From the inception of the Sobambisana Initiative, a
project of the DG Murray Trust, in 2007, to the end of Phase I of its programme in 2013, the Ilifa Labantwana story is one of rapid growth, testament to the urgency with which all stakeholders view the development of effective ECD services in South Africa. 

phaseI-web2The Sobambisana Initiative was a necessary intervention designed to interrogate, examine and support the implementation of South African official ECD policy, particularly of the 2005-2010 National Integrated Plan (NIP) for ECD. A number of government initiatives at that time demonstrated high levels of official awareness of the importance of early childhood development for human and social development and national productivity, accompanied by a recognition of the need to rapidly upscale services for young children at the national level. In particular, the government was concerned about some 2.5 million children described as “poor and vulnerable”. The NIP for ECD 2005-2010 and the Children’s Act 38 of 2005 provided a framework for the delivery of a comprehensive range of ECD programmes.

By early 2010, a partnership agreement was in place, a project manager was appointed and the partners had defined a set of eight core strategic objectives, which framed a shared vision and direction. The project’s name was changed to Ilifa Labantwana (“children’s heritage” in isiXhosa) and Ilifa began to evolve into a fully-fledged programme, tasked with achieving “the quantum leap” for ECD in South Africa.

Critical to this evolution has been the establishment of partnerships and major interactions with government stakeholders linked to ECD provision in South Africa. At national level, this has included the Departments of Social Development, Basic Education and Health, as well as Treasury, the National Planning Commission and the Office of the Presidency. As the level of change needed to achieve the quantum leap for ECD became apparent, so Ilifa began to redefine its role. In order for it to achieve its goal, it needed to be able to act within the political arena, to lobby and advocate for ECD, while managing its ongoing engagement at ground level and embedding these processes and services systemically.

In 2012, Ilifa shifted from its initial approach as “donor”, providing resources for partners to implement projects, to becoming a participant in these processes, driving an agenda as catalyst or facilitator of change. This shift was significant, as it required different ways of defining partners, and could only be realised if a highly skilled team was in place, with the technical skill, as well as “political suss”, to operate at a high level, while working on the ground. It also required supportive governance structures and a strong administrative team.

Covering the period from 2009 to mid-2013, Phase I saw Ilifa occupying a unique space in the ECD sector. As a donor-driven programme with a clear strategy and a commitment to monitoring and evaluating its own implementation and progress on an ongoing basis, Ilifa had, by the beginning of 2012, developed a clearly articulated strategic direction, which was published for dissemination to stakeholders and partners. This carried the programme through into 2013 and formed the basis of the seamless transition for Ilifa into its second phase, which will end in mid-2016.

A useful overview of the Phase I strategy is provided in the Ilifa Phase I One-Pager on Page 5 in the full PDF below.

Very briefly, Ilifa’s major achievements from 2009-2013 include:

  • the creation of a strong funding nucleus, (ELMA Foundation, UBS Optimus Foundation and the DG Murray Trust);
  • developing, testing and evaluating the implementation of non-centre based provision of ECD, as an important vehicle in the expanded coverage of ECD services;
  • taking models of implementation to the next level of scale;
  • supporting the development of management systems and leadership by working simultaneously with provincial ECD structures and a second tier of leadership in ECD Resource and Training Organisations (RTOs);
  • strengthening training resources by developing a curriculum exemplar for ECD providers;
  • tracing the flow of public funds for ECD by describing current financing flows and identifying the main policy and administrative obstacles to accessing funding;
  • defining an EssentialPackage of services;
  • influencing policy discussion; and
  • feeding into the development of the new national ECD policy and programme.


  • Design and test a scalable, integrated ECD Package in South Africa
  • Generate evidence for scalable, affordable models
  • Strengthen the capacity of the ECD NGO sector
  • Advocate for expanded access to public funding for ECD
  • Increase the capacity of the state to implement and support ECD services and programmes by strengthening systemic mechanisms to scale them up
  • Increase public demand for ECD services and programmes of quality and advance ECD provision and access through the implementation of a communication and advocacy strategy.

Overall, as attested by external reviews and verification processes, Phase I has seen substantial progress with regard to producing high quality evidence, from rural communities up to the highest tiers of government, of the challenges, progress and opportunities for ECD in South Africa. It has provided a solid foundation on which to base the next phase of the initiative, incorporating lessons learned into the strategic planning for Phase II.



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