PRESS RELEASE: Celebrating Phenomenal Women in ECD - The DO MORE FOUNDATION’s Pam Picken.
28 Aug 2023
Pam Picken, a phenomenal woman and DO MORE FOUNDATION Early Years Specialist, retires after 45 years of working in the field of early childhood development (ECD). She looks back at her journey particularly her work with the Do More Foundation to drive forward their vision to ‘Create Better Tomorrows for South Africa’s Young Children’.
Please start by introducing yourself and your current work in the ECD sector.
I’m Pam Picken and at the end of my long and fulfilling ECD journey, I find myself reflecting on the many different roles I’ve played. From preschool teaching to corporate social investment for Rainbow Chicken Farms, leading one of the largest and oldest of the Early Childhood Development resource and training organisations; TREE (Training & Resources in Early Education) reaching young children in vulnerable communities throughout the length and breadth of KwaZulu-Natal, leadership development with many of the inspirational leaders of organisations in the ECD sector, involvement in research, policy and programme development all culminating in supporting the DO MORE FOUNDATION design and implement its vision, strategy and ever-expanding programmes.
How long have you been in the sector and can you give us a sense of your journey so far?
I’ve been in the sector for more than 45 years, starting with my motherhood journey. At that time, I was a high school teacher, teaching English and history to ‘A’ levels. Early in my first pregnancy, I read a book entitled ‘How To Raise A Brighter Child’ and my fascination with early brain development was born. This set me off on a lifelong adventure of exploration and learning, igniting a passion and drive to try and ensure every young South African child has the opportunity to become the best they can be.
At that time, there was very little interest in early childhood development and not much evidence available. Now there is overwhelming evidence of the importance of the early years and how proper investment into this phase of life has exponential ‘Return on Investment’ in terms of setting up individuals for success and in setting nations on the path to winning.
What drew you to the sector initially and what kept you there?
I have stayed in the sector because of my driving passion to make a difference in the lives of young children and am inspired by the extraordinary men and women in the ECD sector, driven by the same purpose. There is this sense of fighting together for something critically important, meaningful and worthwhile (but woefully neglected and under-resourced) for the future of our beloved country.
Do you consider yourself to be an activist? I do indeed! I am well-known as an ECD activist, but what for me is so exciting, is seeing the cadre of ECD activists growing exponentially and gathering momentum with many fantastic young leaders and activists emerging and taking forward the fight for young children’s rights to the best start in life, in many ways and on many different platforms.
How has being involved with DMF made an impact in the ECD space?
I started working with Warren Farrer, the now CEO of DO MORE FOUNDATION, 10 years ago. At that time RCL FOODS was a new conglomerate of food companies with a disparate array of corporate social investment projects that had no clear focus, no coherent strategy and no significant footprint.
It has been an enormously rewarding journey for me to work with an inspirational leader, and to help inspire, craft and design the clear, unwavering focus on young children as the core of DO MORE FOUNDATION’s vision, purpose and strategy, and then guide and design the implementation of programmes to realise that vision in diverse communities surrounding RCL FOODS business operations, as well as national projects.
Warren is indeed an inspirational leader, who has been able to attract and retain extraordinary people onto the DO MORE team, all united by a common passion, vision and purpose. Although DO MORE is a small team, we punch way above our weight, mainly because of the way the team pulls together to achieve so much more. As I plan my last few months before I retire at 76, I am confident that the investment of my passion and energy into the DO MORE team and its work is in really good hands that will take its contribution to ECD and young children in South Africa to a whole new exciting level!
What are some of the highlights from your career?
I have had many highlights in my long ECD adventure and worked with many, many wonderful people. Undoubtedly, my last 10 years with the emerging and fast-growing DO MORE FOUNDATION has been my most rewarding and fulfilling and has enabled me to see some of my dreams become a reality.
Two key highlights have been:
Guiding the DMF team to drive the implementation of the National Integrated ECD Policy in a rural community. ● South Africa is known for having an outstanding Constitution and some outstanding policies, of which the National Integrated ECD policy is one. However, South Africa has a poor record of implementing any of these policies. ● DMF initiated and coordinated a private/public partnership to make this policy a reality for real children in real communities in two wards of rural Nkomazi, Mpumalanga. ● This has evolved into the DMF framework or model of ‘Everyone Gets To Play’ involving multi-sectoral collaborative partnerships to promote and support a comprehensive basket of services for young children and their caregivers in communities. This basket includes maternal and child health; nutrition; responsive caregiving; parent support; quality early learning through play; child protection and more.
Supporting DO MORE to recognise and respond effectively to the importance of working in collaborative multi-sectoral partnerships to achieve sustainable change for young children AND to define their unique role in this approach – that of a backbone: coordinating and ‘holding’ the space for people and organisations to work together towards a common vision for young children and families.
How would you describe what your legacy is?
I would say my main legacy has been investing in people and supporting them to unlock their potential; building strong relationships; networking and connecting people and resources – ALL with the goal of growing the cadre of activists who will work towards creating a better life for South Africa’s young children to unlock their potential so that South Africa can become a winning nation.