Whole Child International

Who We Are
Karen Gordon

Karen Spencer, Founder & CEO (U.S.)

Karen Spencer founded Whole Child International in 2004 with the aim of improving the quality of care for vulnerable children worldwide. Targeting the largely overlooked emotional needs of society's most at-risk children, Whole Child's cost-effective, sustainable, and replicable program provides them with the tools they need to become productive members of society. As Founder and CEO of the organization, Karen leads an international team of trainers, researchers, and other staff to change systems of care, to advocate and influence policy, and to conduct related research. Whole Child programs are currently being brought to scale with funding from the Korean government through the Inter-American Development Bank and other donors. Karen is a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, where Whole Child's 2009 Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to Action was held up as an example of how to tackle an intractable global problem at CGI's Annual Meeting on September 24, 2009. On February 20-21, 2010, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama came especially to lend his personal support to Whole Child at the launch of its global initiative to raise awareness of the plight of institutionalized children. During his two days supporting Whole Child, His Holiness participated in discussions with philanthropists, academics, government officials, and the public on how best to meet the needs of the most vulnerable children. Karen is co-author of articles published in the peer-reviewed Infant Journal of Mental Health, and Perspectives in Infant Mental Health, contributing important insights and realistic solutions to the public debate. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Meghan Lopez, MSN, FNP-BC, Director of Programs

Meghan is a Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner who has worked in international program development and management for more than 15 years. Her work has contributed to health and child-development projects ranging from training rural community health workers; primary-care patient education; assessment of and training for quality childcare; and relationship development with local, national, and international partners. Meghan received her Bachelor of Arts in the Politics of Religion from Dartmouth College, after which she spent four years in the Peace Corps in Paraguay. She returned to the United States to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing at Johns Hopkins University where she also became certified as a doula. Meghan is certified by the Inter-American Development Bank as an Online Teacher in Early Childhood Development. Meghan also has received Pikler Intensive Training, gaining key perspectives on the application of best practices for care of children in group care. Meghan has published in peer-reviewed journals such as Perspectives in Infant Mental Health and Infants & Young Children, as well as authoring, editing, and contributing to Whole Child’s tool for assessment of the quality childcare in limited-resource settings (WCI-QCUALS), its university course reader, and its direct caregiver training program. Meghan has previously lived and worked in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Paraguay, studied in Morocco and Haiti, had assignments in Bolivia, Argentina, Honduras, Guatemala, Ghana, and the Philippines, and served as an NGO representative to the United Nations in New York.

Courtney Colman, Chief Financial Officer (U.S.)

Courtney Colman joined in September 2010 as Chief Financial Officer (CFO). As CFO, Courtney is responsible for the Accounting & Finance operations of Whole Child International. Prior to joining Whole Child International, Courtney was CFO at Porchlight Entertainment, where she oversaw the financial operations (accounting, finance, participations & residuals, IT, HR) of the privately-held, Emmy-winning production & distribution company. Preceding Porchlight, Courtney was the Acting Chief Financial Officer-Executive Vice President of Finance at First Look Studios, overseeing the finance, accounting and participation departments. Previously, she was CFO at Lieberman Research Worldwide (a market research company), Vice President of Participations at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Vice President at Universal Music’s Interscope label, Vice President of Film Finance at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment, and Senior Vice President at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group in the UK.  Courtney’s experience at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment extended over six years in Canada, the UK, and the United States. She received her Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Toronto, and she is a Chartered Accountant (CA) in Canada and the UK.


Ani Shabazian, Ph.D. (U.S.)

Ani Shabazian earned her B.A. from UCLA where she majored in Psychology and History and minored in Applied Developmental Psychology. She went on to pursue a Master's degree in Human Developmental Psychology from Harvard University. Ani then returned to UCLA to complete an MA/Ph.D. program in Urban Schooling from UCLA's Department of Education. Ani is the recipient of the UCLA Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award. While at UCLA, she had the privilege of being trained at the world-renowned Pikler Institute, a Hungarian orphanage noted for its innovative and successful approach to rearing children raised in institutions. Her research interests focus on best practices in caring for children raised in institutional settings. Currently, Ani has a dual appointment at Loyola Marymount University (LMU), serving as an Assistant Professor in the LMU School of Education and as the Director of the Children's Center. Ani provides definitive expertise in evidenced-based best practices in childcare to all our programming. Most recently she authored Whole Child's university course in early childhood: “Developing the Whole Child: Best Childcare Practices in Limited-Resource Settings for Children 0-8 Years of Age” and "Caregiver Training: Best Practices in Early Childhood Group Care in Limited-Resource Settings (Vols. 1-8)," and co-authored "Center Rating Tool: Evaluating Application of Best Practices for Early Childhood Care in Limited-Resource Settings," and "Best Practices in Early Childhood Care in Limited-Resource Institutions," a resource manual for practical application.

Michelle Branciforte

Michelle Branciforte, Child Protection Program Manager (Nicaragua)

Michelle has worked with multicultural nonprofit organizations in the United States and abroad for more than ten years.  She is a licensed social worker with a Master's concentrated in children and families, and completed the Latino Cultural Competency Certificate from Arizona State University.  She has extensive experience working with at-risk youth and children with special needs, most recently as a bilingual early intervention social worker.  She previously worked at a domestic violence shelter empowering women and children, with court-appointed attorneys to ensure the protection of abused children, and as a teacher for underprivileged youth.  She has completed volunteer service in Nicaragua with a psycho-educational program for young children in need of extra emotional and psychological assistance.  She was a member of Americorps, and created a tutoring program at a local community center. She also was a mentor to girls living in an orphanage in Mexico.  She is passionate about protecting vulnerable children and empowering communities to create sustainable solutions. Michelle guides the Nicaragua child protection team as they implement innovative solutions to providing high-quality compassionate childcare in limited-resource settings. Most recently Michelle provided her technical expertise in contributions to Whole Child's early-childhood university course: “Developing the Whole Child: Best Childcare Practices in Limited-Resource Settings for Children 0-8 Years of Age.”


Scott Chamberlin, Outreach Manager (U.S.)

Scott Chamberlin is a two-decade veteran of the nonprofit/NGO field, with experience ranging from program design, communications, fundraising, logistics, and general administration. At Whole Child International, he is helping lead the organization's expansion of its proven child-development program in Central America to new countries in Africa, South America, and elsewhere. Prior to that position he was Development Director at Santa Monica Baykeeper and Managing Director at Whole Child International during its startup phase. As a private consultant, he has advised, provided support, and written and designed hundreds of mission-critical documents for a long list of small-to-medium-sized nonprofits, hospitals, and universities, with diverse focuses in fundraising, external and internal communications, and logistics. He is a member of Pacific Council for International Policy.

Gabriela Serrano

Gabriela Serrano, Child Protection Program Manager (El Salvador)

Gabriela has been a key member of Whole Child’s Central America team since 2005. She has represented Whole Child both locally and internationally, from government meetings to world forums, and has received extensive training from the Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary. Gabriela was born and raised in El Salvador, and received her BA from the University of Oregon in Sociology and International Studies and is currently pursuing her Master of Science in Early Childhood Education at the University of North Dakota. Before working for Whole Child, she worked for the University of Oregon, the Salvadoran Embassy in Washington, DC, and the Foundation for Sustainable Development in San Francisco. Gabriela is passionate about respectful sensitive childcare being provided to all children and her beloved El Salvador. Most recently Gabriela provided her technical expertise in contributions to "Caregiver Training: Best Practices in Early Childhood Group Care in Limited-Resource Settings (Vols. 1-8)."

Tamara Byres, Child Protection Team Coordinator (Nicaragua)

Tamara has a graduate degree in psychology and in the development and management of community social projects, with more than 10 years of experience working with NGOs. Tamara has worked extensively for the rights of at-risk children and participated in the implementation of protection policies for young children, adolescents, and persons with disabilities throughout Nicaragua. Tamara has provided training to diverse audiences as part of Nicaragua’s post-revolution literacy effort, rural community planning, children’s rights, and children’s development to university students. As coordinator of child protection teams, Tamara provides technical and general staff assistance in protection centers. Recently Tamara had the opportunity to participate in the Pikler Intensive Training III.

Yader Anderson, Financial Administrator (Nicaragua)

Yader, an accountant with a postgraduate degree in business administration and management, has more than 15 years of experience developing and implementing processes and controls, improving and creating better accounting practices. Prior to joining Whole Child, Yader worked for the transparency and successful management including performing internal audits, ensuring compliance with donor regulations of community-based, multinational funded projects focused on the environment and human development. Yader’s biggest contribution to Whole Child's Nicaragua work has been the implementation of replicable systems that facilitate the technical team's intensive focus on their efforts in the childcare institutions.
  Learn more