The campaign seeks innovative solutions to improve literacy…

Since Index Thive by Five — South Africa’s largest-ever survey of pre-school child development — was released in early April this yearthere has been much activity in government and civil society circles to find the best ways to use data and improve early childhood development (ECD).

Innovation advantage, an investor focused on solving early childhood issues in South Africa, is tackling the issue of low literacy and language levels in early learning programs. The organization has launched a call for social entrepreneurs to apply for funding for products or services aimed at improving preschool teachers’ support for early literacy development.

The proposed solutions must be suitable for children aged four to six who participate in early learning programs in poor communities in South Africa.

“One of the most disturbing discoveries [of the Thrive by Five Index] was that about 49% of children from the poorest households, aged four to five, who participate in early learning programs, do not meet literacy and language standards for their age,” Gilbert said. Anyetei, Investment Associate at Innovation Edge.

“We were very concerned about this because literacy…is the foundation for reading, writing, communication. [and] socializing, and it’s also pretty crucial to succeeding in any subject.

Funding opportunity

The proposals of social entrepreneurs must be adapted to a no-tech or low-tech context, depending on Innovation Edge Criteria. The organization seeks companies that are in the feasibility testing or prototyping stage, rather than the ideation stage.

“The solution needs to show us some sense of commercial viability and sustainability beyond our involvement,” Anyetei said. “We will provide financial support of up to R1.3 million per company.”

Of those who submit proposals for the campaign, a few will be supported to present their solutions to the Innovation Edge investment committee in September 2022. From these, the organization will select at least three solutions to be funded, according to Anyetei.

“We also provide non-financial support,” he continued. “We really help you… connect you with the correct or relevant stakeholders, and really try to help you with the tools to turn this business into a business.”

The closing date for submissions is June 15.


In the ECD sector, nongovernmental organizations and private philanthropists can provide much more flexible funding than government, according to Sonja Giese, former executive director of Innovation Edge and project manager for the Thrive by Five Index.

“It’s a space where we can develop and test new ideas [and] solutions, which the government is simply not able to do,” said Giese. “But if the nonprofit space or the nongovernmental space can demonstrate what kind of interventions really work, then the government can support them.

“Innovation Edge is uniquely positioned with the skills and resources to truly support early-stage innovation. So their… backers are investing in unproven ideas.

Anyetei emphasized that government alone cannot solve the problems facing the ECD sector. On the contrary, collaboration between the public and private sectors is necessary to ensure the best support for innovation.

Initiatives such as Innovation’s Edge campaign are a welcome use of Thrive by Five data, according to Giese.

“If more and more people start talking about helping kids thrive at age five, I think we can start a movement, which is fantastic,” she said. SM/MC

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