APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
aeioTU is a social enterprise that operates centers for infants and toddlers with a strong emphasis on high-quality early childhood development (ECD) through education, nutrition, and care. Its objective is the transformation of Colombian society through early childhood development with a special focus on attending vulnerable communities. aeioTU anticipates becoming the industry leader for early childhood services in Colombia and gaining the reputation as a role model for innovative, holistic, and high-quality pedagogical attention available to all children irrespective of their economic background. Only by leading through example will it be possible to overcome the lack of professionalism, poor policy, and severe inefficiencies currently being conducted in the Colombian context.
At a first stage, aeioTU is expanding its services by opening its own centers and identifying both public and private sponsors to finance these operations. However, the ambitious plans of aeioTU will not be achievable purely through these means. The organization is assessing replication strategies such as franchising to scale its social impact way beyond the capacity of its own current resources.
To prepare aeioTU for a massive expansion strategy, Fundaci?n Carulla has invested heavily in organizational infrastructure and a professional management team. A centralized service hub was created, consisting of a management team of five senior professionals, each representing a different area of expertise in general management, finance & administration, communications & alliances, pedagogy, and human resources, which is assisted by nine junior professionals in administrative functions. The role of the service hub is to monitor the management of the individual centers, define the strategy of the organization, develop the business model, centralize activities that require special expertise in controlling, procurement, marketing, pedagogic guidelines, training, and coordinate the funding of the entire network.
The individual childcare centers implement a well-designed and standardized pedagogical program inspired by the well-recognized Reggio Emilia approach, which promotes social, physical, intellectual, creative, emotional, and cognitive development through the use of space and specialized pedagogic material to provide a compelling environment. The attention is complemented by nutrition, health, and care services.
aeioTU's rigorous quality standards guarantee that all children attended through its network will benefit from an optimal learning environment, such as a low teacher-to-child ratio, well-trained teachers, high safety provisions, and useful didactic material. Furthermore, many of the unique elements of aeioTU's pedagogical program, including the role of residential artists, child-driven research projects, use of recycled material, specialized areas for developing sensatory skills, and joined initiatives with the local community, represent a positive evolution in early childhood education and reflect best-practice principles of the academic community.
IMPLEMENTATION, TIMELINE, AND DELIVERABLES
Since its launch in 2008, aeioTU has created a total of five childcare centers in Bogot?, Santa Marta, and Barranquilla, attending over 1,400 children. While the first years of its existence were mainly dedicated to building infrastructure and management capacity, the organization is now entering a phase where it will primarily focus on scaling its operations by opening new centers. By means of an ambitious expansion strategy, aeioTU aims to double its current capacity in just 15 months to reach 2,800 children by January 2012.
Within its operating network, aeioTu differentiates between three different kinds of centers. The first category, Type A centers, consist of for-profit centers set up in exclusive areas and serve the high-end market segment. These clients pay a high price premium for the first-class education services offered by aeioTU. The profits generated by these centers are used entirely to subsidize centers in poor neighborhoods, an important fact much appreciated by these clients.
Type B centers will serve families from low-to-middle-class. So far no such center exists, but there are currently plans to open the first center as a pilot project in 2011. The objective of these centers is to operate financially sustainable educational centers without a dependency on long-term subsidies. This implies that type B centers will mainly service those with enough purchasing power to pay a price that will cover operational costs and recover start-up costs. aeioTU anticipates seeing the highest growth in this segment because it corresponds to the largest segment in the Colombian market and the business model is very suitable for replication once its commercial feasibility has been proven in practice.
Type C centers will serve the poor urban population and will be run as mandates for public or private sponsors, such as the Colombian Ministry of Education or municipalities. In the case of public funding, aeioTu subsidizes part of the center because the funds available are not sufficient to cover the entire operational costs. The growth in type C centers depends largely on the funds made available by public organizations as well as the willingness of the private sector to make funds available via their corporate social responsibility programs.
Recent research results have underlined the importance of creating educational and nutritional conditions that allow young children to develop the talents and social capacities necessary for challenges in life. However, the Colombian reality looks much different.
Due to a lack of financial means, awareness, infrastructure, and affordable alternatives, most children from low-income households do not have access to quality attention during early childhood, even though these are the children that benefit most from a solid early childhood education, which has a great potential to help them overcome their early experiences with a violent, seemingly hopeless, and harsh reality.
In Colombia, a large number of children are confronted with poverty, abuse, and other terrible consequences of a country that has been in an internal armed conflict for many decades. According to the Colombia Ministry of Education, around 10% of the Colombian population is below the age of four and of those children, 68% live in extreme poverty and a similar percentage, 65%, does not receive any kind of ECD service. Children are often neglected at this age; precisely when integral support and attention matter the most for their future development and when they are most responsive to their environment.
Even if poor families manage to send their children to one of the few publically-subsidized childcare centers, they are frequently confronted with inadequate standards in these centers that operate with unprofessional staff, use outdated pedagogical concepts, and have insufficient infrastructure to meet the intellectual stimulation and nutritional requirements of these children.
However, with a combination of favorable factors such as improved security in the country, strong economic growth driven mainly by direct foreign investments in newly emerging industrial sectors, including mining and oil & gas exploration, and an ambitious plan by the entering government to invest more resources in the creation of social prosperity, Colombia is facing a historic opportunity to rectify the injustices and oppressions under which its citizens have suffered for so many years. This new institutional and economic framework opens up a great potential to expand the coverage of early childhood development and invest in human capital for the next generation.
2012: AeioTu is actively seeking to engage in partnerships to promote the creation of a social franchise model for a sustainable expansion in Colombian markets that suffer from a lack of sufficient early childhood development services, as well as to form partnerships to provide funding for the construction and accommodation of new centers. The organization is also looking for partnerships to promote the execution of a longitudinal analysis study, quantifying the social impact of integral early childhood care to be used for future benchmarking and as a key reference in the Colombian political space. Finally, AeioTu is interested in sharing knowledge with other leaders in the early education space.
SEEKING: Financial Resources, Media/Marketing Opportunities
aeioTU is looking for partners that are either interested in investing in our social enterprise or supporting new centers, joining our operational platform by implementing our business model in existing or new childcare centers, or helping our organization in the creation of an industry cluster in early childhood development. Thus, aeioTU is seeking philanthropic investors, social entrepreneurs, childcare operators, microfinance institutions, social organizations and NGOs, suppliers of pedagogical and didactic material, furniture producers, service contractors, and food vendors. Further, aeioTU would welcome any assistance in the form of professional pro bono services.
OFFERING: Implementing Partners, Best Practice Information
aeioTU has invested considerable resources in establishing a professional, efficient, and effective early childhood education program. For this reason, aeioTU is the suitable partner for organizations that would like to get involved in this area but are lacking the expertise, resources, or commitment to set up the operations themselves. aeioTU not only offers its services as a mandate for other entities, but it also encourages outside organizations to join its network, thereby providing them access to the aeioTU´s business model, administrative support, pedagogical expertise, training facilities, and coordinated purchasing.