Hillary Clinton's next big thing? Early childhood project called 'Too Small.'

Hillary Clinton, a longtime children's advocate, helped launch the Too Small to Fail initiative that aims to bring parents, businesses, and communities together on behalf of children under age five.

John Gress/Reuters
Former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago on Friday.

The people who will benefit most from Hillary Rodham Clinton’s new life beyond the Beltway are too young to follow her on Twitter.

On Friday, the longtime children’s advocate helped launch the Too Small to Fail initiative to promote ways that parents, businesses, and communities can give children a better start in the critical years between birth and age 5.

The campaign will help publicize research on the relationship between babies’ and toddlers’ experiences and brain development. It will provide guidance to parents on simple steps to enhance children’s health and early learning opportunities. And it aims to secure commitments from private businesses, both through financial investments and through structures that help working parents spend quality time with their children.

Mrs. Clinton unveiled Too Small to Fail in a video on the website TooSmall.org Friday. “It’s little things, early on, that can make a huge difference later on,” she says as the video shows a diverse series of children laughing, reading, painting, hugging, and playing with caring adults.

The initiative is a partnership between the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation and Next Generation, a California-based policy and communications group focused in part on the well-being of children and families.

Clinton’s involvement is not surprising to early-childhood education advocates, given her own work on behalf of expanding preschool as a New York senator and her earlier work promoting health, family, and children’s issues as an attorney, first lady of the United States, presidential candidate, and secretary of State.

“She’s just someone I think we all look to – as a mother, as a leader both globally and domestically, as somebody who would understand the importance of early learning and how it affects the economy, how it affects families, how it affects working women,” says Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an early education advocacy group based in Chicago and Washington. “It really elevates the profile of the issue,” she says, so that more Americans can realize the importance of children being well prepared by the time they start school.

Just under half of America’s low-income children start school ready to learn. The rest “start school lacking the vocabulary and math skills that they need to succeed, and they also often are not provided the type of nutrition and health needed from the very start,” said Ann O’Leary, who will help run Too Small to Fail and is vice president of Next Generation, in a press call Friday afternoon. “We know that the government has a role to play, but equally important are the roles of parents, business, communities … to help prepare America’s children to be ready to succeed in the 21st century.”

Organizers promised more specifics in the coming weeks and months, but one hint at the kind of investments businesses might be called upon to make was discussed Thursday at the Clinton Global Initiative America conference in Chicago. The J.B. & M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, with investments from companies such as Goldman Sachs, will finance preschool for disadvantaged 3 and 4-year-olds in Utah with a social impact bond, in which investors get a return on the money once the program generates savings down the line (in this case, through reduced need for special education services).

Because the Clinton Foundation has a good reputation for leveraging the business community through such partnerships, that announcement, paired with Mrs. Clinton’s involvement, bodes well for “cutting edge, breakthrough” improvements for children, Ms. Perry says.

(Those in the Twitterverse still abuzz about Clinton joining this week might find it useful to know that the new initiative has a Twitter handle as well: @2SmalltoFail)

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