The 17th Annual Milken Institute Global Conference wrapped up last month at the luxurious Beverly Hilton Hotel. The event was surreal in that everywhere you turned, you would’ve recognized a person with the influence, power, and motivation to have a big impact on improving the lives of those in need.
The lobby itself was overflowing with billionaires, philanthropists, scientists and dignitaries such as Matt Damon, Charlize Theron, Tony Blair, Deepak Chopra, Chris Tucker, Jack Andraka and Tony Hsieh—all casually walking around, networking with fellow attendees, or conducting brief, impromptu meetings.
For those lucky enough to attend, the event was described as mind-blowing and awe-inspiring, motivating each individual to want to take action and collaborate with fellow game-changers to create a better world.
The event attracted more than 3,500 attendees and speakers from Fortune 500 CEOs, heads of state, celebrities and influencers in the for-profit and non-profit sectors, featuring over 140 panels debating the world’s greatest issues ranging from Aging and Longevity, Energy, Finance, Education, Government, Public Health/Medical Research, Jobs, Human Capital, Media, Entertainment, Technology, and Religions.
Disruptors and Innovators
Technology advocate and celebrity Will.I.Am. from the Black Eyed Peas was on the “Disruptor” panel discussing how he reaches out to his community of inner-city kids to encourage them to think like an entrepreneur and pursue their dreams. He also briefly talked about a smart watch he was wearing that his team created which is due to launch this year.
Joining him on the panel was Kimbal Musk, CEO of The Kitchen Community and co-founder of PayPal and SpaceX. He told us a story about growing up with his brother, Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motorsports. Their first entrepreneurial breakthrough was selling easter eggs to neighbors in South Africa at a lesser price than the supermarkets. They caused a stir in the community as the big supermarkets started complaining about losing business to kids.
Another impressive panelist was 24 year old Nanxi Liu, CEO of Enplug, Inc. and co-founder of Nanoly Bioscience. She described going into what was known to be a boring industry of digital displays and coming up with a solution to disrupt the space altogether by allowing the display to have two-way communication and a direct-to-market business model rather than the advertising sponsorship model of getting their displays out to various locations.
Education & Tech
Education and Technology were also hot topics at the conference. According to Adam Nordin, Global Head of Education Services and Technology of Barclays Capital, “More and investments are being raised for education technology, it has now finally become mainstream.” John Barbour, CEO of LeapFrog Enterprises explained how the use of technology allows for one-to-one tutor learning.
According to their research, it has been proven that if a child has a one-to-one tutor, they will be at the 98th percentile of traditional learning. “Technology allows us to deliver individual learning experiences for children with auto leveling and different components because every child learns things at different rates.” Such a technology also allows for feedback to give results to parents on how their children are doing. There was an overall positive outlook on the growth of “Edutainment” in this industry and the more we invest in our children the brighter the future will be for the world.
Transforming Communities in Urban Centers
The “YesWeCode” panel featured moderator Van Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream. YesWeCode is an initiative to get 100,000 low opportunity youth trained to be the best developers in the world. This panel addressed the impact of minorities not having an equal opportunity to join and be a part of the tech movement.
BMe Founder and CEO, Trabian Shorters explains the psychology theory of cognitive illusions, which states that your brain believes that what you see is all there is. After reaching out to urban communities, BMe found people typically have the impression that black males are a threat in various kinds of ways. This impression is a result of the limited positive exposure black males get through the media. “When all that you see is negative, you think that’s all there is.” Shorters founded BMe as a way to recognize that black men are an asset to the community. Since its launch last year, BMe has identified and invested in over 70 leaders, helping over 130,000 people have a positive impact on their communities.
According to Mitch Kapor, partner at Kapor Capital and co-chairman at the Kapor Center for Social Impact, in the technology space “we are leaving behind 99 percent of the talent.” There is a connection between kids, the programs/hackathons and the big companies being created in the Silicon Valley. “We don’t need another photosharing application. We don’t need another instant messaging app, not even one that sells for 19 billion dollars.”
Kapor explains the thing about entrepreneurs is they tend to scratch their own itch, which is to say the problems they face become the problems they see in their communities and will therefore identify the opportunities in those problems. For example, the entrepreneurs they have funded under their strict social impact criteria are solving problems in bilingual education, disrupting payday lending or even finding low cost solutions to prison phone calls.
These are problems that would not have been addressed by privileged kids that are more likely to be in these tech programs but are now being solved by the very experts capable of doing so. The Kapor Center has been the catalyst for the movement of developing talent in underserved communities and has been the influence of similar programs across the nation.
No matter what the world’s challenge — water crisis, health and medical, big data, inequality, etc.— technology will be the instrument to bridge the gap and get us closer to sustainable solutions. After being in a space where great leaders and big thinkers in disparate disciplines gather to exchange ideas, challenge policies and collaborate in an attempt to solve some of the world’s toughest problems, one can begin to be optimistic that no matter what challenges we are facing now and what atrocities our brothers and sisters face globally, just like a broken bone, we will eventually heal.
Milken Institute has done an amazing job creating an environment for the many attendees that is inspiring, surreal and transformative. After three days, you literally walk out of the conference a different person ready to take on the world and make a difference.