Published April 28, 2017.

From the CEO

In 1998, the Milken Institute had an idea: what if we brought together serious, influential people with widely varying backgrounds, but a shared desire to address the world’s most pressing challenges? From that acorn has grown a mighty oak in the form of the annual Milken Institute Global Conference, which in 2017 marks its 20th year.

This year, the event will bring 3,500 participants to Los Angeles from 50+ countries for nearly 200 panels and private sessions over four days of intense activity. The wealth of discussion, the diversity of our panelists and the relentless focus on issues crucial to the future of the planet have made the Global Conference a vital meeting place for those with the mind and the means to make a difference.

From early on, the topics at the conference have included:

  • The impact of revolutionary changes in technology on the economy — and on our lives.
  • The promise of biotech and advances in medical research.
  • How best to create well-paying jobs that sustain and grow the economy
  • Educational innovation that keeps America innovative and productive.
  • How to create a financial system that works for all.

Some of my favorite recollections of the Global Conference are the moments when presumed opponents have found common ground. Once, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid shared a stage and discovered that they agreed on much. Or the time former Vice President Al Gore jauntily dodged a question by hugging his co-panelist then-Fox News chief Roger Ailes.

But even more satisfying are the moments when connections made at Global Conference led to concrete steps that improved lives. I remember the prominent executive who, after learning about the deadly impact of a tropical disease, invested considerable time and resources to conquering it. Or the alternative energy producer from Israel who met representatives from Rwanda, leading to that country’s first solar energy initiative. Or the investment banker who, inspired by the presentation of Nobelist Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, became the founding president of Grameen America, to bringing micro-lending to the United States.

I am often asked what makes the Global Conference unique, and why has it become such a success. The answer to both questions — in part, at least — is that, since its beginning, the conference has emphasized moderated discussion among panelists with varying views. That’s not only the best way to ensure lively, substantive exchanges, it’s a metaphor for a core conviction driving the larger enterprise of the Milken Institute: the best solutions are found when people with different perspectives collaborate to find solutions to problems that affect us all.

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Michael Klowden, CEO