This new funding from the LEGO Foundation will benefit some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their caregivers, and call attention to the critical importance of learning through play to set them on a path of healthy growth and development.

Student playing/learning from Sesame Workshop's Sesame Streets character.
Bringing laughter, learning, and play to Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar. Photo Credit: Ryan Donnell/Sesame Workshop

Global TIES for Children, an international research center embedded within New York University’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change (IHDSC) and NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute, will broaden its research on young children’s development in humanitarian settings with the help of a $100 million grant from the LEGO Foundation.

This funding will expand a partnership originally developed last year between Global TIES for Children, Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Sesame Workshop and IRC were previously awarded a $100 million grant from the John. D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation to bring early education to young children affected by the Syrian refugee crisis. Global TIES for Children agreed to manage and implement the evidenced-based research and evaluation portions of the program.

This new funding from the LEGO Foundation will be awarded directly to Sesame Workshop to focus on young children affected by the Rohingya and Syrian crises. Global TIES for Children has again been selected as the independent evaluation partner and will implement an evidence-based research and evaluation program, which will deepen the understanding around play-based early childhood interventions in humanitarian contexts.

The research and evaluation done by Global TIES for Children will be led by its Co-Director Hirokazu Yoshikawa and Co-Principal Investigator Alice Wuermli.

“We are honored to partner with Sesame Workshop, BRAC and the IRC on this historic initiative to understand how play-based learning and support can build a future of hope, creativity, and engagement for a generation of children in some of the most challenging contexts in the world,” said Hirokazu Yoshikawa, the co-director of Global TIES for Children and professor of globalization and education at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “In our research we plan to understand how critical early childhood development services can impact the lives of displaced families in their cultural and community contexts.”


“We are so grateful to receive this extraordinary grant from the LEGO Foundation. With Global TIES for Children as our research partner, we will double the existing evidence base on which early education programs are most effective in crisis settings,” said Sherrie Westin, the President of Global Impact & Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop. “We look forward to sharing our findings with the entire humanitarian community so that we—and others—can better reach and teach the world’s most vulnerable children.”

Sesame Workshop has again partnered with IRC, a global humanitarian aid organization, and established a new partnership with BRAC, the largest international development NGO in the world, to implement quality, play-based early childhood interventions – which Global TIES for Children will evaluate. These include:

  • Direct Services: In Bangladesh, Sesame Workshop and BRAC will scale BRAC’s network of Humanitarian Play Labs, which provide vulnerable children with safe spaces for guided play. Sesame Workshop will create engaging videos, storybooks, games, puzzles and more, which will be designed to address and support the developmental needs of children ages 0 to 6 from Rohingya refugee and Bangladeshi host populations.

The new LEGO Foundation grant will also deepen the play-based learning aspects of Sesame Workshop and the IRC’s existing program in the Syrian response region to support children and families affected by the Syrian conflict. Sesame Workshop and the IRC will enhance learning-through-play opportunities through direct services in homes and centers across the region, including support for caregivers to better engage in playful learning with their children.

  • Mass Media: Harnessing the power of the Sesame Street Muppets, Sesame Workshop will create new videos focused on play, which will be shared through family-friendly mobile and pop-up viewings in refugee and host communities. Sesame Workshop will also adapt global Sesame content—including content from Sisimpur, the Bangladeshi version of Sesame Street, and from a new Arabic-language TV series currently in production in the Syrian response region—to meet the unique needs of refugee and host community children. This work will build on a Sesame Workshop pilot project for Rohingya children in Cox’s Bazar, supported by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Much of the new content will utilize animated and nonverbal formats, so it can be used to address the needs of displaced children no matter where they live or what language they speak. Content will be designed to promote engagement between adults and children, which provides the foundation for early learning and is critical for children who have experienced adversity.

Children playing and learning with Sesame Streets characters.

Photo Credit: Ryan Donnell/Sesame Workshop

This new funding from the LEGO Foundation will benefit some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their caregivers and call attention to the critical importance of learning through play to set them on a path of healthy growth and development.

“This partnership marks the first step on the LEGO Foundation’s journey to work within the humanitarian field to support children’s holistic development via learning through play. Not only is play vital for children’s psychological, emotional and cognitive health and development, but it also hones the resilience they need to thrive and build their futures,” says Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, Chairman of the LEGO Foundation Board and 4th generation owner of the LEGO Group.

The LEGO Foundation will provide Sesame Workshop with the $100 million in increments over a five-year period, with funds released as established milestones – including the research and evaluation pieces – are met.

Leadership from NYU’s Steinhardt School, Wagner School, and Graduate School of Arts and Science continue to be impressed by this partnership and the work done by Global TIES for Children and IHDSC.

“This is the perfect example of our commitment to evidence-based innovation at Steinhardt,” said Dominic Brewer, the Gale and Ira Drukier dean of NYU Steinhardt. “Our global partnerships, combined with leading-edge research into education and child development, led by Hirokazu Yoshikawa, will inform this project and help scale it to serve generations of refugee children with little education and severe trauma."

About Global TIES for Children
Founded in 2014, New York University's Global TIES for Children is an international research center dedicated to designing, evaluating and advising on programs and policies that improve the lives of children and youth in the most vulnerable regions across the globe. Embedded within NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change, and supported by NYU Abu Dhabi and the NYU Abu Dhabi Research Institute, Global TIES for Children works with some of the world’s leading non-governmental organizations and governments in low-income and conflict-affected countries to develop and evaluate innovative approaches to promoting the holistic development of children and their communities. Learn more at

About NYU’s Institute of Human Development and Social Change (IHDSC)
The Institute of Human Development and Social Change is the largest interdisciplinary institute on New York University’s Washington Square campus. The Institute, a joint initiative of the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human DevelopmentWagner School of Public ServiceFaculty of Arts and Science, and the Office of the Provost, aims to break new ground through support for rigorous research and training across social, behavioral, educational, policy, and health sciences. Learn more about IHDSC at

Press Contact

Jordan Bennett
Jordan Bennett
(212) 998-6859