Global Business Coalition for Education
Tom Fletcher, global strategy director for Theirworld and the Global Business Coalition for Education (former British Ambassador to Lebanon), sits near Syrian refugee children inside a classroom in Mtein Public School, at Mount LebanonReuters

Investments made in early childhood development can increase the probability of positive outcomes and offer the highest returns, a new report on child development has said. The report released by The Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education) is based on desk research that includes 15 leaders from business, UN agencies, governments, foundations and NGOs.

The report, Opportunities for Impact, points out that early childhood development (ECD) programmes in the poorest countries across the world are miserably under-funded and low on priority. This can have long-term negative effects on a child's educational achievement, health and behaviour.

"The benefits of early childhood development are greatest for the poorest and most marginalised children, who fall behind before they even begin primary school," Sarah Brown, executive chair, Global Business Coalition for Education said.

Given that 80% of the brain's development happens by the age of three, world leaders have agreed to set sustainable development goals including the provision of early childhood development for all children by 2030 to bridge the gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children, the report said.

However, this cannot be achieved without major investments.

"If we are serious about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and giving every child the best start in life, we must do more to make sure that every child — no matter who they are or where they were born — receives these critical interventions in the early years," Brown told IBTimes UK.

Around 200 million children under five are currently struggling to attain their full development potential due to poverty, insufficient nutrition and health services, and inadequate cognitive stimulation, the report says.

"The business community must recognise its interdependency with the society. Business cannot prosper in a society affected by poverty and inequalities, where the potential and talents of the future generation are denied at birth.

"This is why the Sustainable Development Goals appeal to businesses to play their part through a clear and compelling call to action. Public-Private Partnerships provide a unique opportunity to harness skills and resources to provide a holistic approach to ECD," Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom — a communications company in Kenya that works for the welfare of women and children, said in a press release.

Earlier in May, GBC-Education announced that it would mobilise $100m (£67.96mn, €89.41m) in financial aid and relevant contributions for a new fund, Education Cannot Wait, by United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (Unicef) to educate children in emergency situations.

The organisation believes that ECD will also help the new fund and prove life-saving for young children living through crisis situations. "For companies already investing in education in emergencies, investments in ECD interventions in emergency contexts are an excellent way to extend the positive outcomes of these investments to the youngest children," GBC-Education told IBTimes UK in an emailed statement.

GBC-Education has submitted the report to the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity to be taken up in their final report.