“Our mission is to build human resources,” says Lowell Milken. For twenty-plus years, Lowell and his brother Michael have worked to do this through the Milken Family Foundation, which they co-founded in 1982. With time has come experience, and the Milkens have come to believe the best way to pursue their mission is through education and medical research.
Lowell, the foundation chairman, is also chairman of London-based Heron International, a worldwide leader in property development. Along with Michael, he also co-founded Knowledge Universe, Inc.-a diverse group of operating companies, the best-known of which is LeapFrog, working to build human capital. Both brothers came through public schools and graduated summa cum laude from the University of California at Berkeley. Each then did graduate work-Michael at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, and Lowell at the UCLA School of Law. Michael went on from Wharton to Drexel Burnham Lambert, where in the 1970s he developed models for financing companies that The Economist says, “are credited with fueling much of America’s rampant economic growth by enabling companies with bright ideas to get the money they need to develop them.”
Education, Lowell Milken tells Philanthropy, “prepares our youth to participate in, defend, question, and understand our democratic government.” That commitment to education has led the foundation to establish six educational programs, one of the most famous of which is the Teacher Advancement Program (TAP).
Because high-quality teachers and principals are key to educational excellence, TAP works to acquire, train, and advance the best talent in the teaching profession. The program has five interrelated principles:
1. Multiple career paths
2. Market-driven compensation
3. Performance-based accountability
4. Ongoing, applied professional growth
5. Expanding the supply of high-quality educators
The goal is to allow the best teachers to advance within the teaching profession, while earning salaries that reflect their achievements and allow them to succeed financially. The program currently operates in 45 schools in seven states, with additional districts and states in the development stages.
Another educational initiative is the Milken National Educator Awards, which operates in 46 states. The awards recognize exemplary educators with an unrestricted $25,000 cash prize-to date, there have been 1,877 K-12 teachers, principals, and specialists. Winners are then connected by the foundation to the national and state-level Milken Educator networks, which encourage and empower recipients to work with community leaders and policymakers to strengthen educational programs and teacher quality.
In the field of medical research, says Lowell Milken, “both the public and private sectors have a responsibility” to support research and to encourage students to consider the discipline. Milken itself funds research on prostate cancer-the disease that struck Michael Milken-through CaP CURE (also known as the Prostate Cancer Foundation) and epilepsy through the American Epilepsy Society/Milken Family Foundation Epi- lepsy Research Award, Grant, & Fellowship Program. Both programs fund basic research aimed at uncovering the building blocks of these diseases. In addition to providing research funding, CaP CURE sponsors clinical trials for both traditional and alternative theories of treatment. It also matches scientists who have cutting-edge ideas with businesses developing new products. This matching service reduces the time required for treatments to move out of the lab to patients who need them.
CaP CURE is today the largest source of private funding available for prostate cancer research and has sponsored nearly 1,000 programs worldwide. When CaP CURE started in 1993, prostate cancer was a stepchild in medical research. Today, CaP CURE grants have dramatically changed the landscape. From 1993 to 1999, the number of research papers published each year on the topic was up 1.5-fold, and media coverage of the disease was up 4.3-fold. A cure has yet to be found, but CaP CURE has quickened the pace of research and greatly increased options for those diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Spending What Is Necessary
“Our objective is achieving our mission, not foundation longevity,” says Lowell. To that end, the foundation is dedicated to spending whatever resources from its $239 million corpus it believes are necessary to attack a problem. In 2001, the foundation paid out over $24 million in grants, in addition to its ongoing investment in foundation initiatives such as TAP. “Why doom more students to futures limited by poor education,” Lowell asks, “if we have the ability to make significant improvements right now through an expanded Teacher Advancement Program?”
The foundation’s willingness to spend what is necessary is likewise evident in the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, an ambitious project to preserve and record the sacred and secular music written for or inspired by Jewish life in America. The foundation’s efforts have successfully preserved the sounds and recorded the histories of a number of composers and performers who have since died. Slowing funding to the project, Milken explains, is simply not an option.
In joining the Roundtable, MFF looks to learn from other donors’ successes in giving and to share the strategies employed at MFF. “We all have much to learn,” says Milken, “to make our efforts and programs as effective as possible.”