Building a Life on a Strong Foundation
Olivia Khalili ’92
Olivia Khalili (nee Kuhn-Lloyd) is grateful that she had even more time to spend as a student at The Miquon School than many of her peers. Olivia, who graduated in 1992, started at age 3, in the Nursery program, and those nine years formed a foundation of values that she draws on in navigating her life.
“My mom tells me that I never wanted to miss school, that I loved going,” Olivia says. “I felt it was a magical place.”
She remembers the natural environment and the autonomy students were given to explore and create, where they entered their own worlds and got lost in play. She recalls the elaborate games she and her friends designed and that they would pick up day after day. “Society today doesn’t really give much space for that,” she says, and talks about her own children.
“My sons, Shepard and River, are four and two, and the expectation for parents today is that we have to always be with them, facilitating and overseeing,” she says. “That doesn’t give them much space for independence. Of course, I live in a big city—San Francisco—which may exacerbate it.”
Olivia and her brother, Cliff Kuhn-Lloyd, who was four years younger and also attended Miquon, were raised by a sculptor father and mother who ran a foundation supporting arts and education in Philadelphia. For the first half of her childhood, the family lived in a warehouse in North Philadelphia, which also doubled as her father’s studio. The neighborhood was “very urban” and one in which the kids couldn’t play outdoors because of the dangers of crime and drugs.
“Miquon was an antidote to that,” she says. Her parents kept meeting people they liked and as it turned out, they had (mostly) all attended Germantown Friends School. “My parents said, ‘Oh! We will have to send Olivia and Cliff there.’”
“But their friends said, ‘Yes, but we went to The Miquon School first!’” And so her parents enrolled the siblings as soon as they could. Olivia knows her parents prioritized education and spent their money on it, rather than on elaborate vacations or other extras.
“I always understood the value of that, and that they knew the place was special,” Olivia says.
Value for Stakeholders, Not Just Shareholders
Her Miquon education prepared Olivia well for Germantown Friends School and then the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in International Relations and Diplomatic History, with a minor in French. After working in international trade at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington, D.C., Olivia spent a year working as an 8th-grade teacher in the Marshall Islands. She also worked as an editor at the country’s only newspaper, all to get experience in international development.
Her next move was to Los Angeles, where she joined a small consulting firm and worked with nonprofits and foundations, discovering trends through a variety of projects on which she worked. She then joined a small start-up business built around providing content about wellness and healthy living.
“Working in multiple sectors gave me an understanding of each sector’s strengths and weaknesses and the elements that resonated with me personally,” Olivia explains. “From that, I developed a philosophy for work that combines business with social impact that I’ve followed ever since.”
In attempting to leverage business to be a positive force for society, she asked herself a question: How can business deliver value for multiple stakeholders—employees, customers, suppliers, community and the environment—not just shareholders? How can we strategically align business and community needs to create outcomes that materially benefit both?
In exploring these questions, Olivia founded Cause Capitalism in 2008, a blog, website and consulting service that helped businesses do several things: drive innovation and cost efficiencies while delivering real value; give employees a stronger experience and encourage them to give back, which allows them to be inspired and fulfilled; and strengthen the customer experience, all while positively impacting society.
She gives several examples of how this can be done: develop products for emerging or nonprofit markets, leverage employee skills through volunteering or set standards of fair trade or living wages.
“We may not even think of those things as having social impact, yet they do, and may even advance the impact of their sector by compelling competitors to take similar action,” she says.
For more than a decade, Olivia has done this type of general work, from Cause Capitalism to creating social innovation programs with American Express and Ben & Jerry’s; to building out Yahoo for Good, the company’s social impact program, and currently (since the summer of 2018) with PagerDuty, a cloud computing company, where she is building the business’s social impact strategy and initiatives.
“I had to work hard to find what profession utilized my practical skills and intellectual curiosity and honored those values,” Olivia says. “But I like the process of learning, reading and discovering different cultures . . . Miquon is good at bringing those things into a child’s experience and I appreciated the values-centric education I got there that I was able to access as I grew into the professional world.”
Olivia started the blog as a way to learn “out loud” and share what she learned with others. Through it, she developed a certain level of expertise that she leveraged into a rewarding career.
Empowered to Follow her Interests
Olivia clearly remembers her science project in 5th and 6th grade, in which she studied her family’s newborn litter of kittens, tracking their weight and measurements as they grew, a project she chose and designed.
Not everything was “choose your own adventure” [at Miquon] however, she adds. The students were given a framework inside of which they could then decide their direction.
Once Olivia talks about the kittens, more memories come pouring back: melting sugar on the stove at lunchtime to make lollipops, using hammer and nails on the outdoor wood benches, or mini-courses in tie dye, bread making, and photography . . . “all those things were empowering because I could go home on the weekends and create things for my family and me,” she says. “It was such an incredible place to thrive and learn.”
And she would love to provide something similar for her sons. “Miquon was the first place in Philadelphia I shared with my husband, Andrew, on a trip out from Los Angeles where we met and lived, when we were dating,” Olivia says. “He gets my love of Miquon. I think he sees it as part of my core fabric and values. He knows I’m on the lookout for similar school for our sons on the West Coast.”
“I often think we should get a list of the most Progressive, nature-based schools in the country and move there,” she says laughing.
“Miquon was such a rich component of my childhood,” says Olivia. “How much of my current self is defined by what I learned and how much is intrinsic? Even 50 percent is a terrific impact,” she says, ticking off some of those items: love of nature and of community and how people care for one another, kindness, curiosity, appreciation of other cultures, learning for learning’s sake, autonomy, problem-solving . . . “It’s what I want my kids’ experience to be and how I strive to be as a parent.”