Ideas to Action:

Independent research for global prosperity

Karen Spencer

Karen Spencer is a social entrepreneur who founded Whole Child International in 2004 when she discovered an absence of services to address the social-emotional well-being of children living in orphanages. For the past 15 years, she has led an international team to improve systems of care, advocate and influence policy, and conduct related research. She has provided the vision and strategic direction for the organization’s growth, with a passion for systems change, sustainability, scalability, research, and third-party evaluation.

Her focus on partnerships has led to ongoing working relationships with Duke’s Global Health Institute, The University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, Loyola Marymount University and a backbone of funding for the work from USAID and the IADB. The organization’s scope has expanded to reach an even broader group of vulnerable children, while retaining the original focus on social-emotional well-being.

She is co-author of articles published in the peer-reviewed Infant Mental Health Journal and Perspectives in Infant Mental Health, contributing important insights and realistic solutions to the policy debate. In 2010, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama came to Los Angeles, especially to lend his personal support to Whole Child.

In 2015, she was elected an Ashoka Fellow for identifying and filling a gap in care for orphans and vulnerable children. In 2016, she was made a Fellow at the University of Northampton in the UK. In 2017, People Magazine named her one of “25 Women Changing the World.”