Karen Spencer Is Transforming the Lives of Vulnerable Kids with These Two Powerful Tools

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This article originally appeared on People.com

Figuring out the best way to help the world’s most vulnerable kids involved a 14-year journey that at times “felt like solving a jigsaw puzzle,” says Karen Spencer.

For Spencer, the key pieces of the puzzle are clear: love and connection.

Working with experts in child development, the mom of three — who was first inspired while taking parenting classes as a new mother — founded Whole Child International, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching caregivers and government officials how to create a more loving and nurturing environment for the children in their care.

“Simply by ensuring that children have quality primary-care relationships, they will grow stronger,” says Spencer, who is one of 25 Women Changing the World  featured in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “This is absolutely implementable today — the shift can happen with very little resources, and the impact is huge.”

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“At Whole Child, our most important founding principle is that relationships are at the center of everything we do,” says Spencer, 45. What I would like to see in my lifetime is that all of the things that we’re teaching and all of the principles that we’re putting forth become so mainstream that it’s widely understood that of course you wouldn’t rotate children from one caregiver to the next, that parents are supported and understand the importance of connection.”

Ultimately, she says, “I want to ensure that every child has the experience of a loving long-term relationship, a connection that sets them up to be successful and the intimacy they need to be productive members of society."

Karen Spencer has been an Ashoka Fellow since 2015.