About Us

Who we are

A good start puts each individual child on the path to realising their full potential, and sets the foundation for a healthy, fair and peaceful society.

Founded in 1949, the Bernard van Leer Foundation focused in 1965 on working worldwide to ensure that babies, toddlers and the people who care for them have a good start in life. Our mission is to improve opportunities for all young children, especially the millions of young children growing up in circumstances of socio, economic and environmental disadvantage around the world.

After five decades of investing in early childhood development, we believe the major challenge is the transition to scale. By working together with governments, civil society, philanthropy, academia, international organizations and business, we find the best programmes and policies to improve children’s lives. We partner with them by providing funding, expertise, networks and support to scale these up for maximum impact.

Why focus on the early years?

The early years of life – from before birth to five years old – is a unique window of opportunity to improve lives.

Babies’ and toddlers’ brains develop rapidly, and small changes at this young age can have lifelong effects. Young children need plenty of love and attentive care from caregivers – in healthy environments – as well as opportunities for proper healthcare, nutrition, protection from harm and play.

Research has increasingly shown that investing in babies’ and toddlers’ development translates into better health, greater ability to learn and work with others, and higher incomes in adulthood.

Early experiences shape the brain:

Read more about the importance of investing in the early years on our Early Years Starter Kit.

Our strategy (2020–2023): investing to scale

In 2020 we refined our focus for the coming period. Between now and 2023 we will continue to invest in scalable programmes and policies:

combining caregiving training for parents with at least one service that meets families’ basic needs. This can be an efficient way to achieve scale and improve the effectiveness of both the coaching activities and the underlying service with which the coaching is combined.

bringing a focus on babies, toddlers and caregivers into the cross-sectoral planning, design and management of cities to improve access to quality services, sustainable mobility, and good public space.

offering knowledge and support to individuals working to serve babies, toddlers and their caregivers, by sharing research, promoting inspirational ideas on how to scale-up initiatives, and bringing people together to build a network of leaders and champions.

In all these areas of work we provide funding and support for a diverse range of partners to implement promising solutions in practice. We aim for system-level change, strengthening the leadership, skills, capacity and will needed to mobilise action at scale. We believe in universal policies and programmes that cater to all young children, while also going the extra mile to ensure that the most disadvantaged get the support they need.

Global impact

We work with our partners to bring about change at scale.
Through our partnerships, we create, replicate and scale-up programmes that can change lives.

Portfolio countries
We work in Brazil, Israel, India, Jordan and the Netherlands – where we develop long-term partnerships. Our on-the-ground teams work closely with local and national government and
administrators, civil society, NGOs, communities and others to refine the most promising early years innovations.

Learning partnerships
We provide technical and financial support to strategic partners outside our portfolio countries to expand and impact our learnings in robust ECD policy and programmes beyond our core countries. By learning and sharing knowledge across borders and disciplines, we can truly grow the impact of our work and reach many more children globally.

Global scanning
With the help of our partners and networks, we track relevant innovations around the world and ensure these are reflected in our work.

Learning and documenting our impact
It’s essential to understand what works, where, and why. We monitor our interventions, evaluate our impact and document practices that have powerful learnings on sustainable change at scale.

Executive Director

Cecilia Vaca Jones (@CecyVacaJones) has over 20 years of experience managing social development policies and programmes. She holds an executive master’s degree in cities from the London School of Economics, a masters degree in Social Policies for Sustainable Development from the University of Bologna, Italy, and a BA in International Relations from the Pontifical Catholic University in Ecuador.

Prior to joining the Foundation, she was the Coordinating Minister of Social Development of Ecuador from April 2013 to March 2016. Cecilia was able to help create, evaluate and adjust strategic policies in vital areas of social development including early childhood, social security systems, education, healthcare and poverty alleviation, always taking into account the diversity of cultural backgrounds in Ecuador.

She also held policy-making roles in various other Ecuadorian governmental ministries, including the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Social Inclusion and the Ministry of Education. In these roles, she was responsible for developing public policy goals and initiatives designed to safeguard human rights. Additionally, she worked for a number of civil society and international organisations, including CESTAS, Fundación Esquel, the Organization of American States and UNDP. She also served as a part-time professor at the Pontifical Catholic University of Ecuador in Quito, and as a language scholar at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Read Cecilia Vaca Jones’ full bio

Our team

Team
37 people

Citizenships represented
Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, India, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Peru, Romania, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay, USA.

Languages spoken
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.

Annual Reports and ANBI

Our annual reports share impact-driven stories from our investments and partnerships around the world.

See our 2020 Annual Report here.

The Bernard van Leer Foundation is entirely committed to the public benefit and as such is recognised as a Public Benefit Organisation (PBO) by the Dutch tax authority. In the Netherlands, a PBO is known as an Algemeen Nut Beogende Instelling (ANBI). The following documents are published in accordance with the specific conditions as set out by the Dutch tax authority to qualify for ANBI status.

See our 2020 ANBI Registration here. 

Vacancies

The Van Leer Group

The Van Leer Group performs the holding function for all the Van Leer charitable activities and as such supervises its investment portfolio and the governance of its charitable activities. This includes overseeing the work of the Bernard van Leer Foundation to help all children get a good start in life; in addition, the Van Leer Group supports Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the Jerusalem Film Centre, focused on strengthening democracy, equality and regional peace.

Van Leer Group Chief Executive
The Chief Executive Officer reports to the Board, leads the development of group strategy and oversees execution of all Van Leer Group activities. This includes the management of the Van Leer Group investment portfolio, the work of the Bernard van Leer Foundation, and Van Leer Group support to the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute and the Jerusalem Film Centre. The current Chief Executive is Michael Feigelson.

Van Leer Group Board of Trustees
The Board of Trustees has fiduciary responsibility for all Van Leer Group activities. All Trustees also sit on the Board of the Bernard van Leer Foundation. The Board appoints its own members, who serve a maximum of three 3-year terms. It currently has eight members.