Karen Spencer, Countess Spencer

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The Right Honourable
The Countess Spencer
Born Karen Villeneuve
1972 (age 44–45)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Occupation Social entrepreneur
Spouse(s) Mark Gordon
(m. 1997; div. 2003)

Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer (m. 2011)
Children 3

Karen Spencer, Countess Spencer (née Villeneuve; born 1972) is a Canadian social entrepreneur. 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.

Life and career[edit]

Lady Spencer was born 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.[1]

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.[1]

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 government of El Salvador to help improve the quality of childcare in orphanages and limited-resource childcare centers, 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.[2]

These programs are currently being brought to scale for international application with funding from the Inter-American Development Bank, the Korean Poverty Reduction Fund, and other donors under the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action, which was announced at CGI's Annual Meeting on 24 September 2009.[3]

Spencer is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the Clinton Global Initiative, and in September 2015 was elected an Ashoka Fellow[4] "for filling [the] gap in care for orphans and vulnerable children." She currently lives between Pacific Palisades, California, and her husband’s family seat at Althorp in England.

Marriages and children[edit]

In 1997, she married Mark Gordon, a Hollywood producer whose films include Saving Private Ryan and The Patriot. The couple divorced in 2003.[5] Together they have two daughters.[6]

On June 2011, she married Charles Spencer, 9th Earl Spencer, at Althorp.[7] The Earl Spencer is the brother of Diana, Princess of Wales, and an author and broadcaster. As a result of her marriage, Karen Spencer is formally styled the Countess Spencer, is addressed as Lady Spencer.

The Earl and Countess Spencer have one child together: Lady Charlotte Diana Spencer, born 30 July 2012.[8]


  1. ^ a b Kerry A. Dolan (12 February 2007). "Adopting a Crusade". Forbes.com. Retrieved 9 February 2010. 
  2. ^ "Launching Our Program for El Salvador's Most Vulnerable Young Children". Whole Child International. 27 February 2015. Retrieved 5 March 2015. 
  3. ^ "President Clinton Hosts Third Day of Clinton Global Initiative | Press Release". Clinton Global Initiative. 24 September 2009. Retrieved 9 February 2010. 
  4. ^ Countess Spencer elected Ashoka, prnewswire.com; accessed 28 March 2016.
  5. ^ Adopting a Crusade - website Forbes
  6. ^ Diana's Brother Ties The Knot For Third Time, sky.com; accessed 28 March 2016.
  7. ^ Princess Diana’s younger brother marries for 3rd time at family home, washingtonpost.com, 18 June 2011; accessed 28 March 2016.
  8. ^ Waterlow, Lucy (6 August 2012). "One for every day of the week". Daily Mail. 

External links[edit]

  • Staff - website of Whole Child International