Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF) is an independent foundation working worldwide to inspire and inform large scale action to improve the health and well-being of babies, toddlers and the people who care for them. The foundation identifies bold leaders from diverse backgrounds and supports them and their teams to take large-scale action.
Over the last 50 years, their partnerships have informed public policies in more than 25 countries, leading to innovations in service delivery and training — widely adopted by governments and non-profit organizations. This collaborative work has generated ideas that have changed the way stakeholders from parents to policymakers think about the earliest years of a child’s life.
Rushda Majeed, India Representative, BvLF, lets you in on some such ideas in an exclusive interview with The CSR Journal.
Q 1. Enlighten us on the new ideas by Bernard van Leer Foundation for early childhood development?
We aim to bring together robust science, practical ideas and strong leadership. We have seen in practice how this combination can change the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of children and families.
While we support our partners in several ways, the Urban95 initiative has evolved as the core of our work in cities. The initiative asks a basic question of a city’s leaders and managers: “If you could experience the city from 95cm—the height of a 3-year-old—what would you change?”
Urban95 seeks to answer this question by helping city planners, urban designers, and other urbanists understand how their work can influence child development. We also help them identify and scale cost-effective ways to improve the way families with small children live, play, interact and move through cities. Each city’s implementation journey is unique, yet one core goal is universal: a positive impact on caregiver behaviours and well-being at scale.
BvLF is supporting three cities – Bhubaneswar, Pune, and their goal of improving the quality of life of infants, toddlers, and their caregivers—often grandparents or older siblings, apart from parents—and becoming child- and family-friendly.
Q 2. The Urban95 programme originated from the foundation’s work in India. Tell us more about it?
Innovations under the Urban95 programme benefitted greatly from our experience in India, particularly in Bhubaneswar, as well as from our work elsewhere, such as in Latin America. With these experiences, Urban95 was able to evolve from ideas into a comprehensive initiative to help city decision-makers, planners, urban designers, and other urbanists understand how their work can influence child development.
Partner cities around the world, including Pune and Udaipur in India, have embraced Urban95as way to improve physical spaces and environment for young children, particularly between the age of 0-5 years ,increase access to — and use of — the services and amenities families need; and reduce stresses on caregivers as they navigate their cities.
Q 3. What initiatives does BvLF support in Pune, Bhubaneshwar, and Udaipur?
We support municipalities in their goal of working towards creating a healthy and safe environment for children, particularly in the age range of 0-5 years, and their families. City designers, planners, and architects work together and with technical partners to brainstorm and implement changes for making urban spaces friendly and safe for young children and their families as well as improve access to services that matter the most for young children, such as day-care centres, anganwadis, and health centres.
In Pune and Udaipur, the municipality is working with technical partners design, test, and scale pilots and demonstration projects that take the needs of young children and their caregivers into consideration.
Udaipur’s local government recently completed an intervention focused on a safe zone outside a pre-primary school. Pune is focusing on family-friendly walkways and traffic plazas.
The Bhubaneswar Development Authority has taken a lead in setting up a Child-Friendly Smart City Centre to design projects to transform Bhubaneswar into a child-friendly city. Measures taken by the city include constructing new parks and making the public space around the eight-lane thoroughfare Janpath Road friendly and safe for families and kids.
Q 4. What should city leaders and managers in India keep in mind when it comes to new-born babies?
More than a billion children live in cities, and rapid urbanisation means that number is growing. In India, every fourth child lives in a city.
In Indian cities as elsewhere, babies, toddlers and caregivers experience the city in unique ways. They need safe, healthy environments, where crucial services are easily accessible, frequent, warm, responsive interactions with loving adults are possible, and safe, a stimulating physical environment to play in and explore abound. City leaders and managers would therefore benefit from keeping the following three lessons in mind for toddler-friendly cities.
1. Design for caregiving: Babies and toddlers do not wander through cities by themselves; those looking after them decide where to go and how long to stay. These caregivers, often grandparents and older siblings in the Indian context, need to feel safe and comfortable navigating the city.
2. Proximity matters: Good public transport is important, as is being able to walk safely, comfortably and quickly to where you need to go. Proximity is especially important for services that young families may need to access, such as health clinics, day care centres, nurseries, or anganwadis.
3. ‘Think babies’ as a universal design principle: From an urban design perspective, babies, toddlers and their caregivers’ vulnerability, dependency and strong drive to explore and play mean that if a space is safe, clean, and interesting enough for them, it’s likely to work for everyone.
Q 5. In terms of Urban Planning, children in slums are ignored. What does BvLF envision for designing child-friendly cities?
The presence of children and families measures a city’s vibrancy and dynamism. Urban families around the world, especially those living in underdeveloped localities, benefit in transformational ways from more accessible services like transport, clean, and green spaces for toddlers and families, and safe neighbourhoods. But family-centred urban planning and design is not only about building more playgrounds.
Families, especially in low income and underdeveloped areas, are disproportionately challenged by poor public transport, as well as food, healthcare and childcare ‘deserts’.
Thoughtful urban planning and design can play a major role in addressing such challenges and in giving children a good start in life, by offering walkable, mixed-use neighbourhoods, open and green spaces, safe transport routes and transit systems, healthy environments, and vibrant community life.