Skip to main content

2024-28 Strategy

Old wisdom tells us that “it takes a village to raise a child”. In our societies today, that village, the eco-system around the child, is often fragmented or affected by poverty and crises. Using a network approach is an efficient and effective way to bring to bear best practice in supporting children’s care, development and learning, as well as in empowering their caregivers. We remain committed to leveraging ISSA’s network advantage to ensure that all children have the best start in life and continue to thrive!

In 2023, ISSA members came together to craft a revitalized strategic vision, emphasizing the power of our network to cultivate a resilient, inclusive, and dynamic ecosystem for early childhood development. This vision propels us to adapt and thrive in the face of evolving global challenges, ensuring every child's potential is nurtured and empowered.

Every five years, ISSA embarks on a strategic planning cycle to reflect on past impacts, learn lessons, and enhance our service to the early childhood development field. In 2023, we noted how ISSA was able to navigate global challenges, including the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, by leveraging the collective strength and adaptability of our network. Our participatory approach to strategy development fosters diverse insights and focuses on our core strengths: peer learning, distributed leadership, and strategic partnerships. This refreshed strategy, rooted in collaboration, reaffirms our dedication to equitable early childhood policies and services, amplifying our collective impact and uniting members across Europe and Central Asia to improve the lives of young children.

What's New in Our Strategic Direction

The strategic shift takes a two-pronged approach that encompasses strengthening a network mindset at all levels and positioning ISSA as an impact network to promote quality, equitable, integrated approaches to early childhood development. This approach entails:

  • Empowering members to leverage the network through distributed leadership and peer collaboration.
  • Emphasizing an ecosystem paradigm promoting an integrated approach to policies and services.
  • Further promoting geographic and thematic diversity among our membership. 
  • Innovating by using cross-sectoral approaches that promote early childhood development to improve policies, programs, and services.  
  • Building alliances and engaging as a catalyst while participating in multi-sectoral initiatives and related movements to promote ECD regionally and beyond.

Through this approach, we also seek to amplify benefits to members, including synergy, innovation, resilience, cross-sectoral approaches, participation in regional initiatives, engagement with diverse members, elevating ECD in governmental and other agendas, and driving systemic change.

2024-28 Goals & Objectives 

Strategic Goal 1:

Provide a strong collaborative infrastructure to empower members of our growing network in their work to strengthen early childhood systems with innovative approaches, noteworthy practice, and cross-country learning.

Strategic Goal 2:

Engage with or lead initiatives to advance the network’s shared purpose around:

  • Holistic Early Childhood Development.
  • Competent early childhood systems to provide quality, equitable and integrated services for all young children and their families.
  • A trained, motivated and diverse workforce to offer high-quality services for children from birth to 10 years of age.


2024-28 Strategy

Our Journey

1994-1999: The Beginnings

The International Step by Step Association (ISSA) traces its roots back to the transformative Step by Step program initiated by the Open Society Foundations in 1994. Spearheaded by George Soros, this program aimed to revolutionize early childhood education in Central Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, regions transitioning from socialist regimes to democratic societies Step by Step emphasized child-centered, rights-based education, fostering democratic values during a time of significant social and political upheaval.

1999: The Birth of ISSA

In October 1999, the national Open Society foundations running Step by Step programs voted to establish ISSA as a formal network. This marked the birth of ISSA, a coalition designed to support independent NGOs and provide a voice for professionals advocating for progressive early childhood education approaches. ISSA's first major initiative was the Early Childhood Quality Initiative, which launched in 1999 to promote ongoing professional development and ensure the quality of the program as it scaled up across various country contexts.

2000-2010: Expanding Our Reach

Throughout the early 2000s, ISSA expanded its scope and influence, developing the ISSA Pedagogical Standards for Preschool and Primary Grades in 2005. These standards provided a common framework for teachers, emphasizing inclusion, diversity, and values required in open, democratic societies. By 2010, ISSA had published "Competent Educators of the 21st Century: Principles of Quality Pedagogy," incorporating contemporary research on brain development and best practices in early education.

2011-2020: Strengthening Our Network

With continued support from the Open Society Foundations and engagement from new donors and partners, ISSA's membership more than doubled. The association broadened its focus beyond early education to other areas of early childhood development (ECD), bridging historically divided parts of Europe. ISSA became recognized for its work on quality, equity, cross-sectoral approaches, and supporting the early years workforce, solidifying its position as a leader in the ECD field.

2020-Present: A Vision for the Future

Today, ISSA continues to build on its rich history, evolving into a vibrant international learning community and dynamic member association. Our network includes early childhood experts from Europe, Central Asia and beyond, all working together to improve the lives of young children and families. We remain committed to advancing early childhood development through principles of inclusivity and equity, championing holistic and integrated systems, policies, and high-quality services.

Looking Ahead

ISSA continues to innovate and lead in early childhood development, driving a movement across Europe and Central Asia. Through purpose-driven collaborations, we generate and share new knowledge, fostering innovations that transform early childhood systems. Our unwavering goal remains to ensure all children reach their full potential, as we work tirelessly to create brighter futures for the next generation.