Give every child the benefit of early childhood development

Innovation Edge

Investing in innovative ideas that enable positive early life experiences for South African children under six years old, living in poverty. We support social entrepreneurs and organisations to develop, test and launch innovative solutions to early childhood challenges in South Africa.

The disconnect

This explains why the project exists

Innovation Edge is an impact-first investor focused on solving early childhood challenges in South Africa. Innovation Edge’s hands-on backing spans the journey, from ideation and proof of concept to the full-scale rollout of concepts that promise transformative impact in the lives of young children and those who care for them. This is done by providing financial, strategic and active support to individuals, non-profit and for-profit organisations.

Innovation Edge was founded in 2014 through a partnership between the Omidyar Network (now Imaginable Futures), the UBS Optimus Foundation, DGMT, the FirstRand Foundation and the ELMA Foundation.

Why do we need to innovate around early childhood development?

So much of who we are today is defined by what happened to, and around us, in our first six years of life. The type and quality of experiences in this period determine the architecture of a child’s developing brain – laying the foundations for lifelong health, learning and relationship building. These critically important first six years (and the experiences they hold) define the pathway of a child’s future and the future of our society.

South Africa is recognised as one of the  most economically unequal countries in the world. Even after almost 30 years of democracy, the majority of our children are born into poverty. Too many children are deprived of the benefits of an engaging home learning environment, a safe community, access to high-quality group learning programmes, adequate basic healthcare and good nutrition.

We believe that untapped potential to solve pressing early childhood challenges exists. Our aim is to find and unlock this potential by attracting and supporting early-stage ventures while igniting greater innovation and entrepreneurship in the early childhood development ecosystem.

We know that many of these early-stage ventures will not succeed as hoped and that we’ll learn from these failures. Some are likely to bring about incremental improvements that would not otherwise have happened. One or two might just be revolutionary – transforming the early childhood development landscape in fundamental ways; forging foundations that allow every child the opportunity of a bright future in a flourishing society.

Watch video: World Forum on Early Care and Education with Nicole Biondi, April 2019


The majority of South Africans are stuck in an inequality trap with wealth concentrated in the hands of a few. Most are stuck in intergenerational loops of exclusion with few chances to escape. Breaking this cycle requires a fundamental change in life trajectories, starting in the womb.

Photo credit: The Reach Trust

Innovation Edge investment – Finding Thabo – enables caregivers in the homes and practitioners in early learning centres to engage children in quality brain-stimulating educational activities. The colourful illustrated pictures used in conjunction with the Messenger or WhatsApp chatbot, or printed guide, depict everyday situations of ordinary South Africans, which makes the activity relatable and easy to follow.

Photo credit: Earlybird educare@work

Children and their caregiver playing at one of Earlybird’s Bluedoor educare centres. Earlybird is South Africa’s first high-quality, socially inclusive, employer-sponsored educare provider. The social enterprise uses a fixed portion of revenue generated from their workplace-based educare sites to subsidise the provision of the same high-quality educare model (Bluedoor educare centres) in low-income communities.

Think of a Möbius strip – just one twist in the circle allows you to trace a completely different pattern. Instead of being stuck on the inside of a loop, you emerge on the outside. In the same way, escaping the inequality trap requires a fundamental twist to set South Africa on a new path.

The twist in thinking

This explains how the project approaches problems
How this project supports the development of solutions to early childhood challenges

Innovation Edge’s investment areas focus on enabling early life experiences that build sturdy starting blocks for all children. This is done by investing in innovative solutions to:

  • Enable early learning opportunities in the home.
  • Develop quality early learning programmes.
  • Improve early health and well-being of children.
  • Enhance early safety and security of children.

Innovation Edge supports social entrepreneurs and organisations to develop, test and launch innovative solutions to early childhood challenges in South Africa. Innovation Edge curates resources and joins disparate dots to ignite greater innovation and entrepreneurship in the South African early childhood ecosystem. Such customised venture support helps innovators develop and test their solutions; refine and articulate their value proposition; explore pathways to scale and demonstrate social and financial return potential.

The trajectory change

This explains what the project is doing to make a difference

Since, 2014, Innovation Edge has attracted over 2 200 ideas and invested nearly R46 million in 49 of these projects. Some of the innovations we supported or initiated include the development of data tools, like the Early Learning Outcomes Measure (ELOM), which was used in the Thrive by Five Index. These tools are sustained through an independent social enterprise, DataDrive2030


ELOM is a South African population-based child assessment tool that determines whether children are developmentally on track for their age. It also aims to discover whether an ECD programme is effective in preparing children for entry into school and identifies areas for programmatic improvement. It has been developed and validated in South Africa for children aged four to six years old and is currently available in nine official South African languages.

Thrive by Five

Evidence from the Thrive by Five Index shows that children who start school on track are more likely to stay on track and lead healthy and productive lives.

The Thrive by Five Index is South Africa’s first nationally representative survey of preschool children. It provides authoritative data that will be used to galvanise action and drive change, to ensure that all children have the opportunity to thrive by five. The best way to shape a positive future for South Africa is to harness the full potential of every child.

The Thrive by Five Index was initiated by FNB and Innovation Edge, in collaboration with DBE, and is supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and ECD Measure. Data was collected using the locally-developed and standardised ELOM tools.

Think Future

Following on from the success of its inaugural Think Future event in 2018, Innovation Edge hosted Think Future 2 in 2019 – an unconventional event where change-makers from diverse industries and geographies are able to draw inspiration from global forces, collaborate and connect to catalyse strong early life foundations for children.


We engage in advocacy and outreach events, including participation in the ECD Intersectoral Forum, a body involving specialised individuals and organisations from different sectors working together to improve the state of early childhood development in South Africa. 

Innovation Edge is also part of Impact Investing South Africa, a cross-sectoral initiative aimed at building the impact investing ecosystem in order to fast-track the distribution of capital that optimises financial, social and environmental returns. Innovation Edge advocates for investment in early childhood, and builds partnerships and collaborations with organisations in and outside the early childhood sector. 

Learn more: 


Visit the Innovation Edge website to learn more:

Trying to change life trajectories is ambitious and profound. It requires us to radically influence the lives of individuals and to be part of changing the circumstances in which they live.

Watch Think Future highlights 2017:

Watch Think Future highlights 2017:

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