development, the development of our society, and the development of our world.
The Bernard van Leer Foundation has worked in the field of early childhood development for 40 years
and for more than 20 of those years we have concentrated solely on young children from birth to eight
years of age. Our work has comprised support for programmes in more than 50 countries, both
developing and industrialised. Our support includes grants, the exchange of ideas and experiences,
commissioning studies and research, and publishing and advocating with the aim of informing and
influencing policy and practice.
The programmes that we support are participatory. They are based on working in and with the context,
with families and communities, taking account of local culture and traditions. The programmes are
mainly implemented by non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
When our Foundation began to work in early childhood, in the 1960s, the concept of children’s rights was
not yet widespread. Instead, we talked of needs and, in the early days, talked of needy children being
compensated to offset the disadvantages of the environments in which they were growing up. But it did
not take long to realise that while there were many disadvantages in those environments, there were also
many strengths. Even more important, it was obvious that the children and their families had their own
strengths so that any programmes designed to support them should start from those strengths and build
The adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its almost universal ratification has created
a whole set of opportunities and challenges. One of these challenges is that the practice lags far behind the
concept. And another of these challenges is that, in the vast majority of countries, the rights of the very
youngest children are virtually ignored.