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Navigating a World in Transition:

Five Themes from the 2018 Milken Global Conference

In early May, I attended the 21st annual Milken Institute Global Conference. The conference was a platform to discuss ideas, ideals and innovations across a variety of disciplines. Last week, I wrote about actors, athletes and naturalists whose stories surprised and impressed me. This week, I'm sharing insights I gathered from philanthropists, politicians, scientists, researchers and C-Suite executives - some of it surprising; some of it, not so much. For example...

#1 Republicans and Democrats have differing perspectives.

No surprise there! While the President and his assorted crises were not center stage, his economic platform was. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-California) was optimistic about economic growth, passing of the tax bill and the prospects for improved relations with North Korea. Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) painted a different picture. He worries about rising income inequality, the job skills gap and the ability (or inability) of leaders to unify Americans. As if to underscore the polarization that exists in the country today, McCarthy and Schumer were to appear together but, for some inexplicable reason, appeared separately. Schumer said there was no particular reason, while McCarthy (and the Milken Institute) seemed surprised that the two were not sharing the stage. One thing on which they could both agree? Their party would win the mid-term elections.

To tweet or not to tweet. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) says he is not running for president in 2020. And I believe him. He also said that 80 percent of legislation is passed in a bi-partisan manner yet we don't read about that because it isn't salacious enough to be "news-worthy"; people would rather read about Stormy Daniels. As an example, he mentioned a bill that was recently passed to overhaul the nation's aviation system. Ryan was slightly more candid than McCarthy and Schumer about mid-term elections: "If the elections were held today, we believe the Republicans would win. But the election is six months away, and the party in power has historically not done well in mid-term elections." Finally, to answer the question on everyone's minds: Yes, he has asked the President not to tweet. To no avail.

#2 Diversity is front and center.

There were numerous Fortune 500 CEOs at the conference who talked about the need for more women and minorities on boards. Ronald O'Hanley, President and Chief Operating Officer at State Street, said it well: "There is very conclusive evidence that companies that have a strong presence of women in their workforce, including the board, perform better. Advocating for gender equality for corporate governance was an easy call." There was also talk about how sexism exists in both obvious and subtle ways. One example: there are 23 statues in Central Park. Two are of women, but they are fairy tale characters. Former USA Today editor Joanne Lipman, who has a new book out called "That's What She Said", shared some sobering statistics. Women in the workplace get interrupted three times more often than men. And that phenomenon prevails at the highest levels. Female Supreme Court justices are interrupted three times more than their male colleagues.

Richard Ditizio, President of the Milken Institute, suggested that C-Suite leaders need to foster an open dialogue with men and women about improving diversity, and they need to take diversity initiatives out of the human resources department. Ditizio continued to say that human resources should focus on driving policies that recognize both female and male employees as parents. He also suggested that resumes should be made gender neutral.

#3 Healthcare is on the cusp of a paradigm shift.

This patient-centered shift will look at disease differently: through the lens of your DNA. By collecting patient data, doctors can personalize treatment to an individual's genetic data. Advances in "precision medicine" as it's called can also determine whether a drug treatment is likely to work in a specific patient. There were some bodacious ideas shared in one session titled "Things That Will Blow Your Mind," and indeed it did. One visionary entrepreneur discussed an application that connects to your brain to modulate aspects of your personality! I also attended a meeting that discussed clinical trials, taking place now in the UK, to test whether or not bomb-sniffing dogs can detect pancreatic cancer from a urine sample.

#4 It turns out you can have a civil discussion around gun violence.

The Milken Institute is a bi-partisan think tank with thought-leaders on both sides of the political spectrum. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R), Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper (D) and Columbia, South Carolina Mayor Stephen Benjamin spoke about gun violence. Republicans and Democrats are actually not that far apart on wanting background checks, passing tests, and prohibiting someone with a temporary domestic violence restraining order from having a gun. There were several active military men and women in the audience who also advocated for tighter restrictions. What came out of the discussion was the recommendation to write-not tweet or post to Facebook-but write our elected officials about our feelings, and to also engage with someone with whom we disagree to find points of agreement. I don't know if anything will change, but having people of widely differing political constituencies talk calmly about the problem left me with hope.

#5 And finally, I'll leave you with this...

There is a tremendous amount of good being done in the world. Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, is funding education programs in a meaningful way. While the high school graduation rate has increased in the last 20 years, the reading comprehension rate has remained flat. Ballmer is addressing early childhood learning among lower-income children in Seattle, Los Angeles and his native Detroit. Likewise, Goldie Hawn has funded programs that teach young children mindfulness and meditation-something that is very helpful in the chaos and dysfunction in which many children grow up. And a big shout out to conference sponsor The Milken Institute whose Prostate Cancer Foundation is funding a significant precision medicine initiative in partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs. The initiative will seek to expand prostate cancer clinical research among veterans and offer improved treatment to the 12,000 veterans each year who are diagnosed with the disease-the most frequently diagnosed cancer among veterans.
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Jane Howze

Jane S. Howze, J.D.

Managing Director