IKEA Foundation: Groundbreaking Support for China’s Economic Orphans

Thanks to a wonderfully generous, multiyear grant from IKEA Foundation, in 2015 OneSky was able to establish ground-breaking programs for China’s “economic orphans,” the 2.5 million children under five years old who are left behind in impoverished villages when their parents have to migrate to big cities to find work. IKEA Foundation was an early leader not only in supporting our pilot programs, but also in recognizing the scale of the problem in China’s rural villages where up to 85% of parents have migrated away for work and researchers have chronicled poor nutritional, developmental and mental health outcomes for left-behind children.

The key components of OneSky’s pilot program includes: training the children’s often elderly caregivers who are struggling to make ends meet while also providing care for their grandchildren, providing nurturing responsive care that promotes healthy development, and designing community-wide engagement projects that enlist the village’s remaining adults to do what they can to support the children. OneSky also hired and trained hundreds of local women to become OneSky family mentors who conduct valuable home visits that provide much-appreciated support for struggling grandparents. Many of our family mentors are mothers, who without their OneSky jobs would have had to leave home to find work.

The China Development Research Foundation and Amsterdam Institute for International Development conducted a three-year randomized control study of our pilot program that found significant positive effects, including higher scores in child development assessments, specifically, gross-motor, personal-social skills, and cultural knowledge. Now that our IKEA Foundation-supported pilot program has proven to be so successful, OneSky is continuing to work with our local government partners to expand  to more villages in central China.

None of our work could have happened without foundational support from IKEA Foundation. IKEA Foundation’s program manager Biswarup Banerjee provides a simple and powerful explanation for why the foundation stepped forward as the earliest and biggest supporter of our efforts to tackle the enormous challenges left-behind children and their caregivers face. It was, he says, to “Help make sure vulnerable children in rural China have a safe place to call home, access to quality early education, and a community of engaged caregivers.” IKEA Foundation’s visionary leadership helped us do exactly that… ensure that children in our pilot villages have what should be every child’s birth right—safe learning spaces and loving caregivers that give them the best chance for a bright future.