Improving Early Child Development and Wellbeing in Refugee and Other Marginalized Communities
Our Kenya proposal has been approved by IDRC


Throughout the developing world, large numbers of people are marginalized by a wide range of factors, including poverty and increased inequality, internal and external displacement, dramatic urbanization and failed national development and planning policies. Pursuit of a better understanding of the nature and magnitude of marginalization is imperative in the first instance because living conditions in marginalized communities are known widely to have profound deleterious consequences for life outcomes – in both the near and longer term. For the youngest children, those most vulnerable to adversity, poor living conditions exert a disproportionate toll on physical and mental health, social and psychological development, later educational achievement, and, eventually, economic productivity and financial well-being. These consequences ultimately stretch far beyond the individual and family and put at risk the integrity and functioning of the wider community and society.


The project will focus on the most disadvantaged urban neighborhoods in Kenya: mixed communities that are home to rural migrants, internally displaced persons fleeing violence within Kenya, and the large numbers of refugees from countries in the region – most notably Somalia, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and increasingly, Sudan and South Sudan. The project will track the development of a cohort of young children, from birth through the age of 24 months, in one or more of the multiple informal settlements emerging and growing rapidly in and around Nairobi.

➢ In Kenya, more than 50% of the urban population live in slums and informal settlements, representing over 6 million people
➢ The incidence of morbidity and mortality is significantly higher in slums than in more privileged urban settings
➢ The prevalence of stunting in Nairobi’s slum children aged 15-17 months reaches nearly 60 per cent, compared to 35 per cent in urban Kenya overall
➢ In 2013, some 56,000 individuals were registered with the UNHCR in Nairobi as refugees or asylum seekers; the actual numbers are likely considerably higher
➢ Access to schools, social services and health care, already poor in such communities, is much less available to refugees and internally displaced persons

Goals and Objectives
The programme is a multi-phase global research initiative that will track the development of marginalized children through cohort studies to better inform interventions aimed at improving developmental conditions in the early years and their long-term outcomes. A key aspect of the project is to validate the efficacy of interventions and to establish a practically scalable program of implementation that is of and for mixed, urban communities in low and middle income countries.

The proposed 3 year project comprises 4 inter-related components:
1) Research in disadvantaged and deprived communities to better understand life trajectories, sources and indicators of resilience, and intervention needs for children and their families, involving a comparative approach taking into account the distinctive circumstances or indigenous and displaced/refugee families;
2) The review, design and implementation of a package of integrated interventions adapted to the environments in which the children and their families live;
3) A systematic effort to build the long term capacity and national leadership to understand, apply and contribute to the science of human development in low resource environments;
4) Knowledge transfer and exchange mechanisms to disseminate research insights and share lessons and best practices within the global partnership and beyond.

Institutions and Partners
The Alliance for Human Development (AHD) brings to the partnership an extensive, trans-disciplinary programme of basic and applied research. AHD is a new platform created to advance research within University of Toronto’s affiliated hospitals, research institutes and faculty focused on the critical importance of the first 2000 days of life on a child’s life-long health, learning and social wellbeing.

Aga Khan University IHD – an institute embedded within a developing world university and committed to addressing the problems and opportunities of the communities in which it works. AKU IHD is also an integral part of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), one of the world’s most respected development organizations with well-established service delivery activities that span health, education and community development.

AHD and AKU IHD will co-lead this initiative but both organizations will act as a hub to attract the best expertise to build a global and sustainable research and policy partnership in this area. The collaboration between the Alliance and AKU IHD will also be expanded to include a range of local partners from the research (including APHRC, the University of Nairobi, and others who have a track record of intervention research in the region), the local and international NGOs, and the policy communities.

➢ It will inform the research and policy communities on the type of interventions that are effective in supporting the foundations of a healthy life trajectory for extremely vulnerable children.
➢ Being part of a network of related studies, the project will also contribute to building a critical mass of new knowledge on the effectiveness of integrated interventions that reflect the holistic nature of child development.
➢ With an integrated capacity building component, the project will contribute to the development of the science of early childhood development beyond the developed world.
➢ This project will also inform the future phases of the programme. These phases, in addition to extending the support and intervention programmes into later stages of child development, will widen the geographic ambit of the work, and its thematic orbit, bringing in, for example, interventions at the pre-conception stage and, drawing on the leading edge work of AHD, the interactions between the environment and genes.
➢ The next phases should also allow the research and policy communities in Kenya to continue to follow the developmental trajectories of the children and provide the interventions that will meet their needs over a longer period.

Related Publications

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