About Us

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.

Why invest in early childhood development?

Oscar van Leer (Bernard’s son) 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.

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:

The Foundation is active in a set of countries that together reflect global diversity in economic, geographical and cultural terms. This diversity is intentional. We believe that by working in dissimilar contexts, we can help test the global relevance of ideas and approaches and are also well positioned to share what we learn across regions.

In this spirit, we also have a global programme through which we engage strategic partnerships that span multiple countries in some cases extending beyond our core set of countries. The purpose of this programme is to tap into centres of excellence in line with our strategic priorities and to seize emerging opportunities to spread what we are learning to help serve children in places where we do not plan to have a long-term active engagement.

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.

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

37 people

Citizenships represented
Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, France, India, Israel, Italy, The Netherlands, Peru, Romania, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Thailand, Turkey, UK, USA, Venezuela.

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.


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 nine members.