Philanthropists hoping to achieve large-scale changes know they need more than just money to achieve their goals. Mike Milken, co-founder of the Milken Family Foundation, chairman of the Milken Institute, and founder of the Prostate Cancer Foundation and FasterCures, an action tank devoted to accelerating medical research and delivering solutions to patients sooner, exemplifies this belief. "If you’ve been successful, in whatever area it is, speaking out is extremely important," he says. Convening is also key to his philanthropy strategy. "We have been very focused on convening at all of our foundations, starting with the Milken Family Foundation in the 1980s, bringing our national [education winners] together." Voice plus the power of convening. It's a combination that has enabled Milken to achieve much with his philanthropy, even earning him the title "the man who changed medicine" from Fortune magazine.
[Related: Spotlights on Philanthropists' Strategy]
One area of special concern for Milken is his work to promote medical research and assure strong support for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the U.S. medical research agency. He points to his efforts in the '90s of advocating a doubling of the NIH budget from $15 billion to $30 billion and to doubling the National Cancer Institute from around $2.5 billion to $5 billion. "Our goal was achieved with the help of so many others," he says.
Recently, his focus on NIH and medical research took the form of an NIH-day during Milken's three-day Celebration of Science, a new initiative spearheaded by FasterCures and the Milken Institute. The day's events included presentations by scientists, patients, and caregivers on topics such as HIV/AIDS, precision medicine, and other pressing health issues, and discussions with policymakers and industry leaders on the health and economic benefits of biomedical research, a particularly hot topic with sequestration in the news. The Office of Management and Budget estimates that for NIH, sequestration will represent a $2.5 billion reduction and that the "impact of this cut on NIH-funded research will be immediate and devastating."
In an impassioned 2012 piece for the Wall Street Journal, Milken writes:
"Can we afford to invest in bioscience? Don't we have a budget crisis that's about to drive us off a fiscal cliff? We do, and we must deal with that through the political process. But there is an important role for government in fostering basic science, which not only saves lives but also improves quality of life....
"Research by University of Chicago economists Kevin Murphy and Robert Topel, for instance, indicates that improvements in health from 1970 to 2000—many of them driven by NIH grants—add a whopping $3.2 trillion a year to U.S. national wealth."
[Related: FasterCures "Sequestration Station"]
The battle to protect medical research from sequestration is uncertain. But it's an important one, and it is clear that Milken will continue working to protect and promote medical research. He will also continue using his talents to bring others along his philanthropic journey. "If you can get [people] into an environment of self-discovery by convening a group of people of diverse background, it’s possible that new ideas will become their ideas and as they return to their role as their president of a country, a senator in Congress, the CEO of a company or the head of a philanthropy," he says. "You’ve shared your ideas and those ideas are now in the hands and the minds of people who can actually make them a reality."
Key Messages Mike Milken Has for Other Philanthropists
- Philanthropists should use the power of convening to bring different groups together, and spark ideas and connections to accelerate the discovery and implementation of solutions. There are no competitors in philanthropy and social causes, says Milken—collaboration is key to making progress. Watch: The secret of convening and Cross-sector collaboration.
- The role of philanthropy is to take risks, create models that work, and achieve greater leverage by diverting private and public dollars to ideas that work. Watch: Pull philanthropy, Venture philanthropy, Redirecting government funding, and Making small grants go a long way.
- Great philanthropy means doing more than writing checks. Milken’s success has come from his ability to provide path-breaking leadership, strategy, and devote his time and influence to advance causes he’s passionate about. Watch: Attracting other donors and Hands-on philanthropy.
- The future of America will be decided in its classrooms. Ensuring the best and brightest are teaching, the Milken brothers are working to improve financial and reputational incentives to teach. Enabling the American dream, Teaching a great lesson, and Talent gap in teaching.