Zero to Eight

Far too many children across North Carolina and South Carolina face poverty and other significant obstacles that limit their opportunities later in life.

The Duke Endowment is focusing on early childhood as a way to produce greater impact across our grantmaking and provide for better and more equal opportunity for children and families. We believe this emphasis on prenatal to age eight promises a more effective approach to addressing the issues that confront our communities today.

President Rhett Mabry Explains Early Childhood Emphasis

Approved by Trustees in 2017, our Zero to Eight emphasis aligns with discoveries in neuroscience that leave little doubt about the value of intervening early. We know that in the earliest years of life, positive experiences set the foundation for learning, good health and resilience. By mitigating or preventing negative experiences and maximizing positive ones, we pave the way for better adult outcomes.


With experts from Duke University’s Center for Child and Family Policy, the Endowment created a list of shared outcomes to steer our grantmaking in this work. The outcomes reflect our whole child” approach, encompassing the three domains of physical, cognitive and social-emotional well-being, and they are strong predictors of later success in school, the workplace and the community.

Zero to Eight infographic


  • Well-timed birth
  • Healthy birthweight
  • No untreated health conditions 
  • Free of avoidable developmental delays 
  • Good oral health 
  • Receive regular preventative and diagnostic care 
  • Receive proper nutrition


  • Appropriate early language skills develop in infancy/​toddlerhood
  • Pre-literacy and numeracy skills develop before kindergarten 
  • Proficient in math and reading in elementary school 
  • Experience rich language environments 
  • Participate in high-quality early learning programs 
  • Attend school regularly


  • Secure attachment to caregiver 
  • Emotional regulation, coping and persistence skills 
  • Age-appropriate social skills 
  • Born to prepared parents 
  • Live in supportive home environments 
  • Do not experience abuse or neglect 
  • Experience opportunities to develop social skills

Our approach amplifies the existing strategies and initiatives in our four program areas, building upon each area’s expertise. While the Endowment has long made early childhood grants, now we are working more systematically and collaboratively to incorporate this emphasis into our work. In addition, our emphasis on early childhood moves us into place-based efforts in several communities, giving us greater opportunity to effect systems change.

We believe that a good beginning for children bodes well both for their lives as adults and for their communities, thus fulfilling our founder’s vision for the Carolinas. We are excited about exploring this important path and sharing what we learn along the way.

The Duke Endowment is using two avenues to carry out its emphasis on early childhood: through its four program areas and through selected place-based” initiatives. With both, our goal is to work collaboratively to make early childhood achieve greater impact within our broader mission.


Through our place-based work, we are partnering with communities that are expanding and aligning services for children prenatal to age eight. Our Special Initiatives team is focused on developing this strategy.


In our four program areas, we are exploring ways to increase our emphasis on early childhood.

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