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Billionaire teams up with research centre to help vulnerable kids

When billionaire businessman and philanthropist Andrew Forrest comes knocking, you open the door.

That’s what Perth’s Telethon Kids Institute did, and together with Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation, they’ve launched CoLab, an initiative aimed at helping vulnerable children by coordinating stakeholders and influencing government policy.

CoLab’s strategic plan, released this week, details its mission: to bring together stakeholders in children’s futures, including families, educators and policymakers, to improve at-risk children’s lives.

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Image: CoLab

An example of a CoLab initiative is to provide carers with online information on their children’s health, via early learning centres.

“Often families and children don’t know the credibility of the information they’re reading on the net. They’re looking for simple, easy to understand translations of accurate research around what they can do with their children,” said David Ansell, who heads CoLab’s strategic partnerships division.

Another of CoLab’s aims is to calculate return on investment for early childhood education and care. Other countries have found that for every one dollar spent on this, nine dollars is reaped.

Image: CoLab

Image: CoLab

Ansell said the group may begin its work in remote Indigenous communities in its home state of Western Australia. This is where assistance is currently crucial.

“There’s been research done in Western Australia where there’s been communities of 1000–2000 people and 60 different services and no apparent coordination between those services,” Ansell said.

“And the other issue has been that the community itself often doesn’t feel it has much decision making.”

Once they streamline these services, they hope to scale their model nationally, through partnerships with other organisations.

But Ansell admits that, without political action, these projects are futile. That’s why CoLab will dedicate at least half of its funding to lobbying policymakers, instead of on research into the impact of a child’s first five years on their future.

“We know that successful, good interventions in the earliest years can change people’s life course. We don’t need to prove that anymore,” he said.

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