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SmartStart is taking quality and affordable early learning opportunities to low-income communities and tens of thousands of children across South Africa.


Investee SmartStart, founded 2015
Location South Africa
Sector Education and skills
Funding start 2020
Funding type Grant




  • 1 million children (ages 3 – 4 years) in low income communities in South Africa do not have access to early learning opportunities
  • Early Childhood Development (ECD) is often neglected thereby setting children on a back-foot for their entire educational and employment attainment
  • Where ECD centers do exist in low-income communities, these are poorly resourced and provide the bare minimum in terms of social, academic, and emotional learning


  • SmartStart aims to achieve population-level change in access to early learning by providing an integrated national delivery platform which builds in the operational structures and systems required for accelerated scale
  • Through an innovative social franchise model, SmartStart’s implementing partners (existing ECD service providers and NGOs) license and support a network of early learning practitioners to deliver evidence-based learning programs to 3 – 5-year old children
  • Fidelity and quality are safeguarded at the program level through trainings, operational tools, play & learning materials, coach-led quality assurance processes and a network of ‘clubs’ that provide peer support
  • Beyond enhancing access to quality early learning, SmartStart is also supporting skills development and micro-enterprise by stimulating economic activities in under-resourced communities and creating additional work opportunities for women in these communities

Impact depth

  • Since its inception in 2015, SmartStart has been able to reach over 76’000 children and provided an income-generating opportunity to over 4,000 entrepreneurs (Franchisees)
  • An independent evaluation found that 62% of SmartStart learners were achieving the expected standard for their age within 6 months; compared to 32% at baseline
  • By 2030, SmartStart plans to provide quality early learning to 1 million children annually across South Africa

Indicator 2019 2020 2021
# of active children 36'012 33'174 38'751
# of active franchisees 3'917 4'020 5'442
# of ECD service providers - - 14


By investing in SmartStart, we align with and contribute to Goals 4 (Quality Education) and 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth) of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals