particularly within the ECD space, needs to be assimilated into business processes if it is to be maximised.”
Giese says that most businesses are aware of their social responsibility and contribute to worthy causes through CSI spend or volunteerism. But, Innovation Edge is challenging businesses to think bigger and bolder, and to explore how their core business processes, platforms, products and people can be harnessed for social good, and in ways that are fundamentally good for business.
As an example, Barrows Design and Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd has printed hundreds of thousands of Rands-worth of ECD resources at little or no additional cost, by utilising excess business inventory. Ian Gourley, Group creative director at Barrows, says that many large print runs result in unutilised ‘waste’ paper.
“We challenged ourselves and used design thinking, and the resources at hand, to incorporate a social impact programme that repurposes waste to generate vast amounts of educational material without impacting the daily running of our business. Apart from the benefit to the education sector, it’s given us a strong sense of purpose and all our staff, locally and abroad, draw inspiration from it. We’re doing good, and it’s good for business”
As a responsible business, the onus is us to meaningfully contribute to the society that we are part of, Gourley says. “An entrenched model, combined with collaboration with the right partners, can create a scalable model that can go a long way to addressing the key challenges our country faces. The trick is designing how you do it so that it’s ‘baked in’ to what you do – not just ‘bolted on’.”
Giese says that making good investments at the right time is fundamentally good for business, and the same principle holds true for the development of the human brain. “There is no other time in the life of a human being when an investment in human capital will have as great, or as lasting, a return as the first six years after conception. The rate of return on all later investment in education and development is determined by the neurological structure of the six-year-old brain. But we continue to invest significantly more per capita in to primary, secondary and tertiary education than we do in these formative years. In short, we are investing too late and too little in our human capital.”
Simply put, this has massive implications for business and society as a whole: “If we do not invest enough, and early, we will not produce the brain power we need for economic growth, or the social and emotional skills necessary for a healthy and just society. Regardless of how much we invest in formal education and on-the-job training and support, we will never fully compensate for the loss in human potential that results from failure to invest early.”
Giese gives workplace-based educare as another example of ‘doing good and good for business’. In particular, the Early Bird Educare@Work model is designed to ensure educational excellence at ECD level and promote social cohesion (think playdates across prejudice). It also provides employees with access to high-quality pre-schooling for their children, at their place of work, thereby promoting employee wellness and helping the business to attract and retain top talent. At the same time, it can be customised to address pain points in a business’ BEE scorecard.
Bianca Bozzone of KYB Enterprise Incubator, which invests in female entrepreneurs, says that, when approached innovatively, ‘doing good and good for business’ can help businesses to earn valuable enterprise development points while expanding quality ECD. “The KYB Enterprise Incubator, backed by Hollard, provides opportunities to invest in female entrepreneurs to kick start and stabilise their ECD enterprises. Small catalytic investments are a triple win: successful female-owned ECD micro enterprises deliver quality early learning, government gets closer to its universal quality access goals for ECD, and corporates earn enterprise development points.”
Think Future is being held at Spier, Stellenbosch, from 6 to 8 November, and the ‘Making Business Future-Fit’ breakaway is on 8 November. Booking is essential, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets to the event as a whole are sold out, with space only available in the Making Business Future-Fit session. Visit innovationedge.org.za/think-future/ for more information on the conference