Sesame Workshop and International Rescue Committee win $100M MacArthur grant

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Ernie whispers into Bert's ear.

Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee have won the biggest grant ever awarded by the MacArthur Foundation.

The nonprofits partnered in the foundation’s 100&Change competition to win a five-year, $100 million grant to address a critical social problem. Their proposal to educate children displaced by conflict in the Middle East bested three other humanitarian projects.

MacArthur’s grant will support “the largest early childhood intervention program ever created in a humanitarian setting,” MacArthur President Julia Stasch in a statement.

“For almost 50 years, Sesame has worked around the world to improve the lives of children and help them to grow smarter, stronger and kinder,” said Jeffrey D. Dunn, president of Sesame Workshop. “This may be our most important initiative ever and we are humbled by the trust and confidence that has been placed in us.”

Sesame Workshop has long developed local versions of Sesame Street internationally. IRC has a network of community workers and a commitment to serving refugees. The organizations will implement an “evidence-based, early childhood development intervention designed to address the ‘toxic stress’ experienced by children in the Syrian response region — Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria,” according to MacArthur. Sesame and IRC expect the work to improve learning outcomes and intellectual and emotional development.

The duo will deliver customized educational content through platforms such as television and mobile phones, according to MacArthur. Home visits and caregiving support sessions will reinforce content and engage families. Child development centers will also have access to learning aids, including storybooks, video clips, activity sheets and age-appropriate training guides.

“Less than two percent of the global humanitarian aid budget is dedicated to education, and only a sliver of all education assistance benefits young children,” Stasch said. “The longer-term goal is to change the system of humanitarian aid to focus more on helping to ensure the future of young children through education.”

MacArthur will give $15 million each to the other finalists: Catholic Relief Services, HarvestPlus and Rice 360° Institute for Global Health at Rice University.

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