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Social Impact and Philanthropy

Sesame Workshop: Making a Difference for Children in Need

Most people know us as a television show, but we are so much more: Sesame Workshop is a nonprofit organization on a mission to help kids everywhere grow smarter, stronger, and kinder – especially those who need us most. What began as a simple yet revolutionary idea in 1969 – to teach kids through television – has grown into a global phenomenon, reaching more than 150 countries and delivering proven, research-based early education to children and families around the world.

Investing in early education pays real dividends; we believe it’s the key to tackling the world’s biggest challenges and giving every child a chance for success. This was one of the core principles upon which Sesame Street was founded nearly 50 years ago: to give disadvantaged children the same educational foundation as kids from more privileged homes and watch them thrive.

Today, our philanthropically-funded initiatives are reaching millions of children and achieving measurable impact in the US and abroad, all with the help of the beloved and enduring Sesame Street Muppets. Our localized educational programming is tailored to the needs, cultures, and customs of kids in each region we serve, reaching little learners at the most critical time in their development and modeling the attitudes and behaviors they need to thrive in school and beyond. Our work includes:

Sesame Street in Communities, an initiative to help parents, caregivers, and community providers give all kids—especially the most vulnerable—a strong and healthy start. Through a diverse network of providers, we’re bringing resources directly into communities to help kids navigate challenges big and small. These free bilingual resources include strategies to help children cope with major traumatic experiences like witnessing domestic violence or a parent’s incarceration, as well as activities for everyday learning moments in areas like healthy eating and school readiness, all in ways kids and families can easily digest and talk about. Sesame Street in Communities also includes professional development resources for teachers, social workers, and healthcare professionals who work with the most vulnerable children.

Helping Refugee Children and Families. Together with the International Rescue Committee, Sesame Workshop has developed an early childhood initiative that is bringing hope and opportunity to a generation of children whose lives have been affected by the conflict in Syria. With a historic $100 million 100&Change grant from the MacArthur Foundation, this groundbreaking initiative is providing millions of children in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria with the evidence-based early education and nurturing care that they need to heal from the trauma of war and thrive into adulthood. Delivered through mass media as well as direct services for the most vulnerable, this will be the largest early childhood intervention in the history of humanitarian response, unlocking the potential of a generation of children and serving as a model early childhood program that can be replicated in other humanitarian crises.

Sesame Street and Autism: See Amazing in All Children, an initiative to support families of children with autism as they face everyday challenges while reducing the stigma and misconceptions surrounding autism. Our multimedia resources – available here in English and Spanish – include tips and strategies for parents, siblings, and community members. As part of this initiative, Julia, our first character with autism, joined the cast of Sesame Street in April 2017. Julia spreads the message that while the differences between people with autism and their neurotypical peers may seem significant, children share something far more important: unique qualities and talents that make the world an interesting place.

Girls’ Education and Gender Equity. At Sesame Workshop, we know that educating girls can transform their lives, advance their families and communities, and plant the seeds for societal change. Gender equity is at the heart of our global productions as they challenge the social norms and stereotypes that prevent girls from reaching their potential and following their dreams. From clever Chamki on India’s Galli Galli Sim Sim to inquisitive Zari on Afghanistan’s Baghch-e-Simsim, our international girl Muppets are powerful role models, helping girls envision futures they may not have dreamed possible and modeling for boys the importance of girls’ education. (And it works! An illustrative example: Afghan children who watch Baghch-e-Simsim test 29% higher on gender equity attitudes than those who don’t watch, and qualitative research cites fathers changing their minds about sending their daughters to school after watching the program.)

Sesame Street for Military Families, a multimedia outreach initiative for the 700,000 children under the age of five with a parent in the military – and their families, too. Launched in 2006, this bilingual initiative helps military families and their young children build resilience and cope with the unique challenges of military life. Topics covered include deployments and homecomings, relocation, grief and loss, and the military-to-civilian transition. The program has expanded to include a robust library of videos and printable activities, a free Sesame Street/USO family tour, three primetime television specials, specially-furnished “Sesame Rooms” in military spaces, and more.

WASH UP! tackles water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH)-related illness with targeted programs in communities across South Asia, the Middle East, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa. Energetic six-year-old girl Muppet Raya is the face of the WASH UP! initiative, teaching children healthy habits like hand-washing and wearing shoes to the latrine. [These simple behaviors can prevent diarrheal disease and pneumonia, two life-threatening conditions that take more children’s lives than measles, AIDS, and malaria combined.] What’s more, research shows that kids often become the catalyst for their families – and entire communities – to put these healthy lessons into practice.

Learn more about Sesame Workshop’s social impact initiatives around the world here.

Two women and two young children smile with Rosita outdoors.

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