A speech delivered by The Princess of Wales at the launch of her business taskforce for Early Childhood

Published 21 March 2023

The societal impact we could have, if we work together on this, could transform lives for generations to come.

Thank you Alison and a personal thank you to all of you for taking the time to be here today.

The film you have just seen underlines a simple but critical message – that our early childhood fundamentally shapes the rest of our lives. This is about looking at childhood holistically. Looking upstream in a preventative manner to promote healthy life outcomes for us all.

From pregnancy to age five, our brains develop at an amazing rate, faster than any other age. During this time, we lay the foundations and building blocks for life. It is when we learn to understand ourselves, understand others and learn about the world in which we live.

The way we develop, through our experiences, relationships, and surroundings at that very young age, lays the scaffolding for our abilities and capabilities as we grow, and into adulthood. This time really is, therefore, a golden opportunity to transform our future life outcomes.

This however is not just about supporting children in the earliest years of their lives. It is also about building healthy communities in which they can grow. Because the healthy development of our children relies on healthy adults. So this is why we all have a part to play.

And that is why I’m standing here in front of you, to ask you, some of Britain’s most influential business leaders, for your support in helping create the societal change that is needed.

I have spoken before about the need to make early childhood the societal equivalent of climate change. In the way that the business world has embraced the net zero target to protect our environmental ecosystems, you also have an important role to play in ensuring that our social ecosystems are protected too.

Your business organisations are living examples of these social ecosystems, so building healthy environments both in and out of the workplace is fundamental.

I know many of you are already doing incredible work in this area, not only through supporting parents in the workplace but also prioritising diversity and inclusion, as well as the general well-being of your staff, customers, and communities.

It is and will remain, important to find new ways of adapting to your workforces.  Especially given that many are parents, carers, and extended family members, and we know that the well-being of the adults in a child’s life is the single most important factor in the healthy development of children.

I would however like us to think a little more radically.

Across industry it is individuals, it is people and the connections and relationships they form that are central to workplace ecosystems. Whether internally with colleagues or externally with customers, relationships are vital for collaboration and a core element to the culture and functionality of your businesses. But does your workforce have the skills and capability to build and maintain these vital relationships? 

Equally, the world we live in today is highly complex, rapidly changing but also highly interdependent. If we want to foster collaboration, we need our workforce to be resilient, flexible and able to work through differences with each other, but we all need the skills and capabilities to do so.

We need the ability and capacity to be self-aware enough to manage our own behaviours and actions, in order to build meaningful relationships with each other. We need the ability to manage things like stress and conflict, to be adaptable to change and stay motivated when faced with challenges. This comes from our social and emotional skills, the foundations of which are laid in childhood.

Despite however the critical importance of these skills, not only in our working lives, but also in our private lives too, not enough emphasis is placed on building these capabilities and building environments which nurture these skills, as we grow and develop through childhood.

I believe therefore that we need two things to really transform society for generations to come.

The first is to prioritise creating working environments that provide the support and training your workforce needs to cultivate and maintain its own social and emotional wellbeing. This will benefit them personally and professionally as well as creating a better working culture within your organisations. Given most of your workforce have a role to play in raising the next generation at home, it will also transform the experience of the very youngest in society too.

The second is a more concentrated effort in supporting the social and emotional development of our youngest children. Because as with most human development, the key time to build these social and emotional skills in the first place is in the first five years.

I know businesses are feeling the pressure across the board. However, I truly believe that by investing in early childhood, with a specific focus on social and emotional development, businesses in turn will see in the future… better communication, better working relationships, improved resilience, employees finding better work–life balance, less stress, more patience and understanding and increased job satisfaction.

Not only that, but the societal impact we could have, if we work together on this, could transform lives for generations to come. As the saying goes, it really does take a village. 

I am so grateful for you all joining me on this journey and I’m so looking forward to the discussion this morning to hear your thoughts and ideas on this important topic.

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