Aisha Yousafzai: A fresh opportunity for well-being research
Over the last decade I have been working on a longitudinal study with at-risk children in southern Pakistan to understand the long-term effects of parenting, stimulation and nutritional interventions on a host of child outcomes.
The follow-up works allows us to investigate when in a child’s life we need to advocate for new types of booster interventions, following the initial programme to promote children’s development.
In the research I’m conducting now, in addition to going back to the original cohort of children and their caregivers, we are also returning to meet with the health workers who delivered the intervention to understand what factors contributed to their motivation, what incentives worked to make the execution of the programme possible, and which components were sustained.
The results of this kind of research are crucial to the role we, as researchers, can play as we strive to take a more holistic view of early childhood development, working with experts across a range of disciplines to better understand how these realities coexist. We are also at a crossroads in our relationship with partner stakeholders like government officials, policy-makers and practitioners. With the launch of the 15-year United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, the development mandate has expanded to include a new roster of goals that go beyond just survival.
This means that people like me, whose work tracks the impact of improved parenting and nutrition in the early childhood years on building resilience, now have the ear of policy-makers and government officials. Having a collaborative forum to share global research and implementation experiences is a perfect way for all of us to learn, adapt and grow.
The upcoming CIFAR Forum also provides an important and timely opportunity for such collaborative discussions. For instance, I’m looking forward to speaking with Dr. Michael Meaney, a CIFAR senior fellow and a professor at McGill University. Dr. Meaney’s work on how early environmental factors can regulate and influence gene expression and brain development – in particular his work through his MAVAN (Maternal Adversity Vulnerability and Neurodevelopment) project – could help my research as well by enabling me to think about key questions when designing ECD interventions. For instance: What are those sensitive windows of opportunity in a child’s life? Where are the second chances? When we bundle different interventions, which will work well together?
We miss key opportunities by not having those conversations, and so a platform like the CIFAR Forum becomes critical to the effective and efficient use of our research and resources. From my point of view it can enhance the quality of my work, as well as offer a platform to communicate the effectiveness of the state of the evidence on child development globally, leading to long-term policy, and ultimately the greater good of the worlds’ at-risk children.
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CIFAR is a registered charitable organization supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Quebec, as well as foundations, individuals, corporations and Canadian and international partner organizations.