The World Forum was first visualized during a meeting between Bonnie and Roger Neugebauer and Carmel and Rodney Kenner in Sydney, Australia in 1998. Later that year, Bonnie, Roger, Bruce Schon and David Gleason decided it was time to convert this idea into action by connecting early childhood professionals who were working around the globe with great determination and creativity but little support or recognition, to improve the life chances of the young children of the world.
The inaugural World Forum on Early Care and Education took place in Hawaii in May 1999. At that point, the World Forum was operated as a project of Exchange Press, the publishing company founded by Bonnie and Roger Neugebauer. Employees of Exchange handled all marketing and administrative tasks of the World Forum. Their efforts resulted getting 525 adventurous souls from 36 nations coming to Honolulu for the first ever World Forum. Meeting Bonnie and Roger in the lobby of the Sheraton, Barnabas Otaala from Uganda proclaimed – “This is where the rubber hits the road!”
To aid in planning the 2000 World Forum in Singapore and beyond, the World Forum recruited 18 leading early childhood experts from all regions of the world to serve on the World Forum International Organizing Committee. These friends of the World Forum provided insights on locations, topics and presenters.
In the ensuing years, this experiment evolved into a highly valued place of connection for the early childhood field. Early childhood professionals and advocates worldwide came to value World Forum events as stimulating and safe environments where people are free to share, to learn, and to develop life-long professional and personal relationships. From 1999 through 2003, World Forums were held every year. Starting in 2005 they were held in two or three year intervals.
By the third World Forum in Athens, Greece, a growing support network was in place. World Forum National Representatives from 66 countries had agreed to serve as the eyes and ears of the World Forum in their countries. Today, 9 of those National Reps are still serving the World Forum in this capacity.
In addition, by 2001 four international NGO’s – International Step by Step Association, National Association for the Education of Young Children, UNESCO and the World Bank – had signed on to be partners in the World Forum Alliance. WFA Members agreed to help promote each others’ missions and activities.
It was decided that the concept had legs. The venture was incorporated as a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit tax exempt corporation in the United States as the World Forum Foundation. World Forum Foundation contracted with Exchange press for administrative services – for which Exchange typically received little if any remuneration.
At the 2003 World Forum, responding to the need to prepare the next generation of early childhood leaders and advocates, the World Forum Global Leaders for Young Children was created with the inspiration of Joan Lombardi. In this program, emerging leaders in early childhood development are designated World Forum Global Leaders and receive 18 months of training on leadership and advocacy. The first group of five Global Leaders started their training in 2004 in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Delegates from around world with similar interests started forming World Forum Working Groups. The first Working Group organized focused on peacebuilding with young children. This Working Group organized a Working Forum – where early childhood professionals with common interests come together to share ideas and propose action steps around a specific issue or topic. This meeting, “The Working Forum on Peace Building with Young Children,” took place in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 2004.
The World Forum launched a new concept in September, 2007 at the Pikler Institute in Budapest, Hungary. Study tours brought early child professionals together from Mexico, Belize, Singapore, Italy, USA, Indonesia, and China to learn about caring for infant orphans. The following month the World Forum Foundation in cooperation with the Seattle-based Economic Opportunity Institute led politicians, educators, and business leaders on a study tour of England and Finland to explore alternatives for financing early childhood education. The study tour was funded by the Gates Foundation. In 2011, the World Forum led a study tour funded by the Wellspring Foundation to examine early childhood systems in Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Italy.
A banner year for World Forum activities!
- In April, a Working Forum for Teacher Educators was held in Auckland, New Zealand.
- In May, the Working Forum on Men in Early Childhood Education was held in Lihue, Hawaii.
- In July, the Working Forum on Nature Education was held in Nebraska City, Nebraska.
- In October, the International Working Group on Peace Building With Young Children met at the ISSA conference in Budapest, Hungary, as did the European cohort of Global Leaders for Young Children.
- Later in October the Middle East cohort of Global Leaders met in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The World Forum Foundation was invited to become a member of the Clinton Global Initiative, based on the Foundation’s commitment to connect two million children with nature. One outcome of this commitment was that World Forum Working Group, the Nature Action Collaborative for Children, in conjunction Nature Explore Team, developed a comprehensive online “Environmental Action Kit” that was funded by the IBM Work/Life Fund.
On June 29, 2011, the World Forum sponsored the first International Mud Day. This now global event was created at a meeting of the Working Group, Nature Action Collaborative for Children, inspired by a conversation between Bishnu Bhatta from Nepal and Gillian McAuliffe from Australia. Parents, teachers, and children joined the fun in Nepal in 2011. International Mud Day became an annual event thereafter and is now celebrated every June 29 around the world.
As the 2014 World Forum convened in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the infrastructure of the World Forum Foundation had expanded considerably. At that time, the World Forum had National Representatives in 115 countries. In addition, the World Forum Alliance had expanded to include 11 international and regional NGO’s.
For it’s first 16 years, Exchange Press handled all the administrative details of the World Forum Foundation. In 2016, Exchange Press passed the torch to Dimensions Educational Research Foundation, a non-profit organization headquartered in Lincoln, Nebraska.
At the 2017 World Forum in New Zealand, the Working Group on Children’s Rights showcased its video on Child Rights based on filming done by group members in Singapore, India, Kenya and the USA. Also in 2017, Bonnie’s Global Café was launched to give members of the World Forum community an online meeting place. Individuals shared stories, related viewpoints, and reported on events. Check out Bonnie’s Global Café here.
At the 2019 World Forum in Macao, Mark Elliott was introduced as the new Executive Director of the World Forum Foundation, effective January 1, 2020. On that date, Elliott’s organization, CDI, and Dimensions will start sharing the administrative responsibilities of the World Forum Foundation. In addition, at the Macao World Forum, the new Values Project was unveiled and discussed.