FoundationSusan Branker, Programme Director, Caribbean Child Support Initiative, Barbados; Fiona Wilson, Research Fellow, and Rosalind Eyben, Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton, UK

The Bernard van Leer Foundation's decision to phase out of the Caribbean region presented the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI) with a dilemma: without the Foundation's funding, should the CCsi seek to continue to grow through a model of organic change or instead move towards a strategy of institutionalisation? This article considers the pros and cons of the two approaches to scaling-up a successful programme, and discusses how the decision to pursue a strategy of institutionalisation led to the formation of the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children as a successor to the CCSI.


Since the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI) was launched in 2002, it has reshaped the early childhood landscape in the region, giving more prominence to non-formal approaches to reaching at-risk young children and their families. The ccsi flagship is the Roving Caregivers Programme (rcp), an on-theground intervention model to promote care and early stimulation which has filled a void in areas where there are no other similar services available.

In recent years, the ccsi has worked according to three key mutually supporting elements or 'strands':

  1. family and community interventions (the continued replication of rcp and piloting of some other models) 
  2. knowledge building and application (with greater emphasis on developing a community of learning among academic researchers), and
  3. policy advocacy and communication.

This three-strand approach sought to achieve an equal balance between policy advocacy, knowledge building and grounded practice.

The announcement of an imminent end to funding from the Bernard van Leer Foundation in 2011 drove ccsi stakeholders to look for ways to keep alive what had been achieved. The ccsi found itself at the crossroads of two paradigms of change: a paradigm of organic change and a paradigm of institutionalisation. Each offered a different 'take' on ccsi's way forward, and each put emphasis on different sets of relationships and world-views. It is not that one paradigm is intrinsically better than the other – in fact, it is common to find the organic view predominating in early phases, while the imperative for institutionalising comes to the fore later on. Managing a merger and a transition between the two – and keeping everybody 'onboard' – is, however, never easy.

The central features characterising the organic change paradigm were identified as:

  • networked relationships held together by flows, exchange, personalised contact
  • ability to morph and change shape
  • adaptation to new situations
  • appropriating, incorporating, indigenising influences
  • ability to embrace unintended consequences.

    In contrast, central features of the institutionalisation paradigm included:

  • consolidation, management and regulation of activities
  • architecting, structuring and building institutions
  • strategic alliances for replication and implementation
  • strategic alliances for financial sustainability
  • professionalisation, standardisation, documentation.

In short, while the organic change paradigm gives weight to personal relations, agency, complexity and mutation, the institutionalisation paradigm emphasises consolidation of structures, predictability and instituting regulated ways of doing things. The question posed by a report on the ccsi conducted by the uk's Institute for Development Studies in 2009 was: how could the ccsi carry forward and continue to build on its achievements in relation to an organic paradigm of change while consolidating a process of institutionalisation? (Wilson and Eyben, 2010).

From organic change to institutionalisation

The CCSI had started out firmly in the paradigm of organic change. When initially set up, it was envisaged as a non-institutional initiative, operating with a network structure and opting for a loose and flexible membership while showing affinity with the Bernard van Leer Foundation's working principles and legacy in the region. It set out to be an enabler and mobiliser, to tie in with the common values and beliefs of stakeholders around a specific thematic niche. Various stakeholders agree that the CCSI was characterised by being flexible, adaptable and networked, with congruence between key qualities and ideas.

What happened to relations between CCSI's three strands? Although balance and synergy were desired from the start, each strand had come to reflect the views, locations and experiences of a specific 'professional' group, itself a mininetwork, belonging within the wider ccsi community. Each contributed knowledge and expertise that might dovetail with, yet still remain separate from, the other two. In other words, an important way of incorporating plurality was to work in practice with a 'conglomerate' model, where the strands mark out different domains. Achieving 'harmonisation' to some extent entailed allowing each strand to coexist as a separate entity. Thus an advantage of the three-stranded approach was that it helped contain friction and difference among the principal constituencies brought together.

The imperative of institutionalisation was, however, increasingly strongly felt at ccsi even before the Bernard van Leer Foundation's decision to end funding. This was a response to internal dynamics and stages reached in the life cycle of programme activities. By 2009, institutionalisation topped the ccsi's agenda and opened up new questions. According to the paradigm of institutionalisation, if early child development is to continue along the lines that ccsi pioneered, in order to ensure sustainability regional actors – both government and private sector – must be persuaded of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the flagship rcp programme. One rationale for thinking in terms of efficiency and cost-effectiveness is that this discourse appealed most to institutions that needed to be 'brought on board' in the hope that they could give reliable, long-term support. The logic to this rests on a series of considerations that can be detailed as follows:

  • Sustainability, both financial and operational, is integrally linked to successful institutionalisation. For CCSI, this focused on ensuring the survival of an RCP type of service.
  • In future, RCP lead agencies at national and regional levels need to be stable, able to access sufficient funds and resources, and have transparent, accountable governance structures. RCP lead agencies at national level were finding it difficult, if not impossible, to carry the full burden.

One trajectory of institutionalisation envisaged was to get a firmer commitment from government. The CCSI had started out by being wary of government involvement because of its apparent lack of affinity with experimental projects, preferring to make partnerships with ngos. This shifted over time as the public sector came to be seen as the most likely source of RCP's financial sustainability – able to pay salaries and stipends, scale-up the programme and spread it to disadvantaged communities throughout the country. Government involvement presented both opportunities and difficulties:

  • Since early child development (ECD) involves both an educational perspective and a welfare perspective, in policy terms this means that programmes for early child development cross administrative boundaries, and fall within a number of portfolios and ministries. This may mean that rcp would be shifted as part of a broader portfolio from one line ministry to another. But it also means that there are opportunities for dovetailing and integrating rcp with other state-provided services at community level.
  • Early child development, like social development policy in general, involves initiating and nurturing processes playing out over the long run. For busy ministers and civil servants working in environments where there are frequent changes in government, posts and appointments, there is a tendency to put long-term policies such as ecd on hold.
  • ECD has to compete for the attention of politicians whose interests are captured by the immediate concerns of voters. Getting ecd policy frameworks accepted nationally and regionally so that they become part of legislation has been time-consuming and results are uneven.
  • Regional governmental bodies, such as those associated with the Caribbean Community (caricom), have not had much clout.

The second trajectory envisaged for the future of rcp was to get support and commitment from the private sector. ccsi announced its commitment to bringing government and the private sector together by forging and strengthening partnerships, and pressing for a realignment of relevant government ministries and development of effective public– private partnerships in order to provide sustained quality services. But working towards new public–private partnerships was not straightforward and required a very delicate balance given the highly personalised nature of networks and the fact that influential actors may wear many hats.

Institutionalisation, advocacy and sustainability challenges

The imperative of institutionalisation brought the advocacy strand to centre stage, working at two levels – the micro and the macro. At community level, greater efforts were made to empower parents so that they would become influential as activists, able to bring the rcp to the attention of local leaders, politicians and the media. One of the messages ccsi sought to relay was that being a 'good' advocate is not about being a loud-mouth but can be done quietly and insistently. The task is to move parenting from the private to public sphere.

Transforming beneficiaries into advocates dovetails with the paradigm of organic change. Indeed, it takes up an important constitutive element of the original Rover Caregivers Programme of Jamaica that appeared to have been lost in translation to other settings: bringing parents in as collaborators so that they actively become co-creators. Generally, early child development and parenting have not been seen as a rallying cry for political or grassroots movements. However, threat of programme closure served as an impetus to change this. Through advocacy, practitioners, Rovers, interns and parents, came together and collectively started to make demands to keep the programme running, which found important continuity with the paradigm of organic change.

The conceptual framing at the macro level is different. CCSI's advocacy strategy was associated more clearly with the paradigm of institutionalisation. Attention was focused on providing evidence and channelling findings from scientific research. Relevant material from wide-ranging sources was culled and summarised by CCSI's advocacy team to attest to the vital importance of early child development and convince sponsors and funders of the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of RCP. Reaching powerful and influential people who had many competing demands meant slanting the CCSI message and producing short sound-bites, policy briefs and talking points. 'Champions' were sought out, people with a standing in society, who are willing to take up the CCSI cause and plead the case of ECD.

CCSI also faced three dilemmas regarding sustainability of the programme, in the context of transition from the organic change paradigm to institutionalisation: concepts of partnership and flexible networks. While the three-strand approach will be retained by the CCSI's successor (the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children), it will not obscure the need to revisit issues of partnerships and networks in the wider CCSI community. One important reason for doing this is because one can see new kinds of networks emerging among social actors.

The imperative of institutionalisation was a response to internal dynamics and stages reached in the life cycle of programme activities.

Replication or adaptation?

The history of the RCP in the region displayed an interplay between replication and adaptation, from its pioneering experimental phase in Jamaica through its selection as an indigenous 'best practice', to implementation elsewhere. The threat is that replication loses innovativeness, dynamism and flexibility, yet there seemed to be important changes of an organic nature taking place. It was clear that replication could not be seen as spelling uniformity and rigidity, but needed to be shaped by the different tempos of the varying contexts.

Ongoing invigoration of networks The paradigm of organic change which underpinned ccsi was founded on who were not seen as 'networked' before. If collective action is to be launched at the grassroots level, from the communities, then it is important to see how and where this collectivity can emerge.

CCSI's critical role and passing on the mantle As a support mechanism at the centre of a nexus of relationships, CCSI negotiated not only between different people and interests but also between different discourses held by its stakeholders. One of CCSI's important contributions has been to bring about overall congruence in the network – in other words, getting different agents to recognise themselves as linked by conviction to a single cause. Strength of commitment and sense of mission allowed differences in terms of background, generation, class, interests and position in the network to be tolerated.

The Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC)The FDCC was officially launched in June 2011 as a successor to the CCSI. It was conceptualised in keeping with the CCSI's purpose of strengthening the care environment for young children in the Caribbean, and a vision of the Caribbean where young children from all social and economic backgrounds have equal opportunities to reach their maximum potential. To achieve this vision, it set its mission to significantly increase the number of disadvantaged children who acquire the knowledge and skills to prepare them for entry into primary school and lifelong learning through access to quality early childhood development support services.

The FDCC is a Caribbean foundation, led by a Caribbean board, managed and operated by Caribbean nationals to provide funding and technical assistance to Caribbean countries to ensure that socially vulnerable Caribbean young children develop knowledge, skills and have access to quality ECD. This targeting of the socially vulnerable children aged 0–5 sets FDCC apart from other operators in the ECD landscape, who typically focus on the mainstream and on children who have already entered the formal structures of education.

The FDCC is committed to ensuring that not just the government but also the wider community own the ecd agenda. This will ensure that demand for quality ecd will be driven and supported locally. Thus, initially funding will be sought from Caribbean businesses and individuals and co-financing agreements will be sought with governments and corporate entities of the recipient countries. Mutual accountability by the FDCC and its beneficiaries will be necessary to improve the confidence of the philanthropic landscape. Where external funding or expertise is sought, the intent is that this should be for a predefined period, with knowledge and skills being transferred to the region and the recipient countries moving towards self-sustainability over time.

In institutionalising through the FDCC, the CCSI and its regional partners committed to ensuring that the concepts behind the initiative live on after the end of the funding, to continue engaging existing networks of practitioners, and to 'anchor' the discourse on child development and family support. The three-stranded model is essential to the future direction of any organised attempt to strengthen the care environment for young children. In institutionalising the CCSI process, it was important to build on the awareness of the processes and convince others of their importance and effectiveness in facilitating ECD and family support initiatives in the region. The CCSI Strategy Group, which was succeeded by a private sector-led task force, emphasised the importance of advocating for more support of young and disadvantaged children.

Establishing a regional intermediary player and catalyst – a private foundation – will enable advocacy for this group to continue. Beyond 2011, the FDCC will continue to provide a critical contribution to the provision of support for at-risk children. In conjunction with continuing its proactive role with the private sector and help to generate, manage and disburse private and corporate funds it could facilitate the convergence, where possible, of initiatives into existing services (economic, education, health and social). By forging public–private partnerships in the region on matters of child advocacy, policy and financing, the new foundation will create its own unique niche.

ReferenceEyben, R. and Wilson, F. (2010). The Capacity to Have an Effect: An efficacy study of the Caribbean Child Support Initiative. Bridgetown: caricad.