Global Compact for Early Childhood Development (GCECD)

By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s children will be living in cities. In this increasingly urbanized world, cities play a major role in helping all children achieve their full potential. A growing body of research from the field of early childhood development (ECD) has demonstrated conclusively that poverty, poor health, inadequate nutrition, lack of stimulation, stress, and maltreatment disrupt healthy brain development — putting children at a lifelong disadvantage.

Some farsighted cities are already working to strengthen their maternal health, nutrition, and parenting programs, to create family centers, and to increase the child-friendliness of local social services, justice systems, and public spaces. The New York Academy of Sciences created the Global Compact for Early Childhood Development (GCECD) as a platform to support civic leaders in these efforts.

This initiative is unique in its international scope and focus on improving the lives of urban children from gestation through age three (“under-3 ECD”). The ECD programs of current GCECD Member Cities reach 200,000 children, and we aspire to expand this network to include over 100 cities and reach 25 million children by 2020. A one-page brief on the program can be found here. Click here for an introductory slide presentation on the GCECD.

Our goal is to build a global collaborative network of cities committed to harnessing evidence, strengthening adaptive learning capacities, and sharing best practices, so that cities are empowered to help all children reach their full potential. We are guided by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as they relate to children, and by the 2016 Lancet series: “Advancing Early Childhood Development: from Science to Scale.”

Theory of Change

By linking mayors, city program leaders, and ECD experts, we will promote an exchange of evidence-based ideas and solutions, empowering urban communities to transform their ECD efforts and foster a global cultural shift toward more child-friendly cities.

Invitation to Cities

We invite mayors and senior civic leaders who care deeply about the well-being and future of their city’s youngest citizens to join the Global Compact for Early Childhood Development. JOIN US

Invitation to Partners

GCECD Member Cities are a self-selected group of “early adopters” that are already investing in young children. They are — by definition — open to testing new approaches and measuring outcomes. This network can be a powerful resource for any organization that wants to promote and support ECD innovations. PARTNER WITH US

First Early Adopter Cities Workshop

The GCECD was launched at the Academy in late 2016. Participants in the first Early Adopter Cities Workshop — Cities, Science, and Nurturing Care — included delegations from 13 cities in Asia, Europe, and North and South America, along with 25 internationally recognized ECD experts. The exchange of ideas during this event has already led to the creation of new city programs, and agreement among GCECD Members to: (1) Invite additional cities into the network; (2) Develop common standards and tools for ECD-friendly cities; and (3) Build a global movement to improve the lives of children in cities. A summary of the workshop can be found in this article. The full Workshop Report can be found here.


Jennifer Costley


Who's Involved

The GCECD includes Member Cities, represented by mayors and their designated representatives (often ECD program directors or City Council Members), and a Leadership Council comprised of some of the world's foremost experts in the ECD field.

Leadership Council Members

While parents and guardians take the lead in child care, the public sector plays a crucial supporting role — especially for families under stress. The Global Compact for Early Childhood Development (GCECD) is part of a growing global movement to strengthen efforts by the public sector to improve early childhood development (ECD). GCECD Members want to catalyze a cultural shift that enables local communities to transform themselves. Member Cities seek to ensure that all of their youngest citizens can reach their full potential.

GCECD Member Cities face a truly daunting task. How do we galvanize political will? How do we engage with parents and communities? How can we coordinate action across multiple departments including health, education, social services, and justice? What’s the best way to harness the latest research findings to design effective programs? How do we train an effective ECD workforce, and measure the outcomes and impact of their efforts? And, of course, where do we obtain the resources to make these investments sustainable?

The good news is that we’ve seen an explosion of ECD research over the past two decades. Cities may choose from a wide variety of tools, indicators, training modules and rigorously-evaluated model programs. The bad news is that it is challenging to wade through such diverse resources to select what’s right for your city. A global city network can help cities benchmark their “child-friendliness” against peer communities.

GCECD Members are keenly aware of these obstacles. One of our objectives is to develop and share useful tools to help cities design and deliver cost-effective programs, measure impact, and garner and maintain the political will to launch and sustain ECD programs. Over the coming year — leading up to the next GCECD meeting in late 2017 — Member Cities and the Leadership Council will work to develop some of the following:

Checklist: A simple checklist of the key process considerations that are essential for cities to create and strengthen ECD programs. The checklist will cover intersectoral coordination mechanisms, community engagement needs, workforce needs, and the collection of evidence to guide policy and program design.

Indicators: Many states and nations have already adopted official ECD standards and indicators. We don’t want to “reinvent the wheel,” adopting common measures that conflict with official policies. Instead, we intend to develop a mechanism for GCECD Member Cities to share what they measure, and how they measure it.

Communications: There is a need to develop simple adaptable communications tools to reach civic leaders, communities and parents. This may include infographics and short videos.

To collaborate in developing these and other useful tools, GCECD Members will use Launchpad, a virtual collaboration platform developed by the New York Academy of Sciences.

Many useful tools for ECD-friendly cities are already available from other organizations. Some examples are listed below. Our intention is to expand and organize these tools as a “dashboard” for GCECD Member Cities (or any child-friendly city).

Existing tools and models

UNICEF: Early Learning & Development Standards (example from Romania)
US HHS Birth to 5: Watch Me Thrive! A Compendium of Screening Measures for Young Children
UNICEF: Care for Child Development Package
ISSA: Quality Framework for Birth to Three Services
US HHS: Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program Models
Vroom: Evidence-based tools and materials that inspire families to turn everyday moments into brain building
Early Childhood Workforce Initiative: KNOWLEDGE HUB (resources on competences, training and recognition)
Institute for Intergroup Understanding: Guidance for Parents (including Parent Toolkit)
Thirty Million Words Initiative (TMW)

Evidence-based ECD innovation

Saving Brains list of innovative and effective ECD interventions (based on the following outcome metrics: physical growth; cognitive function; language skills; socioemotional capacity; academic attainment)
Innovations in Investing in Young Children Globally: Proceedings of a Workshop, US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, February 8, 2017
Hult Prize 2015 challenge winners: Early Childhood Development and Education innovations
Harvard Center on the Developing Child Frontiers of Innovation (with examples of evaluated programs)
R4D Center for Education Innovations database of evaluated ECD interventions
ARNEC Noteworthy Practices/Innovations
ARNEC Innovative Pedagogical Approaches & Tools in Early Childhood Care and Education (videos)
ARNEC Innovative Pedagogical Approaches in Early Childhood Care and Education: Resource Pack
Boa Vista cluster randomized control trial of an intervention to promote reading aloud by parents at home


Jennifer Costley


One of the GCECD’s objectives is to build a platform that will allow Member Cities to share ideas and information easily, and to benchmark their ECD efforts against other Member Cities. We are conscious of the need to avoid duplication of other city networks, and to help Member Cities find resources to support and sustain their ECD programs. The information assembled below represents an early effort to build a collection of essential resources for GCECD Member Cities (or any child-friendly city).

City Programs Database

One proposal arising from the First Early Adopter Cities Workshop was to develop a database describing the ECD programs of GCECD Member Cities. This would allow cities to learn from each other, and to benchmark their program designs. The Secretariat has prepared a template for a database of city programs, and will work with Member Cities to collect program details including summaries; sectors and stakeholders; background on how each program was inspired and launched; and information on: funding streams, human resource needs, challenges and how they were addressed, and measurement of child development outcomes and program effectiveness.

Other Relevant City Groups

Early Learning Network: 17 U.S. cities linked to promote ECD learning and innovation, led by the National League of Cities (NLC) and the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP), supported by the Bezos Family Foundation:

Urban95: City leaders, urban planners, architects and engineers making cities livable for 95 cm toddlers
A Better Start: Big Lottery Fund (UK) “test-&-learn” program in Bradford, Blackpool, Lambeth, Nottingham, Southend
C40 Cities: A network of the world’s megacities taking action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
Eurocities: A network of over 130 of Europe's largest cities, along with 40 partner cities, spanning 35 countries
Child Friendly Cities: This UNICEF program focuses primarily on children’s rights and child protection
100 Resilient Cities: Helps cities around the world become resilient to physical, social and economic challenges

Background Papers and Reports


Jennifer Costley


List of Foundations that Invest in ECD

Note: This is not comprehensive list, and each grant-maker has its own investment strategies and geographic focus; some do not accept unsolicited applications.

Aga Khan Development Network
Alliance for Early Success
Annie E. Casey Foundation
Altman Foundation
Bay & Paul Foundations
Bernard Van Leer Foundation
Bezos Family Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bloomberg Philanthropies
Brady Education Foundation
Buffett Early Childhood Fund
Casey Family Programs
Charles Steward Mott Foundation
Children International
Children’s Investment Fund Foundation
Clinton Foundation
David and Lucile Packard Foundation
Doris Duke Charitable Foundation
Edna McConnell Clark Foundation
ELMA Philanthropies
First Five Years Fund
Ford Foundation
Foundation for Child Development
Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian
GHR Foundation
Global Fund for Children
Grand Challenges Canada
Hall Family Foundation
Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
Hasbro Children’s Fund
Heinz Endowments
Heising-Simons Foundation
IKEA Foundation
Irving Harris Foundation
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Joyce Foundation
Kellogg Foundation
Knight Foundation
Laura and John Arnold Foundation
Lawrence Foundation
Lego Foundation
Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust
Li Ka Shing Foundation
Lumos Foundation
Mattel Children’s Foundation
McKnight Foundation
Morris and Gwendolyn Cafritz Foundation
Mulago Foundation
Oak Foundation
O’Neill Foundation
Open Society Foundations
Pershing Square Foundation
Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation
Robertson Foundation
Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Rockefeller Foundation
Skillman Foundation
UBS Optimus Foundation
Walton Family Foundation
W. Clement & Jessie V. Stone Foundation
Wellspring Advisors
William and Flora Hewlett Foundation
World Bank Group ~ Early Learning Partnership
World Childhood Foundation
World Vision