About Us

Our history

Since its inception, the Bernard van Leer Foundation has worked in more than 50 countries and invested over half a billion dollars toward our mission:

“To improve opportunities for young children growing up in circumstances of social and economic disadvantage”.

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.

Investing in young children

Oscar focused the Foundation on young children. He believed that giving all children a good start in life was not only the fair thing to do, but also an effective pathway to building more peaceful, prosperous and creative societies.

In the last 20 years, experts from fields as diverse as public health, economics and neuroscience have provided empirical evidence for Oscar’s belief. One of the most well-known examples is research by Nobel Laureate James Heckman showing how investing in disadvantaged young children and families results in improved health and education outcomes, higher incomes, less crime and reduced welfare spending.

Over the past half century, the Foundation has worked closely with a wide range of innovators and researchers to find better ways to meet the needs of young children and has supported governments to build national systems of service delivery that continue to impact the lives of millions of young children and their families each year.

Global knowledge, local solutions

Today, more and more governments, international organisations, businesses and foundations are seeing the importance of investing in the earliest years of life. With growing support, the debate is shifting from ‘why invest’ toward ‘how to invest’ to get the biggest impact for the most children. This is the critical question for the 21st century.

To help answer this question, the Foundation focuses on developing and sharing global knowledge and solutions for young children. This work is underpinned by our engagement in a set of core countries that together reflect global diversity in economic, geographic and cultural terms. Currently, these include Brazil, India, Israel, Côte d’Ivoire, Netherlands, Turkey and Peru.

In 2016, we are also launching a new global programme characterized by a limited set of time bound partnerships that allow us to tap into centres of excellence around the world and to spread what we are learning to help serve young children in countries where we do not plan to have a long-term presence.

Investing in solutions for healthy child development

In order to enhance the Foundation’s ability to act as an effective knowledge broker, we plan to focus on three solution areas during the period 2016–2020 and to invest in increasing our own capacity to provide knowledge and advisory support to strategic partners who are interested in applying these solutions to their work for young children.

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.

Our Income

The Bernard van Leer Foundation receives its income from the Van Leer Group Foundation to fulfil its mission. The Van Leer Group Foundation derives its income from a global portfolio of diversified investments. As an independent, private foundation that does not rely on government funds or public donations, the Bernard van Leer Foundation is uniquely positioned to take risks on promising ideas that are not yet proven, to act with agility when time-sensitive opportunities for impact emerge, and to make commitments to long term processes of social change.

Executive Director

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 is a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Behaviour. Most importantly, he is the father of a beautiful baby girl who reminds him every day of the importance, the challenges, and the joy that comes with a child’s early years.

Read Michael Feigelson’s complete biography


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.


We are recruiting a new India representative – for details, see here.

Principles of Good Practice

As an EFC member we support and adhere to the EFC Principles of Good Practice.


From time to time concerns might arise about grants, staff and partners. If you have a concern about the Bernard van Leer Foundation, any of our partners or staff, please contact Margriet Wolters.

All concerns will be handled in a confidential manner. Legal matters which may arise during the course of investigation may be shared with the appropriate Dutch authorities or referred to local authorities in the country concerned.