Changing The Way We Care was a finalist in the MacArthur Foundation’s inaugural 100&Change challenge. Five years later, it’s sparking global momentum to reform institutionalized childcare.
As Senior Project Officer for Changing The Way We Care in Kenya, Alividzah Kituku is part ambassador, part influencer, and part implementer. Her objective is to move children from what sometimes are called orphanages or “Charitable Children’s Institutions” (CCI) to stable, family-based care.
In September of 2019 she faced a formidable challenge: persuading orphanage administrators that family-based care was the healthiest option for children in those institutions.
“When we called the first meeting with a Charitable Children’s Institution, they were like, ‘This cannot work. This will not work,’” Kituku recalled in a recent interview. “I’m sure they were worried about what they saw as a threat to their jobs. It was quite a problem. I thought, ‘This is another battle we have to endure.’”
In her discussions with CCI managers, Kituku pointed to decades of research showing the negative cognitive, physical, and social effects of residential care that intensify the longer children remain in institutions. She noted that children in stable family care environments thrive. She presented a cost-effective plan that included the children’s institutions as social service centers providing support so families could keep children in the families’ homes.
“As I speak to you today, the managers who voiced that it cannot work and is not going to work are leading the transition. They’ve become champions of this movement.”Alividzah Kituku, Senior Program Officer, Changing The Way We Care
Some have closed their establishments as residential institutions, returned children to their families, and made the shift to family support centers. They also have become advocates for widespread care reform.
Changing The Way We Care’s Global Director Anne Smith said the shift by children’s institutions was a pleasant, unexpected surprise.
“We didn’t necessarily plan for this,” she said, “but it’s happening, and these people are becoming positive role models for others to learn from. That’s more powerful than any training materials or guidance we could offer.”
That experience is one element of Changing The Way We Care’s success as it marks its fifth year of existence and demonstrates the potential of a well-conceived initiative that receives crucial financial support, allowing an organization to leverage that support and expand impact.
‘One clear choice’
Changing The Way We Care was created in 2017, when the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced the launch of 100&Change, a challenge that awarded $100 million to a single project that made significant progress toward solving a critical societal problem.
Immediately after the announcement, Catholic Relief Services—which, with Maestral International and Lumos, was an organizing partner of Changing The Way We Care—solicited ideas from its 6,000 employees worldwide. More than 100 were submitted.
“There was one clear choice—to focus on dramatically scaling up our support to children living in institutions, mainly orphanages,” Catholic Relief Services Vice President of Program Impact & Quality Assurance Shannon Senefeld wrote in a 2017 MacArthur Foundation essay. “We realized that these children are one of the most vulnerable populations in the world, yet they have no voice to speak about a complex, societal problem that receives little attention.”
Although some estimates state that upwards of 80 percent of children in orphanages worldwide have at least one living parent, the facilities have become a burgeoning industry in developing nations. Extreme poverty and population growth, among other factors, drive their expansion. Well-meaning foreigners contribute to it.
Changing The Way We Care utilizes a variety of tactics, including a case management approach, to identify services such as positive parenting intervention, household economic strengthening, and referrals for medical and disability services—all with the goal of keeping children with their families. Converting orphanages to community centers is part of that movement.
Leverage and Challenge
In December of 2017, MacArthur announced that the 100&Change winner was Ahlan Simsim, which promotes early childhood development for children affected by conflict in Syria and the surrounding region.
Changing The Way We Care was among three Finalists that each received $15 million from MacArthur.
While $15 million was substantially lower than what Changing The Way We Care’s organizers had hoped for, they decided to forge ahead with a scaled back initiative. Instead of working in seven countries, the program focused on three that had built momentum toward the transition: Kenya, Moldova, and Guatemala. Organization leaders also decided to work at the country level, establishing relationships that could yield widespread, systems change.
Almost immediately after receiving $15 million from MacArthur, Changing The Way We Care obtained $9 million in additional support from USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and the GHR Foundation.
“We had worked with both before and they were following the competition,” Smith said. “They were very interested in our issue and came in after the announcement to express interest in working with MacArthur as co-funders.”
“The competition pushed us to think a little bit differently about our work in terms of scale and broader influence in advocacy work.”Anne Smith, Global Director, Changing The Way We Care
The experience is a valuable lesson to other organizations that have found success through participation in 100&Change, Smith said: leverage the relationship with MacArthur to bring in additional donors and persuade them to be more flexible with their funding, as MacArthur was with its funding. Her other advice is to consult with organizations that have gone through 100&Change. Changing The Way We Care has coached two 100&Change participants since 2017, she said.
After the inaugural competition helped Changing The Way We Care secure two additional funders, the three primary donors formed an alliance with a steering committee that meets every month. The committee supports fundraising by making introductions, proposing new ideas, and solving problems, Smith said.
“What’s also important is that the 100&Change competition pushed us to think a little bit differently about our work,” Smith said, “in terms of scale and broader influence in advocacy work.”
But challenges arose.
While MacArthur’s flexible support gives grantees the power to decide how to use the money, other funders were less flexible, Smith said. In addition, some donors preferred not to be in the alliance. Both circumstances complicate Changing The Way We Care’s management of donors and the broader initiative.
Also, Changing The Way We Care had to understand that its newfound, substantial resources did not mean that everyone involved in the movement could accelerate their work.
“Just because you can hire five people to work on a care reform strategy and pile all these resources into it doesn’t mean that the governments are able to operate at the same pace,” Smith said.
Changing The Way We Care also had to navigate high global inflation, conflicts, insecurity surrounding elections and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Catalyzing A Global Movement
Still, the organization reports specific and broad progress, especially in recent months, including:
- 14 faith-based organizations mentored or trained in childcare reform.
- With Pan American University, the creation of a diploma course on child rights and children’s care in Guatemala and expansion of its work to the western highlands of the country.
- The completion of 74 learning products that totaled 32,261 downloads and views on the Better Care Network.
- CTWWC and its partners supporting the reunification of 26 children in Moldova.
- 800 households in Kenya and Guatemala receiving emergency economic support or training on kitchen gardens and small business management skills.
- 779 social workers trained on care reform in Kenya and Guatemala.
On a broader scale, Changing The Way We Care was instrumental in two national developments in Kenya. And the organization’s efforts continue sparking change in other areas of the world.
One of those developments occurred in June, when Kenya launched its National Care Reform Strategy, which, according to a government report on the initiative, “seeks to guide national steps towards” preventing children’s separation from their biological families. The strategy also calls for strengthening families and promoting robust alternative family care while pursuing the transition from institutional care to “family and community-based care for all children in need of care and protection.”
More progress occurred when Kenya’s amended Children Act took effect in July. Among other measures, it prioritizes family-based alternative care over the institutionalization of children. The new law also recognizes “kafaalah,” in which a person professing the Islamic faith can take in a child deprived of parental and family care.
Along the way, Changing The Way We Care has helped create a network of faith-based organizations performing similar care reform, including Catholic, evangelical and Protestant churches and Muslim faith leadership.
In addition, Changing The Way We Care has partnered with UNICEF to create a “regional learning platform” that brings together government leaders from countries in east central Africa to explore and promote training on family care reform.
“What we see in those cases is the Kenyan government leading and sharing its experiences with others to influence change in other countries,” Smith said, “even though we’re not adding a country to our list and doing the day-to-day work.”
A similar phenomenon is unfolding on other continents.
Governments and faith-based organizations in Latin America have contacted Changing The Way We Care’s Guatemala office, Smith said, asking it to share practices. As a result, Changing The Way We Care has done work in Columbia and Mexico. Peru is scheduled to be next, a pivot that the flexibility and freedom of the grant funding allows the initiative to make.
In addition, the success has generated more funding that has allowed Changing The Way We Care to start work in India and Haiti.
The dream, Smith said, is for the momentum to continue to a tipping point where countries that had used orphanages for decades, perhaps centuries, have moved past the point of returning to those institutions.
“This global movement is growing,” Smith said. “We didn’t create it, but I think we’ve been able to contribute to it and to catalyze others to join it.”
This is the third in a series of articles describing the impact of funding through Lever for Change challenges. Lever for Change was born of the success of the MacArthur Foundation’s 100&Change challenge and spurred the philanthropic sector to rethink its approach to achieving impact at scale. Founded in 2019 as a nonprofit affiliate of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Lever for Change has influenced over $1.7 billion in grants to date and provided support to more than 175 organizations.
See the first article in the series about NEST360 and the second article about HarvestPlus. To learn more about Lever for Change challenges or how you can support these projects, please contact our team.