Knowledge Universe maintains a relatively low profile in Portland. Until recently, most of its corporate philanthropy — partnerships with Schoolhouse Supplies, SMART board representation — was conducted in the name of company brands, which are better known in the community than Knowledge Universe, Thornton says. That strategy goes beyond philanthropy. It also underscores the dual world in which Knowledge Universe operates. Child care is an intensely personal decision for most families, but those decisions, warn business and political leaders, also determine the country’s future in an increasingly globalized marketplace.
Last year, a Silicon Valley high-tech company and CCLC client asked Knowledge Universe to provide a similar program for its employees in India. “They had already selected another provider in India but the challenge was India traditionally does not have infant and toddler programs,” Thornton says, adding that Knowledge Universe is now running the center after conducting immersion training for local staff.
Before getting into early childhood education, KU CEO Felicia Thornton held executive positions with food companies including Albertsons and Kroger.
What is the moral of that story? “We’re seeing that child care is no longer a benefit just for headquarter employees…but more broadly for all employees,” Thornton says. For Knowledge Universe, quality early childhood education may depend on “Miss Jane” — as Thornton puts it — but the bigger picture is workforce development and human capital.
Without quality early childhood education programs, it’s impossible to recruit talent. Without quality early childhood education programs, it’s impossible to develop future talent. And in case the global citizenry doesn’t understand the ramifications, Knowledge Universe is ready to explain.