Improving the Quality of Childcare Centers to Enhance Women’s Economic Empowerment

April 20, 2023

Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) – East Africa spurs transformative change to advance gender equality in the world of work, with a focus on gender labor market segregation and unpaid care. The African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC) is conducting an evaluation of one approach that shows promise in alleviating poverty while promoting women’s participation in paid work through childcare provision. 

The Kidogo childcare model seeks to improve the quality of care offered in childcare centers that serve women in the low-income bracket and  provides them with an opportunity to earn a living. Kidogo is a social enterprise organization that runs an innovative “hub & spoke” model to provide high-quality, affordable early childhood development services in low-income communities. First, they identify, map & recruit local women who run informal childcare centers within a low-income community. Kidogo then  partners with these “mamapreneurs” using a social franchising approach where they provide training, mentorship, and tools that help them to improve the quality and profitability of their childcare micro-businesses. 

Kidogo provides technical support to women, some of whom seem to have stumbled upon the childcare business by responding to the needs of working women living within their neighborhoods. With 800 centers under their program, Kidogo is influencing the health and well-being of women and children across Kenya by contributing to training for caregivers (mothers) and mamaprenuers who own the centers, many of which are home-based. 

Accompanied by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Eastern and Southern Regional Office Director Dr. Kathryn Toure and a team from IDRC, APHRC visited a school-based daycare center in Kawangware, where excellence in childcare provision was on full display. The caregiver-to-child ratio is one for every 15 children to ensure that they get the attention and engagement they need for their optimal health and development. Every morning upon arrival, the teachers check the children’s health to ensure not just the individual child’s health but also the safety of the other children. 

“The work being done by the mamapreneurs is quite meaningful as providing childcare at an affordable cost ensures that women can pursue opportunities outside the household,” said Dr. Toure.

The setup of the daycare classroom is practical and set around age-appropriate and child friendly activities that children engage in during their stay at the center. There is a reading corner, a changing station for young children still in diapers, and sleeping and seating areas. The children have one meal and two snacks daily – a porridge fortified with protein-rich grain at 10 am, lunch at midday, and some fruits in the afternoon. For the youngest age group, parents are encouraged to pack food for the babies, which is heated before feeding them. The children also enjoy outdoor play and a nap. 

The second level under the Kidogo program is the playgroup class for children aged between two and a half to four years old. This is a transition stage to formal learning.  In this class, the children learn phonetics and counting using locally available material. All the children’s privacy is protected under Kidogo’s strict child protection policy that encourages all visitors to the centers to adhere to guidelines that ensure the children’s safety, health, and well-being. The policy limits photography, especially making public images that show identifying features of the children.

Older children, especially those attending pre-primary level 1 (PP1) and pre-primary level 2 (PP2) have a setting that provides for formal learning but which also utilizes play-based teaching and learning to make the experience of learning enjoyable and less stressful. 

The daycare licenses are renewed annually at the cost of KES 4000 (USD 30). The management is required to renew the health certificate every six months. Community health volunteers who are part of the Ministry of Health’s community health strategy reach children under three years who are at the childcare centers with services such as deworming, vitamin A supplementation and vaccination. Access to such services may be problematic to parents who work long hours and are unavailable to take their children to the public clinics during the time when the services are offered.

“Children under three years old also belong to the government, and more investment towards their care by the government will ensure that we raise healthy and all-rounded children,” said Dr. Margaret Nampijja, an ECD researcher at APHRC.

Most of the teachers and caregivers at the childcare centers have their children as beneficiaries of the facility. Having their children at the workplace improves their mental health and enables them to participate in paid employment. The major challenges faced by the caregivers and teachers were absenteeism among the children due to lack of tuition and sometimes sickness.

The Kidogo model has enabled women to pursue paid work and also  improved the income of caregivers in childcare centers. The teachers at the school, unlike the other caregivers, have certificates in early childhood development. Some of them joined the institution first as caregivers but eventually became teachers after training  that was sponsored by Kidogo. 

Esther Alivitsa is a caregiver and teacher with a two-year-old child in daycare. She says the best part of her job is being close to her son while doing what she loves. Alivistsa  says that being responsible for the care and development of the children at the center gives her satisfaction as she is shaping the next generation. She hopes to establish a similar facility in her home county in Western Kenya.

Through training, mamapreneurs are taken through a 9-month program that offers monthly workshops on an ECD or business-related theme e.g. creating local play materials, tracking finances, maintaining good hygiene & sanitation, planning a nutritious menu etc., followed by a bi-weekly, 2-hour on-site coaching visit by a Franchising Officer.  On quality and business management, the mamaprenuers are able to provide good quality service while at the same time making a profit. The women in the neighborhoods have also benefited from such upgraded and relatively affordable costs- they are able to undertake paid work while their children enjoy good care at these centers. A few mothers still struggle to afford quality childcare, hence subsidized services would be useful.

The Kidogo model  gives a combination of knowledge specifically given that many mamapreneurs did not complete high school. The network support provided by other women in the community in the same industry is also important because running a daycare can be a challenge. The mamapreneurs  are also equipped with new skills to grow their businesses and earn a profit.

Kidogo is doing their best to provide services across the country. However, there is still an unmet demand, and therefore we call upon the government, funders, and the general public to support these facilities as they are important. Public/private partnership is the ideal approach for supporting these institutions to maximize women economic empowerment and child health and development.