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DGMT- SmartStart — Impact Brief


In South Africa, UNICEF reports that in 2017, 49 percent of children aged three to five are enrolled in a group early learning programme, but it is estimated, less than half of these, roughly 800,000 children, participate in programmes that are of sufficient quality to derive the expected ECE benefits. Furthermore, more than 1 million children, primarily from the poorest backgrounds, do not have access to any form of group learning programme. SmartStart’s own research -see below -suggests an even starker picture.

SmartStart’s driving purpose is to achieve population-level change in access to early learning through a scalable social franchise model that harnesses the immeasurable social capital of (mostly) women. SmartStart is taking quality and affordable early learning to tens of thousands of children across South Africa. With their distributed network of partners, not only is SmartStart ensuring that tens of thousands of children have the right foundations in place to succeed at school and beyond; they are also creating employment and social enterprise opportunities, enabling more women to work, and stimulating economic activity in even the most under-resourced communities.

SmartStart was established in 2015 and incubated by the DG Murray Trust (DGMT), a well-respected leader in the human development space in South Africa.

Use of GIF Funds

GIF is providing a $1.46 million grant to SmartStart, in collaboration with South Africa’s Department of Science and Innovation, to fund the design and build of a mobile-enabled ECE/ECD practitioner management and support platform. This will be used by SmartStart initially, but ideally in the longer-term be adopted by the Government of South Africa, as well as other early childhood care and development providers.


Build and launch a mobile-enabled management and support tech platform for ECD practitioners In South Africa to test if the light-touch SmartStart model is effective and operationally viable. GIF’s expectation is that the platform will support SmartStart as it scales to monitor and continuously improve the quality of its programme delivery. The platform will be made available to the wider ecosystem as an open source project.

Impact/Progress to Date

SmartStart currently reaches roughly 35,000 children a year through 3,500 practitioners in all nine of South Africa’s provinces, and is targeting 10,000 practitioners with the aim of reaching 100,000 children a year in its 2020-2022 phase.

The project start was delayed due to the COVID pandemic and the initial lockdown in South Africa, and DGMT’s direct role in helping the government response. Two in-house UX designers have been recruited by DGMT to work on the platform. In addition, a project reference group has been created with advisers/leaders in the ECE/ECD space in South Africa. Despite the challenging backdrop, field visits were undertaken in late 2020 to gather requirements for the platform from active SmartStart and other ECE practitioners, as well as community health workers. At the end of 2020, DGMT issued a tender to a select number of IT agencies, with the aim of contracting one to start developing the platform.