Scott Anderson

Video Q&A: Toys That Teach – Both Children and their Caregivers: Brazil-based PUPA is building a network to serve early childhood education at the BoP

Government, the private sector, and, increasingly, social enterprises, all are focused on improving education across the developing world. But their emphasis tends to be on middle or higher education when it comes to closing the achievement gap among developing and developed nations. Less attention is placed on early child education, despite its undeniable impact on people’s socio-economic, not to mention emotional, development over the course of their lives.

In Brazil, there are about 10 million low-income children under the age of six who do not attend preschool or daycare. For each one of them there is a parent or informal caregiver (such as grandparents or neighbors) who may not know exactly what the youngsters need to thrive. Those guardians are often without the age-appropriate books, toys, or the know-how for stimulating young minds, particularly those under the age of 4.

It’s at this “base of the base of the pyramid,” as Mary Anne Amorim puts it, that the São Paulo-based PUPA aims to make a difference. Amorim is the CEO of PUPA, (the full company name is PUPA Empreendimentos Educacionais e Representação LTDA), which was developed by ZOOM Editora – the exclusive distributor of LEGO Education products in Brazil. PUPA provides easy-to-follow educational play activities through colorful magazines, music CDs, LEGO toys, and other audio-visual aids. But just as important, its employees train the children’s caregivers on how to use the materials and instruct them on inventive ways to learn through play.

“We train the caregivers how to use the things they possess as toys and as playful activities,” Amorim told me in an interview over Skype. (You can see key excerpts from our discussion in the video below). “It’s very important that they use toys, but not only the ones that we are providing. We teach them how to build toys and to use whatever they have at home.”

This can be as simple as showing the caregiver how to fashion a supportive mat from a pair of jeans so the child can sit upright on the floor and reach out to interact, or how to construct a musical instrument from a discarded container so a toddler can play a tune.

PUPA’s line of products are sold to parents and other caregivers through a network of NGOs, partners and micro-franchisees – or self-employed women. These sales reps are vital to PUPA’s business on a number of last-mile delivery factors. They sign up customers, help them select the right PUPA materials given the age of their children, deliver the packets and conduct follow-up visits with mini-surveys to track social performance indicators.

“The operational model of PUPA is 95 percent (engaging) women who are coming from their own community to deliver the training, to deliver the products, to sell the products, to engage the families,” Amorim said. “So everybody involved in the operational mechanics of PUPA is coming from the community.”

PUPA has the benefit of building on the network established with ZOOM Editora, which has made inroads into more than 200 low-income Brazilian communities through after-school and other educational programs.

With a $3 million secured loan from the Inter-American Bank’s Opportunities for the Majority (OMJ) in 2012, PUPA is working to scale up. The company has set a goal of training 56,000 caregivers, and providing employment to more than 1,400 women micro-franchisees by 2019. Through its educational kits and services, PUPA hopes to improve the development and learning skills of 224,000 children across Brazil before the end of the decade.

Please see the video interview below for more details on PUPA and its business approach to early childhood learning, and click here to find out more about PUPA.

Education, Social Enterprise
social enterprise