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Karen Spencer, Countess Spencer (born as Villeneuve; in 1972, Edmonton, Canada) is a Canadian social entrepreneur and former model. She is the founder and CEO of Whole Child International, a U.S.-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that works to improve the quality of care for vulnerable children in childcare institutions and orphanages worldwide.
Lady Spencer was born as Karen Villeneuve in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, the eldest of three children. Her father’s job as a National Parks Administrator took the family to 23 homes and ten schools during her childhood; Spencer has credited this experience as the foundation for her interest in helping children without a stable home.
While attending a parenting class in Los Angeles, Spencer was introduced to the dynamic child-rearing approach of Emmi Pikler (1902–84), a Hungarian pediatrician and child development expert who established the Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary, for children orphaned during World War II. After visiting the Institute, Spencer was motivated to found the nonprofit Whole Child International in 2004. She sought to target the early development needs of vulnerable children in institutions, using methodology developed by Pikler.
In 2006, Whole Child began working with the Government of Nicaragua to train caregivers at the El Divino Niño children’s home in Managua. The organization now has agreements with the governments of Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Haiti to help improve the quality of childcare in orphanages, integrate basic Whole Child principles into their regulatory framework, and create local capacity at both a governmental and academic level for best practices in childcare. These programs are currently being brought to scale with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, TACA Airlines, and other donors under their 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, which was announced at CGI's Annual Meeting on 24 September 2009.
As a result of her marriage, Karen Spencer is styled The Rt Hon The Countess Spencer. Through her marriage to The Earl Spencer, she is aunt of Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, and Prince Harry. On 29 April 2011, she attended the wedding of her nephew Prince William, Duke of Cambridge to Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wearing a suit by designer Bibhu Mohapatra.
The Earl and Countess Spencer have one child together: Lady Charlotte Diana Spencer, born 30 July 2012.
Karen is styled as: The Right Honourable The Countess Spencer