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Milken Global Conference: Philanthropy on the Agenda

By Tom Watson on April 23, 2007No Comment

The Milken Global Conference celebrates its 10th year with an ambitious agenda here in Beverly Hills, as a who’s who in busines and media gather to discuss the issues of the day. Tellingly, a new track has been added to this year’s proceedings: philanthropy.

Since onPhilanthropy covered last year’s Milken conference, philanthropy has become a dominant theme in the business press; even hide-bound economists are recognizing its power and theorizing about its limits and challenges. We’re here again this year to bring readers "live" coverage from the  Beverly Hilton and the conference promises to put put philanthropy front and center in the wide-ranging discussions on economics, politics, media, and culture.

As I wait for the first session to begin – an overview of global warming -  a "global philanthropist" sits one table over: billionaire Ted Turner is here to speak about his work after a career building a giant media company. And so are Senator John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz Kerry, speaking at concurrent sessions (I’ll try to get to both) about how everyday Americans are taking steps to improve the environment. Global climate change and the environment present a "stunning set of challenges," said Kerry.

"It’s astonishing to me that there are people in the U.S. Senate who resist fact, who resist science, particuarly with regard to where we are with this planet," he said, adding that 928 peer-reviewed scientific studies concluding that global warming is caused by humans. Kerry suggests that a wide movement in business, government, and the nonprofit sector – operating in good faith internationally – is the best chance at arresting the trend.

"This administration was willing to go to war in in Iraq on the basis of one percent doctrine – a one percent chance that harm may come to the United States – and it has cost billions – but it ignores a 97 percent chance that global warming will harm us all."

"Ultimately the marketplace will decide. I don’t want government picking the winners and losers, but I do want the government setting the framework for where we have to go…A bunch of business leaders are getting this fast….they’re offering greater leadership than the United States Senate and Congress…It’s leadership and it’s having a profound impact."

Down the hall, Senator Kerry’s wife talked about leveraging philanthropy – how an investment of a sum of money – even a significant sum – is not always enough to effect change. "We’re not all the size of Gates, but then again they have to do what we have to do too to really create change…without collaboration, even Gates cannot leverage their money as much as they might."

Michael Milken, founder of this conference and the Milken Institute, praised "entrepreneurial philanthropy" and argued that "donor engagement" was a true force for change. If you take the thousand wealthiest people in the world, "you have about 2.5 trillion in assets," according to Forbes.

"Take two percent a year, and that’s a tremendous opportunity for leverage."

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