Who we are
At the Bernard van Leer Foundation, we believe that all babies and toddlers, especially the most disadvantaged, deserve a good start in life. A good start puts each individual child on the path to realizing their full potential and, collectively, sets the foundation for a healthy, creative and peaceful society.
We are an independent foundation working worldwide to inspire and inform large scale action to improve the health and well-being of babies, toddlers and the people who care for them. We provide financial support and expertise to partners in government, civil society and business to help test and scale effective services for young children and families.
For more than 50 years, we have worked to develop and share knowledge about how to improve young children’s health, nutrition and education. We aim to bring together robust science, practical ideas and strong leadership. We have seen in practice how this combination can change the lives of hundreds of thousands or millions of children and families.
We have invested more than half a billion dollars and worked in all regions of the world. Our partnerships have informed public policies in more than 25 countries, led to innovations in service delivery and training that have been widely adopted by governments and non-profit organisations, and generated breakthrough ideas that have changed the way stakeholders from parents to policymakers think about the earliest years of a child’s life.
Bernard van Leer was an entrepreneur who built a large global packaging company. After witnessing the destruction of World War II, Bernard was inspired to invest in improving society and started the Foundation in 1949 with a wide range of philanthropic activities. After Bernard passed away in 1958, his son Oscar took over the packaging company and the Foundation.
Why invest in early childhood development?
Bernard’s son Oscar decided to focus the Foundation on young children in the mid-1960s. He was inspired by the idea that making small changes early in someone’s life could dramatically change their future. As a businessman, Oscar felt investing in young children was a compelling value proposition – one that could improve the state of the world.
Since that time, there has been increasing evidence from the fields of public health, neuroscience and economics that investing in early childhood development can translate to better health, greater ability to learn and work with others, and higher incomes in adulthood. Such investments lay a crucial foundation by:
- Ensuring that pregnant women, babies and toddlers have access to proper nutrition and healthcare
- Protecting young children from neglect, family and community violence
- Giving babies and toddlers ample opportunities for early stimulation, care and learning
Despite the compelling evidence and the availability of effective models of service delivery, The Lancet global public health journal estimates 250 million children under 5 do not receive the care they need to reach their full potential.
Our 2016-2020 strategy: transition to scale
After five decades of investing in early childhood development, the Bernard van Leer Foundation is entering a new phase where we believe the major challenge is the transition to scale. Plenty of ideas to improve the youngest children’s health, nutrition, protection and learning have proven their worth in small-scale projects – but how do we effectively reach hundreds of thousands or millions of children?
Our strategy will help answer this question by building partnerships in three areas:
Geographically, our investments during this period will focus on a set of core countries selected to reflect global diversity in economic, geographic and cultural terms. These countries include Brazil, India, Israel, Côte d’Ivoire, the Netherlands, Peru and Turkey. In addition, we are launching a regional initiative to support Syrian families forcibly displaced across the Middle East and Europe.
We also plan to establish a small number of partnerships outside of these core geographies, where we see opportunities to learn, to share knowledge and to have a transformative impact at scale.
Facts about the Bernard van Leer Foundation
Focused on young children since
To improve opportunities for children from birth to age 8 growing up in circumstances of social and economic disadvantage
Average annual operating budget
Euro 19 million
Headquartered in The Hague, The Netherlands with team members also located in our core countries and London, UK.
Initially, our income came from the revenues of the Royal Packaging Industries Van Leer N.V. After the company was sold in 1999, the proceeds were used to establish an endowment, which is managed by the Van Leer Group Foundation and from which our income is derived.
Board of Trustees
The fiduciary responsibility for fulfilling the vision and mission of the Foundation, as laid down in the Articles of Association, resides with the Board of Trustees. The Board’s oversight role includes appointing the Executive Director, evaluating his performance, and approving the strategic plans and the annual financial and operational plans. The Board meets at least four times per year.
The Board of Trustees is currently composed of eight members. The Board appoints its own members, who serve a maximum of three 4-year terms. The members of the Board of the Bernard van Leer Foundation are also on the Board of the Van Leer Group Foundation.
Michael Feigelson (@mfeigelson1) has spent the last 15 years focused on working with governments, civil society and business to improve opportunities for children and youth. He joined the Foundation as a Programme Officer in 2007. He then held the positions of Programme Manager, Programme Director and Interim Executive Director before taking on his current role.
Prior to joining the Foundation, Michael served in a variety of positions including working directly with homeless children and families in three countries and as Business Analyst at McKinsey & Co where he focused on the media and pharmaceutical industries. He has degrees from Wesleyan and Princeton Universities, was honoured as a Thomas J. Watson Fellow and has been a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Behaviour. Most importantly, he is the father of a beautiful girl who reminds him every day of the importance, the challenges, and the joy that comes with a child’s early years.
Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, India, Israel, The Netherlands, Peru, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA, Venezuela.
English is our common working language, with Dutch and Spanish also used daily in our the Hague office. Other languages used in our work include Hebrew, Hindi, French, Mandarin, Portuguese and Turkish.
On this page you can meet the Bernard van Leer Foundation team. Many are located at our head office in The Hague, the Netherlands, while others are based around the world in the countries where we focus our work.