In Nairobi, you can find dozens of daycares, but the businesses are difficult to spot. Childminders often keep their unmarked doors shut, perhaps for fear of passersby seeing what goes on inside – young children crammed into tiny, dusty huts for hours on end with poor sanitation, inadequate food and little interaction.
Kidogo, however, is easy to find. This childcare centre announces its presence with bright blue signs and the noise of kids playing outdoors.
The fanfare is deliberate: with its two Nairobi pre-schools, the social enterprise is trying to set an example for other local childcare operators, and provide a training ground for women in the sector. So far it is working with five “mama-preneurs”, teaching them about finance, hygiene and nutrition.
Kidogo is part of a growing international movement seeking new ways to provide affordable, high-quality childcare to underserved communities, from the slums of Nairobi to the outskirts of Mangalore.
The Overseas Development Institute estimates (pdf) that, worldwide, at least 35.5 million children under the age of five are being left alone or with other young children while their parents work.
Even those who are supervised often lack the necessary stimuli for a developing brain: a 2007 research project found (pdf) around 200 million children were failing to reach their cognitive potential every year because of poor early-life care. Girls are disproportionately affected, since they are often the ones taken out of school to look after younger siblings.
Parents seem to appreciate the increased quality of care offered by Kidogo. “My daughter can’t wait to come over every morning,” says Judith Chisakane, whose four-year-old attends its centre in the Kangemi slum. Chisakane says her young daughter is already more independent than her eight-year-old sister who attended a different local pre-school. “The only thing I would change,” she says “is having a bigger playground.”