Sesame Workshop, with International Rescue Committee

  • Education, Information and Communications, Human Services

  • Iraq | Jordan | Lebanon | Syria

  • Children and youth, Economically disadvantaged people

  • Public charity

  • $120,059,162 (2015)

  • 917

Executive Summary

The scale of today's child refugee crisis is staggering: 65 million refugees, half of whom are children and 12 million of whom are under eight. These children suffer the daily effects of violence and neglect, frequently leading to toxic stress, which can have damaging effects on learning, behavior, and health across the lifespan. But children are remarkably resilient; the damage can be reversed if we reach them early. We propose a generational intervention that harnesses the power of Sesame Street, the most trusted pre school educator in the world, and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a provider of life saving assistance to refugees for over 80 years. Together, we will produce breakthrough programming for children affected by the Syrian crisis; develop a pliant platform to reach young refugees wherever they are; and measure how we have affected their lives, along with their capacities to dream and shape their own futures.

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The Problem

Picture a five year old Syrian refugee living in Jordan today. She has known only conflict, instability and loss. She has witnessed unthinkable violence and has been forced to flee her home to stay safe. She has never been to pre school and has few opportunities for play and learning. Today, there are 12 million children under eight just like her. Displaced children experience a string of adverse experiences - neglect, harsh parenting, insecurity, violence, and very few early learning opportunities. These experiences slow cognitive and socioemotional development and can lead to toxic stress, a chemical response which severely interrupts neural developmental processes. This has long term individual and societal repercussions - every adverse experience a child has significantly increases risks for lower academic achievement, depression, future unemployment, and violence, making the challenge of recovery and reintegration much more complex after conflicts end. It is possible to help these children. Evidence shows early childhood development (ECD) interventions can be highly effective in crisis settings. We know from recent advances in neuroscience how to nurture children's inherent potential. But transforming lives is incredibly difficult in crisis settings: how can we develop solutions that are intense enough to be life changing, but cost effective enough to be scalable? No single organization has the expertise or the resources to answer this. This is a critical point in history. Kids who have survived conflict must still be given the chance to learn, play, and hope, just like other kids.

Proposed Solution

Sesame Workshop and IRC, together, will deliver a life changing experience for millions of Syrian, Jordanian, Iraqi and Lebanese children (ages 0-8) that will transform their language, early reading, math, and socioemotional skills, and can be re deployed to reach millions more in crisis environments. Our solution addresses the needs of children susceptible to the devastating effects of toxic stress through a suite of programming and multimedia content: New educational content featuring the world's most trusted children's characters-Sesame Street Muppets-adapted to reflect the experiences of refugee children and their parents, and to mitigate the effects of adverse childhood experiences; Extensive distribution networks reaching refugee and host community children. Children and parents will engage with their favorite characters across multiple touch points: mobile, broadcast and print media, schools, community centers, social protection programs, and health clinics; Simple techniques that spark and sustain behavior change, like recognizing achievements, using prompts and reminders, and creating social incentives for parents. We will incorporate insights from gaming, guided play, storytelling and behavioral science to help achieve these sustained effects for children. We will deliver an early childhood intervention that is intense enough to be life changing, but cost effective enough to be scalable. We will address a serious humanitarian crisis in the Syria region, learn to better respond to future crises, and contribute to the slim body of evidence on delivering early childhood education at scale in crisis. Most importantly: we will make a durable investment in the long term health, employment, and educational outcomes of an entire generation.

Evidence of Effectiveness

Sesame Street's global impact has been validated through numerous studies. A 15 country meta analysis on the effects of watching Sesame Street found an effect size of 0.29 across learning outcomes (cognitive outcomes, social reasoning, and learning about the world), comparable to those of early childhood interventions in developing countries. Many evaluations confirm the effectiveness of localized Sesame Street content in a variety of learning outcomes, including health, inclusiveness, literacy and math. A resiliency study with military children yielded significant gains in emotional regulation and vocabulary, as well as communication. Children watching Shara'a Simsim, our Palestinian co production, performed better on measures of sharing, helping others, and task persistence. IRC's randomized impact evaluations with research partners from Duke University and the Harvard School of Public Health have demonstrated that the IRC's ECD and parenting programs confer significant benefits on the lives of post conflict and displaced families. For example, in Liberia, caregivers that participated in IRC parenting programs reported an average decrease of 56% in the use of harsh physical punishment and a 29% decrease in psychological punishment. Significant improvements among participants were also detected in the quality of caregiver-child interactions and the use of positive behavior management practices. Each organization has an established record for improving the lives of children living in adversity. While evaluations of the proposed intervention combining the power of Sesame content with IRC's expertise working in crisis contexts have not yet been conducted, the key components of this initiative are based on a strong foundation of evidence based programming.

Previous Performance

In 2015, IRC provided services to 1.7 million Syrians living in displacement, 44% of whom were children. IRC is not only a leading humanitarian agency on the ground, but also a globally recognized thought leader in humanitarian programming for children and families. Additionally, IRC integrates technology across its education programming and actively collaborates with technology focused partners to co create solutions for displaced populations and has pioneered the use of tablets and devices to deliver multimedia educational resources in crisis contexts. IRC is also an important part of the history of the 20th century: founded by Albert Einstein, it has provided refugee assistance since World War II until the present day. And coming full circle, not since World War II have more people been affected by violence and displacement. Sesame Workshop's mission is to create multimedia educational content for vulnerable young children, especially those with the least access. The Workshop has developed a model that has been replicated globally, including the Middle East, Africa, and Asia, resulting in programming designed to help children understand HIV/AIDS (as with Kami, the world's first HIV positive Muppet) and to promote girls' empowerment (as with Zari, a six year old Afghan Muppet). And that's just the start. Through its work from Nigeria to Egypt, Jordan to Bangladesh, Sesame Workshop has leveraged low cost technologies to provide high quality multimedia experiences for children in low resource settings. The Workshop's model has been proven in over 1,000 research studies to be an extremely cost effective way to improve early childhood learning and social development.

The Team

Team Purpose

In 1969, Sesame Street pioneered the first early childhood intervention designed to leverage the massive scale of television. Forty seven years later, it remains the single largest early childhood intervention ever. Sesame Workshop understood how to use new media to show children a neighborhood like theirs, with role models that spoke to their realities and helped them develop reading, math, and social skills. Today, a similar generational intervention is needed for the 12 million refugee kids under eight. But it will require an approach that acknowledges their lived reality, and leverages new technologies to reach them and their parents. Unprecedented human migration demands that relief organizations stretch resources further than ever. We need to develop new, data driven, ambitious, partnerships. The complementary strengths of Sesame Workshop and IRC will enable us to implement a new model for humanitarian response and create a generational impact for refugee children.

Team Structure

To build our solution, we will establish an integrated Leadership Team that harnesses the unique strengths of both organizations- early childhood media production and large scale program implementation in fragile states. As the lead applicant, Sesame Workshop will be the fiscal and legal sponsor. An integrated Project Management Team will supervise the day to day, including the management of dedicated Curriculum Development and Research Teams. There are two other major areas of activity: creative content development and production, as led by Sesame Workshop, working in NY and with its partners in the Uae, Jordan and Egypt; and project implementation, as led by the IRC, in coordination with its regional office in Jordan, and country offices in Lebanon and Iraq. The Behavioral Insights Team (UK), who will be testing approaches in our focus countries, will be supervised by the IRC. Given the fluid nature of crises situations, the organizations will develop annual work plans during the five year period. These work plans will identify annual deliverables, outcomes and the disbursement of funds. Together, we will maximize the reach of our combined institutions' media, advocacy and PR functions to harness the energies of the humanitarian and education sectors to enable broader global uptake.

Past Funders

  1. MetLife Foundation
  2. The New York Community Trust
  3. The PNC Foundation
  4. The Wal-Mart Foundation, Inc.
  5. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  6. The Merck Company Foundation
  7. Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  8. The Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
  9. Shimon ben Joseph Foundation
  10. The Children's Investment Fund Foundation

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Partner Organizations

  • International Rescue Committee (IRC)