NIKKI HASANI-FERRERA ON HOW TOO SMALL TO FAIL HELPS OTHERS TO TALK, READ, SING — AND LEAD — INNOVATION IN EARLY CHILDHOOD
This post is part of our annual Impact Report, where you can hear directly from Clinton Foundation staff about the work they do, the programs they manage, and the partnerships they create — all in service of driving impact and helping others build better lives for themselves and their communities.
In her final year of college, Nikki Hasani-Ferrera was looking for an opportunity that aligned with her passion for early childhood and connected her with smart and mission-oriented people. She found her home at Too Small to Fail, the Clinton Foundation’s early learning initiative. After starting as an intern, she has grown into her role as a Partnerships Manager, collaborating with national partners and community champions of early childhood development and literacy across the United States.
Too Small aims to surround children and families in traditionally under-resourced communities with early learning, language, and literacy opportunities in the places they visit and use. By building partnerships to bring their one-of-a-kind creative, engaging prompts and materials to everyday places and spaces — such as laundromats, grocery stores, playgrounds, pediatrician’s offices, diaper banks, and Women, Infants, and Children clinics — Too Small’s partners have engaged hundreds of thousands of parents and families nationwide.
We sat down with Nikki to talk about her journey with Too Small to Fail, what inspires her to stay creative in collaboration, and what’s next for her team as they take on new partnerships.
When you describe your work to your best friend, what do you say?
Nikki Hasani-Ferrera (NH): I work with national organizations, businesses, and associations to support parents and caregivers. I do this by meeting them where they are — with tools and resources to help their young children learn, grow, and thrive (without burning out already overextended parents in the process).
What is the proudest moment in your work in the past year?
NH: In September 2021, Too Small to Fail and our partners at the LaundryCares Foundation hosted our 4th Annual Summit. This virtual event brought together hundreds of attendees from different backgrounds to explore how everyday spaces can be reimagined and redesigned to better support early learning and foster positive relationships between children and their caregivers. The summit was a labor of love from the whole Too Small to Fail team and our partners. So, it was very rewarding to take part in that convening and get positive feedback from participants.
In the U.S. or worldwide, what is the scariest thing you saw or heard in the past year, and what can we do about it as a society?
NH: I’m very troubled by the increased bans in schools and libraries targeting books related to topics like race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. Books are a key tool in helping kids understand — not only their own lives and experiences — but also the lives and experiences of others. By taking away diverse stories, or stories that reckon with the difficult realities of history, you’re taking away a resource that helps children navigate their world. As a program, Too Small has worked to increase awareness about why it’s so important to keep diverse representation central in children’s stories. As a society, I think the most important thing we can do is be aware that this is happening and speak out against it.
“Good partnership means…”
NH: Listening first. To me, a successful partnership is when you’re able to find and achieve mutual wins. But you can’t make an assumption about a partner’s wants or needs. You need to ask them and actually take the time to understand their response before moving forward.
What does it look like when the world achieves full equity and inclusion?
NH: There’s no more hate or hierarchy. Everyone’s basic needs are met — they have housing, food, quality health care, access to education, self-fulfillment, and safety.
How do you think older generations can best engage young people today in social impact work?
NH: Kindness and vulnerability are not weaknesses – they show understanding and care. That’s powerful, and it leads to better, more impactful work.
What are you looking forward to in the year ahead from your work and in early learning?
NH: I’m looking forward to seeing how our work in everyday spaces continues to evolve. It started with a goal of meeting families in the places they were spending time — like the laundromat, playground, or pediatrician’s office — and sharing high-quality tools and resources to support children’s early brain and language development. Now, we’ve expanded our strategy to think about the design of these spaces and how they can be transformed into environments that foster early learning and language-rich caregiver-child interactions. We are constantly evolving, focusing on what’s next and where else we can provide value.
I’m also particularly looking forward to participating in our first Family Advisory Council — which will be comprised of 12 exceptional caregivers nationwide, who will help us connect with families across the country regularly — and seeing how their experiences and perspectives can inform Too Small to Fail’s work moving forward.
What would you expand about Too Small to Fail if you had unlimited resources?
NH: I would love to create even more early learning spaces in places like laundromats, doctor’s offices, family courts, and other waiting areas across the country — and to engage local community members and designers to ensure that each of those environments is co-designed with the community and their unique identity in mind.
What drew you to work for the Clinton Foundation? Do you have a favorite CGI or Clinton Foundation moment or story through the years?
NH: I’ll never forget moving 20,000 diapers into the Foundation’s office in midtown Manhattan, as part of a Day of Action service project that we organized with staff, supporters, and volunteers from the National Diaper Bank Network. Trying to move the huge pallets was hilarious, but it was so rewarding to know that these diapers were going to be packaged with books and distributed to families in need through The Hopeline, a diaper bank and community center in the Bronx.