The Mikhulu Child Development Trust is very excited to have been selected as one of HundrED’s Top 100 education innovation programmes for 2023. In October 2022, Kaathima Ebrahim, CEO of The Mikhulu Child Development Trust, travelled to Finland to attend the HundrED Innovation Summit and award ceremony. We hear about her reflections on this event, what it means for Mikhulu Trust and her thoughts on development more widely.

100 organisations selected by HundrED

HundrED is an organisation that centres on education innovation. Every year, one hundred innovations or programmes are granted awards, highlighting their social impact on education. HundrED selects these innovations based on their “impact and scalability” and “promote[s] their work to global education stakeholders” to spark collaboration on education problems. Beyond this, HundrED facilitates and fosters collaborations between education programmes in different parts of the world.

“At the centre of it,” explains Kaathima, “is a belief that the solutions to the world’s education problems already exist – this is about identifying them and giving them the chance to grow.”

Mikhulu wins an award

For the 2023 awards, HundrED was particularly interested in innovations that assist children’s socio-emotional well-being and development. Mikhulu Trust submitted its dialogic book-sharing programme as a contender for the awards. The impacts of Mikhulu’s book-sharing programmes are evidenced through research – which demonstrated how well children’s socio-emotional development benefits.

“I think we offered an important contribution to the collection in that we focus on young children rather than children of school-going ages,” said Kaathima, “and I think it was also important that our innovation has been implemented and tested in a lower- or middle-income country like South Africa.” The fact that book-sharing is easy to roll out in low-resource contexts plays into the interest that HundrED has in scalable programmes.

Connecting with educators from around the world

At the summit in Helsinki, Kaathima was able to connect with organisations from around the globe – all of whom were contributing to education in different ways. There was Atenta Mente, that provides socioemotional support for learners in Mexico, Slam Out Loud, that encourages children to find their voice through poetry performance and Room To Read, an international structure with a presence in South Africa. “It was interesting to consider Mikhulu in this global context,” says Kaathima. “It helped me to see the value that we are adding in our age range and our context”.

Wider reflections on development and advocacy

The HundrED summit took place in Finland; one of the most economically developed countries in the world. Here, the GDP per capita is about $54,000, which is more than seven times that of South Africa (where the GDP per capita is only about $7,000). Spending time in this “resource-rich” context cast reflections, for Kaathima, on the wider development of South Africa.

“In terms of education aspirations, the goals in Finland are so different,” reflects Kaathima. “Just walking around the city, I saw little need of wanting … but there was also a sense of individuality and isolation, which is so different to South Africa.” The country might be well-resourced in terms of infrastructure and support, but this – like all ‘economically-developed’ countries – is inextricably linked into past and ongoing injustices, inequalities and the exploitation of other countries’ resources. South Africa is deeply involved in this mix as it continues to deal with the ramifications of colonialism and other forms of oppression.

In light of this, Kaathima is wary of using a context like Finland’s as a barometer against which to measure South Africa’s current and future development. “I did not want to be ‘carried away’ by the aspirations of that high-income context – because that is not the reality of South Africa,” says Kaathima. For her, the ideal that South Africa is working towards has to be ‘home-grown’ – and relevant to our own context.

“There is a lot of good that has come from the civil society sector here. And it is not that we do not need to learn from other countries – but we do need to keep coming up with good ideas for development which are consultative and take into consideration the context in South Africa.”

A renewed perspective on advocacy

Reflecting on Mikhulu’s role in a national context, Kaathima sees Mikhulu Trust as a small piece in the wider patchwork of development advocacy. “It has confirmed to me that our main advocacy message to the South African government is about the importance of having national Early Childhood Development strategies that are holistic: that prioritise parents as a key avenue for supporting childhood development, in addition to creches and schools.”

Continuing work in South Africa

Receiving the HundrED award and spending time in Finland has provided Kaathima with varied reflections – all of which weave back together around the importance of locally-relevant and innovative interventions that play into a better future. In turn, this “future” should be envisaged by people “on the ground” – people who know their context and the latent potential that sits within it. Mikhulu Trust is part of this process, and this award has boosted the organisation to keep powering on.

“Receiving this kind of external support and validation is great – it is a message that others believe in your model,” concludes Kaathima. “I hope that this creates opportunities for other organisations across different settings, both in high-income settings but also in lower- and middle-income countries, too.”

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