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Fighting modern poverty: When a child cannot read or do arithmetic

Every year a portion of Egmont’s profits goes towards programmes to help children and young people. In future, the Egmont Foundation's Aid and Grant Administration will focus on the 15% of young people who leave school without being able to read or do arithmetic, says managing director, Henriette Christiansen.

Photo: Anne Prytz Schaldemose

What changes does the Foundation want to help create through the new charitable strategy?
We are a foundation whose charitable activities are driven purely by empathy with the weakest members of our society and by social indignation. Today 15% of 15-year-olds cannot read, and 13.6% lack basic maths skills, thus leaving them ill-prepared to get a job or complete a youth education programme. We feel society has let them down, and we want to share responsibility for remedying the situation.   
   We want to create a genuine change in the lives of vulnerable children and young people in Denmark and Norway by ensuring they complete a youth education programme. This would give the best and most critical help to this group – in both the short and the long terms. Our ambitious goal for 2030 is to enable all young people to complete a youth education programme. We will work towards a future in which all children and young people can read, write and do arithmetic when they leave school. And they must have developed the social and personal competencies so crucial to having a good set of life skills.

What is new about the Foundation’s charitable strategy for 2017-2021?
The new charitable strategy is a continuation of our last few years’ charitable work. Over the past five years we have focused on improving the lives of all children and young people, but with the narrower focus of the new strategy, we now prioritise support for vulnerable children and young people. Our initiatives will no longer have the life crisis focus that has guided our efforts over the past five years.
   In future our programmes will target the 15% of youth currently leaving school with inadequate reading and maths skills and who therefore risk being unable to complete a programme of youth education. The figure for Norway, where we are also active, is essentially the same as for Denmark.

What is the reason for this change?
The Foundation was established in 1920, and we have since continually focused on fighting poverty and helping the most vulnerable members of our society. Today, almost a century and DKK 2.8 billion of donations later, poverty and social marginalisation remain the key impetus of our charitable activities. But the nature of poverty has changed over the years. As a Foundation, we must respond to these social changes, and our new strategy addresses just this necessity.    
   With the new strategy we want to direct our efforts towards fewer, more heavily disadvantaged children and young people, and thus make a greater and more substantial difference to their lives. We will intervene earlier by supporting their learning and life skills from a very early age, and will work more holistically with the child’s immediate learning environment at home, school and elsewhere. In this way, we will help bring about true changes in the lives of society’s most vulnerable children and youth. 

In the new strategy the Foundation focuses on three problems: vulnerable children and young people often come from homes with insufficiently competent parents; they have low self-esteem and few expectations put on them; and they have learning difficulties while their educational needs are inadequately met. what is the background to the Foundation’s future focus on these three problems?    
We know that children with one or more of these problems often have a harder time learning – both academically and in terms of acquiring life skills. Any serious effort to genuinely change the lives of this youth group requires us to focus our efforts on precisely these three problem areas. We consider the problems interdependent. Investing in solving one of the problems can also help remedy the others. For example, investing in an initiative targeted at refugee parents also has the potential to improve refugee children’s chances of doing well at school. 

How does the new charitable strategy and focus on the three problems affect the Foundation’s working method?
The new strategy focuses on large, complex social problems that society has devoted great resources towards solving in recent years. We would like to share the responsibility, but as a foundation, we are naturally keenly aware that we neither own the problems nor have the solutions to them. We cannot and should not solve the problems alone. Accordingly we will always work with other public and private sector stakeholders and civil society – a policy to which we have long adhered.    
   With the new strategy we will focus even more sharply on how we can cost-effectively make the most impact. We will assess our grants – not only from the perspective of whether they solve a societal problem, but also of whether they solve the problem in the best way for the cost. In other words, we will assess whether a given initiative is the most effective way of solving a problem – or whether we can make a greater impact by using the same funds in other ways.   
   Within the Foundation's Aid and Grant Administration, the new charitable strategy has led to the appointment of a programme manager for each of the three problems. We have also intensified our focus on visibility and communication, because visibility helps ensure our investments have the greatest possible impact.

What are the Foundation’s key focus areas for the upcoming months? 
We are focusing on early intervention, because research shows that the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are crucial. This offers us a window of opportunity to strengthen children’s learning and life skills. We must take advantage of this. That is why we have taken the initiative to launch Småbørnsalliancen, which targets very young children and consists of 30 influential decision-makers from the public and private sectors. The 12-month aim is to take the first steps towards developing new partnerships and programmes for the 0-6-year-old group.    
   The child’s perspective commands an even stronger position in our new strategy and is yet another key focus area for the future. We believe all children have resources to contribute, and we see them as important advisers regarding their own and society’s development. We will listen to the children, be their mouthpiece and create change for and with them.
   The Egmont Foundation’s first annual children’s summit meeting was held at Nordisk Film’s premises in Valby on 1 April. 30 children and youth in care were invited for a day where they will give us and other key players advice about how to strengthen the learning and life skills of children and young people placed in care. 

What does the new strategy mean for Egmont’s employees?
We know from the Egmont People Survey that the Foundation’s charitable donations are important to Egmont’s employees. We hope that the new strategy can fuel employees’ passion even more strongly, because we can make an even greater difference to the lives of deprived children in Denmark and Norway than ever before.    
   Thus, we would like to share stories and experiences from the Foundation’s charitable initiatives, and in our work we set great store by engaging, involving and informing everyone at Egmont about the Foundation’s charitable activities and results. We feel very humble about the fact that the funds we distribute are part of the profits generated by the media activities. We are highly aware that all Egmont employees thus help make our work possible.