Ethiopia Early Childhood Development Program

The Big Win

Reaching children with integrated, multisectoral early childhood development (ECD) interventions is crucial to ensuring their ultimate success in school and the world of work.

In March 2021, the Addis Ababa City Administration, in partnership with the Federal Government, launched an integrated plan to reach all children under the age of seven with an array of comprehensive programs including universal pre-school, home visits to especially vulnerable families by a new cadre of social workers, the establishment of day care centers, and expansion of public play spaces.

As the program continues, Ethiopia plans to establish an ECD Center of Excellence in Addis Ababa with the aim of advancing ECD best practices and policies at the federal and regional levels, improve the capacities, skills, and competencies of the early childhood care workforce, influence policy direction, and use collaborate and inclusive approaches to forge strong links for a sustaining ECD subsector within Ethiopia and across the African continent. It will also facilitate international partnerships to enable dissemination and replication in other countries.

42.3 million Ethiopia's projected urban population by 2037
330,000 low-income households reached by 2025

The Ethiopia–Big Win Partnership

While Ethiopia is still predominantly a rural country, this is set to change dramatically in the coming years. The country’s urban population is expected to triple to 42.3 million by 2037.1 Ethiopia is also a youthful country, with 16% of its total population under the age of five; by 2050, it will have 58 million children under the age of 18.2

Decades of research show that children’s early experiences in life have lasting effects on their odds of good health and success in school, work, and life. This in turn creates a knock-on effect for countries’ economies, as these children enter the workforce. Given the clear economic impact, ECD is a smart investment for countries to make, particularly for those nations with similar demographic profiles to Ethiopia.

Consequently, the Addis Ababa City Administration developed a comprehensive integrated multisectoral ECD program – “Children: The Future Hope of Addis Ababa Early Childhood Development Initiative.” The initiative targets children at home, in schools, and in communities, creating a conducive environment that caters to the wide-ranging growth needs of children. Launched in March 2021, the initial phase adopts a model of intensified support to vulnerable families and children, while striving to provide universal access to comprehensive ECD services to all children by 2025.

The program will build on existing solid platforms including the Urban Health Extension Program and Family Health teams, the Urban Safety Net Program, and the expansion of public schools including pre-primary.

Under the leadership of the Deputy Mayor, the partnership is governed by a high-level steering committee, comprised of high-ranking representatives from the City Administration, federal ministries, and development partners – including the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF) and Big Win. Using a new strategic, multisectoral approach, the initiative is focused on nine key strategic areas:

  1. Implementation of parent coaching

  2. Community-run ECD centers

  3. Publicly financed day care centers

  4. Expanded access to pre-primary schools

  5. Establishment of an ECD Center of Excellence

  6. Learn through play (closed roads, playgrounds, and green sites)

  7. Effective cross-sectoral governance

  8. Improved regulatory standards

  9. Measurement, learning, accountability, and data for decision-making.


The initiative aims to reach vulnerable children in 330,000 low-income households, representing approximately 19% of the total number of households in Addis Ababa. It also aims to expand day care access with the establishment of day care centers (16 in the first year); ensure that 97% of children between 5-6 years of age gain preschool education with the establishment of 14 model preschools; and promote learn through play with the development of playgrounds in green sites, closed roads, and organized children’s sports. Key performance targets are currently being developed, in consultation with the City Administration.

Operating under the leadership of the Mayor of Addis Ababa and the City Cabinet, the initiative also works in partnership with representatives from the following federal ministries: Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, Ministry of Women, Children and Youth, and Ministry of Transport.

The Center of Excellence will build on the infrastructure and learnings from Addis Ababa, and augment it with the best available global evidence, to support the expansion of ECD programming to the rest of the country and continent. It will incorporate the following elements:

  1. Providing models of impactful ECD practices and ECD policies and programs at the federal and regional levels;

  2. Collaborating with researchers, policy makers and early childhood educators to leverage existing knowledge to promote innovative early childhood pedagogies;

  3. Strengthening communities’ capacity to improve the well-being of children;

  4. Facilitating international linkages and partnerships with other model ECD Centers globally to foster knowledge and promote ECD; and

  5. Creating a network of stakeholders, involving NGOs, academic institutions, and practitioners to share the most up to date knowledge on ECD.


To learn more, see the “Children: The Future Hope of Addis Ababa Early Childhood Development Initiative” program brochure here.

Big Win’s Support

Working alongside the Mayor of Addis Ababa, the City Cabinet, federal government leaders, and BvLF, Big Win is providing support across a range of areas including sector coordination, building management capacity, monitoring and evaluation including a baseline study, and communications.

Big Win and BvLF have also facilitated an exchange of ideas from experts who have implemented similar programs in other parts of the world. Four members of the Addis Ababa Municipal Team (the Deputy Mayor and the Heads of the Bureaus of Health, Education, and Environment) were enrolled in Urban95 program in Copenhagen which helps city planners, urban designers, and other urbanists understand how their work can influence child development by viewing cities from 95cm – the height of a 3-year-old.

In June 2019, a study tour of the Crianca Feliz (Happy Child) initiative in Brazil was organized for a delegation of the relevant Ethiopian leadership at the federal and municipal level. This led to a unified prioritization of interventions for Addis Ababa.

“Ethiopia Urbanization Review : Urban Institutions for a Middle-Income Ethiopia”. Ethiopian Central Statistics Agency (2015)

“Children in Ethiopia”. UNICEF (2020)