This Paris, France, based non-profit has set its sights on attacking the root cause of the 100,000 a year students in France leaving the education system with no diploma. Believing the root of the problem exists even before they enter school, 1001mots’ goal is to have fewer children entering school at age three with poor language abilities. Students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds are five times more likely not to reach the minimum required level of reading compared to students coming from advantaged families.

The environment to which the child is exposed before school plays an essential role: cognitive sciences show that between one and three years old, a toddler’s brain experiences its most favourable time window for language learning. A lack of early exposure to language causes a poor command of oral language that is likely to turn into a lasting disadvantage for a child who enters kindergarten, as scientifc studies show that early oral language skills are key to later school achievements.

Research shows crucial language stimulation differences exist between families, some children entering kindergarten at age three able to master only 500 words, compared to those with 1,000 words who have grown up in more stimulating environments. 1001mots focuses on strongly reducing school failure in low-income territories in France, to prevent future youth unemployment – there are an estimated 765,000 children under the age of three in France living in low-income families. 1001mots aims to give to all children prior to kindergarten the first 1,000 words necessary to thrive at school.

To do this, 1001mots provides distance support to parents with children, from birth to three years, to shift parent-child interactions in a quantitative and a qualitative fashion. It combines an evidence-based approach of behaviour change, rigorous scientific evaluation and product research & development (R&D) methods to develop an impactful individualized program tailored for vulnerable families. It consists of one-semester cycles of support (renewable at the parent’s request) featuring three text/mms messages a week; one book mailed every two months adapted to the child’s age; one phone call by a speech therapist every 2 months.

Over the last four years of activity 1001mots has achieved strong results in its target areas, including supporting 4,000 children in 2022, up from 1,500 in 2020; 95 percent enrolment rate of parents consenting to join the program when this is proposed by a paediatrician; 60-68 percent retention rate of parents registering for a second cycle of support after the first semester; 80 percent satisfaction rate of parents saying the program has been useful to them; first randomized-control trial showing a 20 percent improvement on reading frequency and a 20 percent improvement on parent-child verbal exchanges; and a second randomized-control trial showing a 70 percent improvement on stimulating interactions and a three-fold increase in reading frequency for families with younger children up to a year old.

With their program tailored for vulnerable families, 1001mots aim to have a systemic impact on poverty in France by reaching 100,000 children in 2026. Any prize money would go to accelerating the scaling-up of their program, in particular extending the duration of the program in order to produce a strong and lasting benefit on the child’s language development, producing 80 new pedagogical modules by 2024, investing in dig