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Mike Milken’s Innovative Philanthropy Takes a Multi-Pronged Approach

Called “the man who changed medicine” by Fortune magazine, Mike Milken is a legendary financier and philanthropist. These career paths first crossed in 1972, three years into his renowned Wall Street career, when Milken’s wife Lori told him that her mother had cancer. He promptly began his search for medical solutions, which has since then played an important role in his life. Two years later, his own father was diagnosed with melanoma. Milken recalls the frustrating realization that, despite his access to resources, he “did not have enough time—or the ability to move science fast enough in the mid-1970s—to save my father’s life.”

After two decades of funding medical research, Milken was again faced with life-altering news. In 1993, doctors diagnosed Milken with prostate cancer, telling him that he only had 18 months to live. At that point, he knew he had to do “a lot more than just write checks” to initiate change. Now Chairman of Faster Cures, an action tank that works to accelerate the pace of medical research for all life-threatening diseases so solutions reach patients more quickly, Milken has shaken up the field. He has deployed a multipronged strategy, including increasing funding for younger researchers, reducing barriers to securing that funding, bringing together researchers from different sectors, and heightening public awareness about the need for quicker clinical trials.

Milken’s philanthropic efforts go beyond the search for medical solutions. He formalized his family’s philanthropy in 1982 by co-founding the Milken Family Foundation, which tackles inner-city issues like education and youth development. MFF’s Milken Educator Awards, deemed the “Oscars of Teaching” by Teacher Magazine, have helped elevate “the profession that educates all other professions.” Milken is also chairman of the Milken Institute, a non-partisan think tank that works to develop marketplace solutions to social issues. The Institute’s annual Global Conference is considered one the world’s best platforms for collaborative problem solving.

Consistent across Milken’s philanthropic endeavors is the use of convening to bring others along in his efforts. The result? $100 million from his family to FasterCures and the Prostate Cancer Foundation has unlocked $10 billion in funds. “There is no individual, there is no foundation, that can match government or industry commitments in medical research or in education,” explains Milken. “Therefore, finding a way to get them involved by doing venture philanthropy, showing them that something is a path that might work, allows you to leverage.”

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