Jenny Bowen founded OneSky in 1998 to give back to China, her adopted daughters’ home country, and to help the many thousands of abandoned babies then languishing in state-run welfare institutions.
Today, OneSky is a trusted early childhood care and education (ECCE) training organization, working in partnership with governments and communities to transform the lives of children at risk across developing Asia.
Jenny has been recognized with the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and the Purpose Prize for Intergenerational Innovation. She is the only American chosen by popular vote to carry the Olympic Torch on Chinese soil, and she serves on China’s National Committee for Orphans and Disabled Children and on the Expert Consultative Committee for Beijing Normal University’s Philanthropy Research Institute. She is author of the memoir, Wish You Happy Forever: What China’s Orphans Taught Me About Moving Mountains.
Building Brighter Futures in Asia
One-line project summary:
OneSky trains caregivers in Asia’s marginalized communities to provide quality early care, thus creating a brighter future for the children
Present your project.
Research has proven that nurturing care during the first 1000 days of a child's life is crucial for healthy brain development. Yet, each year, over 250 million children are deprived of loving care and fail to reach their full potential physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially. Lack of quality early care significantly undermines their future educational prospects, heath, prosperity and the social and economic growth of their communities and countries. OneSky trains caregivers in low-resource communities across Asia to provide high-quality early care and education that helps young children living in adversity to succeed in school and in life. The training, consisting of both in-person and distance learning modules, is scaled from a training hub in Hong Kong. The project provides local women a chance to develop a professional skill and empowers parents to build a foundation for success for their children, breaking the cycle of poverty and boosting local economies.
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What specific problem are you solving?
Despite the proven advantages of investing in early childhood care and education, without intervention, in the Asia-Pacific Region alone, of the 147.5 million children under five, 59 million will fail to meet their developmental potential.
Lack of education, investment and public spending, inadequate policies, and poor infrastructure contribute to the problem. Quality daycares and preschools in low-resource communities are typically rare. Those that exist are operated by untrained women who are unable to deliver what young children need for healthy development.
Parents living in poverty, overburdened with work and stresses of daily living in adversity, might not understand the value of quality early care and the life-changing impact early intervention can have on their children.
The resulting physical, cognitive, social, and emotional delays impose substantial negative consequences on the children and large costs on their communities and their societies.
What is your project?
OneSky works in partnership with local governments to strengthen the systems that support marginalized young children living in adversity. Our project upskills the childcare workforce and educates parents about the importance of quality early care. The end-goal of the project is to cause a systems level change and new standards of care in the ecosystem.
The OneSky curriculum is based on global best practices of Early Childhood Care and Education and rooted in the evidence-based methodology supporting the core concepts of healthy brain development established by Harvard Center on the Developing Child. Central to the intervention is creating a strong emotional bond between the caregiver and the child and fostering age-appropriate communication and play that simulate cognitive, motor, emotional, and social learning. This approach has been proven effective in improving multigenerational outcomes in health, employment, economic productivity and other indicators.
Our training programs are scaled utilizing the train-the-trainer model. In-country teams are established to build local capacity and ensure cultural relevancy. Government partners support logistics and implementation. Training is supplemented by an online learning community that offers continuous “touch-points” to caregivers after the training is complete, thus keeping them engaged and fortifying their fidelity to OneSky methodology.
Who does your project serve, and in what ways is the project impacting their lives?
OneSky was founded to address the needs of abandoned babies in China’s government orphanages. While this work continues, our focus has broadened to address the dire consequences of the world’s global phenomenon: migration.
In rural China, young parents migrate to faraway cities for work resulting in millions of young children being left-behind in the care of aging, often illiterate, grandparents. In Vietnam, privately operated daycares of substandard quality fill the gap in childcare for the children of migrant factory and construction workers who can’t afford private preschools or don’t qualify for public kindergartens. In Mongolia, children of formerly nomadic herder families, now live below poverty level in informal settlements around Ulaanbaatar and lack access to educational resources.
Prior to starting a project in a new region we conduct extensive research on the local demographics, need, infrastructure, and educational ecosystem. We engage in a thorough needs assessment holding interviews and focus groups with local communities.
When designing and implementing our programs, we always collaborate with government and engage all community stakeholders. We hire local women, who are attuned to the issues in their communities and are able to advise us on various issues including inclusion, cultural nuances, and practices.
Which dimension of The Elevate Prize does your project most closely address?
Elevating opportunities for all people, especially those who are traditionally left behind
Explain how your project relates to The Elevate Prize and your selected dimension.
Our project provides a proven solution to several interrelated challenges defined by UN’s SDGs. By training women to implement high quality early education programs, the project creates opportunities for women, advancing mothers’ access to employment, and lifting families out of poverty. By ensuring quality early care, the project improves children’s development, elevating their opportunities for future success in education, relationships, and employment. By disseminating results of our projects to the global community and campaigning on behalf of the children, our work builds awareness and drives action to address the disparities in access to education and the resulting cycle of poverty.
How did you come up with your project?
In 1997, I adopted a little girl from a Chinese orphanage and received a harsh, first-hand education about the devastating consequences of children living neglected. However, after just one year of non-stop love, Maya was transformed. I realized that there is a simple solution to the plight of forgotten children – what if this same love and care could be provided to all children? OneSky was founded shortly after.
To raise funds, I reached out to parents of adopted children in the US, raising an initial budget of USD 29,000. To develop programs, I sought advice from child development experts, including Dana Johnson, a professor of pediatrics and an expert on health and development issues for institutionalized children, and Chinese doctoral student Wen Zhao, who was earning her Ph.D. in early childhood studies (both are still with OneSky.) Together we came up with a plan for a pilot program that was launched in two orphanages in 2000.
The first years of our work was largely supported by the parents of adopted Chinese children. These volunteers extended their time, philanthropic support, and thought leadership – OneSky was truly a grass-roots effort – and our success would be impossible without their support.
Why are you passionate about your project?
One Saturday morning in 1996 I saw photo in The New York Times that stunned me: it was the face of a little Chinese girl, one of thousands abandoned and languishing in the country’s under-resourced welfare institutions. My husband and I felt compelled to do something. And so we started a process to adopt the first of our two Chinese daughters, Maya.
When we met Maya, over a year later, she was about 20 months old and a poster child for everything that’s wrong with institutionalizing young children. She could not walk or talk, was malnourished and teeming with parasites. She was shutdown and recoiled at contact, arching her back when she was held. She clearly never been held or loved.
A year later, I looked out my kitchen window and saw our Maya—radiant, laughing—looking like a child who had been adored from the moment she was born. Transformed by her family’s love. And I knew I would spend the rest of my life doing my best to make sure all children could grow up this way—knowing they are valued and loved.
Why are you well-positioned to deliver this project?
Our track record demonstrates organizational effectiveness. Over the past two decades OneSky has established a reputation as an expert on ECCE in the Asia-Pacific region. Our programs have been proven effective by RCT and are recognized by reputable professional associations. OneSky frequently presents at global conferences on Early Childhood Care and Education, influencing policy and social change.
In China, our training program in orphanages has expanded to all 31 provinces, reaching over 800 orphanages and changing the national standard of care in the sector by stimulating further government investment. Accomplishments include partnering with the central government in a national training program to train every child welfare worker in the country, and establishing a local implementing partner NGO, Chuhhui Children, now a public charity, freeing OneSky to bring its transformative trainings to benefit children in Vietnam, Mongolia, and Hong Kong.
OneSky’s success can be attributed to our focus on building local capacity by bringing together in-country teams (early childhood education experts, researchers, managers, and experienced practitioners) and combining their local wisdom and practices with new ways of looking at child development. Other assets that propel our journey forward include a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation system that allows for rapid feedback loops for program improvement, long-term partnerships with like-minded international foundations, an active board of directors, and wide network of supportive community leaders and advisors.
Provide an example of your ability to overcome adversity.
When OneSky was founded, China's orphanages and welfare institutions were under much international criticism for their harsh practices and dire conditions. The doors of the orphanages were closed to foreigners.
I did not speak a word of Chinese and had no experience running an NGO. Everyone told me, that what I had in mind – to transform the standard of care across the system - was impossible.
Yet, I was driven to succeed, with the memory of my first visit to an orphanage fresh in my mind: children languishing in their cribs and older kids having only old televisions to keep them company. The experience shook me deeply and drove me to persevere. I did not take no for an answer, maneuvered through bureaucratic red tape, and found ways to open closed doors. After many setbacks, and even more successes, I became the only westerner working with the Chinese government to overhaul its entire child welfare system.
With trust, partnership, and transparency, OneSky became the fifth officially registered international NGO in China, after the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Clinton Foundation. OneSky’s National Caregiver Training Program was recognized by the government and became China’s first public/private NGO partnership.
Describe a past experience that demonstrates your leadership ability.
In 2008, China’s Sichuan province suffered a massive earthquake that killed over 69,000 people. Earlier that year, OneSky had been instrumental in bringing desperately needed supplies to snowbound children in government orphanages, during freakish spring storms. When the quake struck, the Ministry of Civil Affairs again called upon OneSky for help.
I had never done relief work before, but I had done film production. I reached out to production companies across China, asking them to help source tents, diapers, powdered milk, food, and clothes. Supplies came promptly and we were able to set up "Big Tops" - tents in which we could care for and counsel displaced children. I also researched and found the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement. I raised travel funds and convinced the Chinese Government to allow NCSCB child psychologists and trauma counselors to come to China to help the children recover. At that time there were only 15,000 psychologists in all of China.
Over the next three years, in partnership with NCSCB, the big tops became preschools and infant nurture centers for traumatized children and their families. We did not leave the area until all of the affected children’s lives had returned to normal.
How long have you been working on your project?
Since 1998 in China. Outside of China since 2016.
Where are you headquartered?Hong Kong
What type of organization is your project?
Describe what makes your project innovative.
OneSky’s approach is innovative because it builds cost-effective and replicable models for local communities and government partners, providing them with proven tools and methodologies to instill change and laying a pathway for them to solve the problem on their own over a longer time. While various programs have been established in Asia to improve outcomes for children living in adversity, few are working on a systems level, embedding program implementation in the local communities and involving all stakeholders: government, workforce, and parents.
Our three pronged, training methodology combining classroom learning, online continuing education and support, and hands-on supplementation is also a distinguishing factor. This approach provides repetition that facilitates deepr learing, flexibility, and a support network of peers to previously isolated women.
OneSky’s training makes use of a wide range of visuals, demonstrations, role-play, case study discussions, and is highly adaptable – designed for varying literacy levels, languages, and cultural norms.
Our online community offers an opportunity for continued engagement, long after the initial training is complete. This continuity ensures sustainability of impact and is unique to OneSky. By providing continued education opportunities and a support network, we keep caregivers connected, building their skills and and fortifying their commitment to best practices.
What is your theory of change?
Nearly 59 million children in the Asia-Pacific Region are failing to meet their developmental potential due to lack of quality early care. Always in partnership with the government and local stakeholders, OneSky hires and trains local women to train caregivers, parents, and communities across Asia in evidence-based OneSky approach that incorporates global best practices of early childhood development, the principles of responsive care, and interactive play that enables even the most vulnerable young children to thrive and reach their developmental potential.
Through classroom sessions, hands-on activities and guidance, and digital learning, caregivers gain knowledge and skills that empower them to be change agents for the children in their care. With time they change their caregiving behaviors and modify home and daycare environments to provide quality opportunities for early learning through play and interaction.
As our training programs scale, local capacity to deliver quality early care is increased. As at-risk children receive loving and nurturing care, they develop secure attachments, self-confidence, and resiliency – an essential foundation that will allow them to reach their developmental goals. Better-prepared, once-marginalized children can grow up positioned to enjoy opportunities that arise as society around them develops.
Seeing the impact of our programs, our government partners adopt the OneSky Approach, change policies related to Early Childhood Care and Education, improve infrastructure, and increase investments in early childhood education programs for marginalized communities.
Select the key characteristics of the community you are impacting.
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your project address?
In which countries do you currently operate?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your project currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
This year we estimate that we will serve over 398,284 people through direct services and training activities. Next year, we estimate a 25% increase as our programs scale and so will serve almost 500,000 people. In five years, as we expand to another country and our Global Training Centre in Hong Kong becomes fully operational, we estimate to serve 2,000,000 people.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
As we continue our expansion across developing Asia, we will remain focused on addressing one of the most urgent challenges in global education today: the lack of high quality inclusive early care and education programs available to vulnerable communities.
Within the next year our goals are to:
1) In Vietnam and China, we will continue program expansion and stakeholder engagement, stimulating government investment in our programs and increasing fee-for-service partnerships.
2) For our new programs in Hong Kong and Mongolia, our goals are to normalize program operations, formalize local partnerships, and evaluate and refine program implementation.
3) With the imminent threat of future COVID-19 outbreaks, we aim to expand our capacity to deliver services remotely by launching our global online learning platform. We will also continue research & development work related to online learning by launching a pilot program in Vietnam to determine what practices are associated with the effectiveness of online learning in the local context.
4) Explore scaling & funding models and create a robust and validated strategy that will lay a solid foundation for sustainable, impactful, and successful scale of our projects.
Within the next five years our goals are:
1) Achieve operational and financial sustainability across all programs and increase revenue streams from government and fee-for-service contracts.
2) Through scaling of our current programs and launching programs in one new country, serve 2,000,000 people.
3) Launch a Women’s Entrepreneurship program
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Due to the pilot nature of our work, risk adverse financing is especially critical to our ability to sustain operations and financial sustainability is our biggest barrier.
Our second barrier is technical expertise to develop a scale strategy and operational/financial models for the expansion of our programs. This includes a strategy for monitoring and evaluation: with OneSky’s potential sustainability plan being eventual government adoption and a fee-for-service model for other NGOs, we seek to find a model of monitoring and evaluation that ensures that quality is maintained post-transition.
OneSky cannot achieve our vision, a world where every child has a loving adult in its life, alone. To expand our reach we seek to establish partnerships, with both governments and institutions that have a broad reach such as chains of childcare centers or other NGOs working at scale.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
We are working diligently to secure funding for the various components of the program from foundations and multinational companies. If we were to receive a grant that sustains program expenses for several years, our fundraising efforts would be focused on building an endowment that would ensure the organization’s financial health and sustainability for years to come.
To develop a scale strategy and operational / financial models we are seeking funding to consult with technical experts as well as seeking training and professional development opportunities for our team. Regarding monitoring and evaluation, one pathway we are currently exploring is the training of government agencies to monitor quality. Continued education through our online platform could serve as an in-service support for ongoing quality improvement.
Mass media campaigns and positive media coverage of the project can helps OneSky reach new partners and also strengthen parent understanding and demand for quality early childhood care and education opportunities in their communities. Our engagement team is actively engaging various stakeholders through a series of campaigns and communications. We also seek partnerships through numerous conferences, professional associations, education committees, and more.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
Across all of our programs we are partnering with national government ministries responsible for the welfare of children as well as provincial and local governments agencies. Our partners support our work in the form of land/building donations for program sites, logistical & implementation support, recruitment, advocacy, and curriculum certification.
In China, OneSky established an implementing partner, Chuhhui Children Foundation, responsible for local fundraising, program implementation, and government relationships. Moreover, OneSky partners with local and provincial level government to provide training to child welfare workforce, in orphanages and in remote poverty villages.
In Vietnam and Mongolia, our plan for further government engagement includes certification of our curriculum for national use and a development of a scaling plan with shared implementation and financial responsibilities. In Vietnam fee-for-service partnerships are pending for training of government early childhood education employees as well as another NGO working in the south of Vietnam.
In Hong Kong, where our regional training hub opened in May, we are following up with more than 50 local service providers, funders, and government agencies that originally participated in our needs assessment and indicated interest to develop partnerships for referrals of their beneficiaries to our Family Centre as well as training partnerships.
We also partner with the Spoon Foundation (nutrition training), the Asia-Pacific Regional Network for Early Childhood (research, best practices), and the Association for Childhood Education International (monitoring & evaluation.)
Lastly, our work would not have been possible without our established long-term partnerships with our long-term funders and community leaders.
What is your business model?
Our business model currently combines the provision of free caregiver training programs underwritten by foundation, corporate and individual funders, supplemented by fee-for-service contracts with governments for some programs and in the future, fee-for-service contracts with other NGOs. All of our programs are focused on empowering local woman to enhance the care and education of young children in their communities.
Less than 1% of women living in poverty have access to quality and affordable child care services and are forced to choose between work or staying home to care for their children. Subsequently, they either quit working when their children are born - causing deeper family poverty – or leave the children home alone or in substandard daycares that lack the capacity to provide stimulating environments and learning experiences. This global trend results in a multi-generational poverty trap for women and children who make up the majority of the world’s poor.
OneSky creates impact by 1) providing marginalized communities quality early childhood education programs through the training of the local workforce and 2) educating parents to support early learning at home, thus deepening the impact and teaching parents to recognize quality in daycares and select accordingly.
Our beneficiaries are children, parents, early childhood education workforce and governments. Research confirms that money spent on early childhood intervention in the lives of children at-risk produces a much higher economic return than any later efforts in secondary education, job training, or rehabilitation—as much as a 13% annual return for every dollar spent.
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Currently our work is funded by philanthropic support. Our path to financial sustainability includes profiling and identification of potential funders, partners, and co-implementers. Next year, one of our goals is to explore various paths to financial sustainability (this is an area where we are seeking support from the Elevate Prize community.) We anticipate for the private sector, factories, international brands, and the government, to play an important role going forward. Currently, our long-term vision is for governments to assume funding as programs scale and a fee-for-service model where OneSky trains other NGO’s and governments to implement programs of their own.
We have already made steps toward the achievement of that vision. Our Orphanage Caregiver Training program in China is now scaling with substantial government support. The revenues from the fee-for-service trainings have been increasing over the last three years and this year, we won our first provincial level contract.
Moreover, recently, we received a two request for training partnerships: one from an international NGO working in Vietnam for staff training and capacity building and another from a provincial government, to train early childhood education workforce. We estimate that as we build our presence and programs in Mongolia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong, the number of such requests will increase.
If you have raised funds for your project or are generating revenue, please provide details.
While our implementing partner in China, Chunhui Children, is now receiving revenues from government partners, our programs in Vietnam, Mongolia, and Hong Kong are funded by philanthropic support. We estimate that next year we will see revenue streams from fee-for-service contracts in these countries. Below is the breakdown of our funding streams for last year. The total amount raised last year was USD 10,469,360
Institutional grants: 26%
Corporate sponsorship 20%
If you seek to raise funds for your project, please provide details.
We seek to raise multi-year grant funding to support the scale of our programs in Vietnam, China, and Hong Kong. By the end of 2021 we hope to raise approximately USD 12,313,000.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?
The Elevate Prize would catapult our work onto a broader global platform enabling us to further shine light on one of the greatest global challenges, demonstrate to the world an effective solution, and help us catalyze new partnerships for lasting systems change.
The financial component of the prize would support the expansion of our work, benefitting thousands of women and children living in adversity. Moreover, the support from the Elevate Prize Foundation network can provide us with valuable technical support and advice on our scaling & funding models and strategies that will lay a solid foundation for sustainable, impactful, and successful scale of our projects.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
OneSky currently seeks:
· Technical support and strategic advice on financial sustainability strategy
· Technical support and strategic advice on sustainability of quality, scalability and impact
· Data science to create better insights from our M&E processes and online learning platform
· Global marketing and publicity support to help us raise awareness about disparities in access to early education and bring attention to our work
· Funding support for scale up and stakeholder engagement initiatives
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
· Partnerships with Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) organizations in Asia that seek training for their front line staff (ECCE workforce) or beneficiaries (parents, caregivers)
· Partnerships with organizations to support the delivery of our interventions in China, Vietnam, and Mongolia
· Partnerships with organizations in other countries that seek to bring the OneSky Approach to local communities