Adam Torres and Emily Musil Church discuss the Milken–Motsepe Innovation Prize Program.
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The Milken–Motsepe Innovation Prize program is a series of multiyear, multimillion-dollar innovation competitions for technological solutions that accelerate progress toward the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In this episode, Adam Torres and Emily Musil Church, Ph.D, Senior Director, Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy, explore the Milken–Motsepe Innovation Prize program and the Milken Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.
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About Emily Musil Church:
Emily motivated by a deep drive to inspire and connect resources to others who envision and build a better, more sustainable, and more equitable future for themselves and their communities. She currently serves as Senior Director in the Center for Strategic Philanthropy at the Milken Institute, where she leads our Environment & Social Equity portfolio, as well as the Institute’s innovation competitions. She also serves on the Board of Trustees for Drew University.
Emily spent over a decade in academia where as a college professor she specialized in human rights, African history, global development, and women and gender studies. she then joined the XPRIZE Foundation where she led the education and equity domain. She has worked on a suite of prizes and initiatives for human equity, and operated large-scale multimillion dollar global competitions that brought together entrepreneurs, researchers, philanthropists, engineers, and budding innovators to develop new technology solutions to solve grand social problems.
About Milken Institute
The Milken Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank focused on accelerating measurable progress on the path to a meaningful life. With a focus on financial, physical, mental, and environmental health, we bring together the best ideas and innovative resourcing to develop blueprints for tackling some of our most critical global issues through the lens of what’s pressing now and what’s coming next.
Full Unedited Transcript
Hey, I’d like to welcome you to another episode of Mission Matters. My name is Adam Torres, and I’m proud to announce and happy and excited that we’re at the Milkin Conference 2023, and today we have on the line Emily Meel Church, who is the Senior director over at Milkin Institute Center for Strategic Philanthropy.
Emily, welcome to the show. Thanks so much, Adam. I’m thrilled to be here. All right, Emily, so we got a lot to cover. I understand an award was given last night. Oh yeah. We’re not going into it yet, but we got an award to talk about. I also wanna talk about the the Center for Strategic Philanthropy. I mean, we have a lot to cover, but before we get into all that, we’re gonna start this episode the way that we start them all with what we call our mission matters minute.
So Emily here at Mission Matters. What we do is we amplify stories for entrepreneurs, executives, and experts. That’s our mission. Emily, what mission matters to you? Whew. That’s a big question. So thank you so much for sharing that. I do think starting with mission and values is so important for any project, any story, anything you wanna do.
So for us at the Center for Strategic Philanthropy, we really look to find innovative solutions to connect. All sorts of people, family, foundations, corporations, to what matters most to them. And we help build roadmaps for how to get there and the most impactful ways that they can share their philanthropic dollars.
At the Center for Strategic Philanthropy, I run our environment and social equity portfolio. So when I think about what. Matters to me personally. It’s really about how can we get people around the world no matter who they are, being engaged with helping to build a better world. There are great ideas and massive talent everywhere.
The main issue is most people need access to resources, bridges, doors opened, that sort of thing, so that their creativity and their talent can be amplified to go out and do good in the world. Any bit that I can play in that. Makes me excited to get up in the morning. That is exciting. First off, thank you for making some time for us.
I know you’re busy, busy, like this conference, I mean over 800 speakers. Tell, tell me about that. Yeah. The Milk and Institute Global Conference is unlike any other you can see and probably feel the energy being here, but for those of you who aren’t here, I mean, we have thousands of people gathered from all sorts of sectors from around the world.
All in the Beverly Hilton just brimming with ideas and optimism and connection. That’s a really exciting thing about this conference. So yes, it’s busy, but the busyness is really a part of this energy that is full of. An energy that is people who are trying to do good things in the world. So it’s exciting.
So one of our goals here at Mission Matters and one of the reasons that we’re covering the conferences, we want our audience, so many don’t know as, as big as the Milk and Institute is as big as the Milk and Global conferences. Many don’t maybe haven’t heard of it or they kind of heard of it, but don’t know necessarily what it’s all about.
So I’m curious, how did you discover the conference initially and just the Milk and Institute? Oh, so. Part of that was when I was living in Los Angeles seeing huge banners all around the city. So a lot of people in LA know the Milkin Global Conference. Mm-hmm. But what really drew me to Milkin Institute was learning more about not only these incredible conferences, and there’s a series of others, convenings we do throughout the year, things on Future of Health.
We have a Middle East Africa Summit, all sorts of. Convenings, but there’s also a huge amount of work behind it. Mm-hmm. So while we’re a nonpartisan non-profit think tank, our founder, Mike Milken likes to say, we’re also an action tank. Yeah. And for me, that connection of being able to really think deeply about issues, convene people across all sorts of sectors, political spectrum, whatever it may be.
Mm-hmm. And then take action. Mm-hmm. That part makes the Milkin Institute really exciting. So let’s go a little bit further into what, what you do on a day-to-day at the, lemme make sure I get this right. Center for strategic philanthropy. So tell us a little bit more about the center. So there are three main pillars at the Milkin Institute, health, finance, and Philanthropy.
So in philanthropy, our role is to really think about how we have the most impact from philanthropic dollars. We know that philanthropy is quick, it’s nimble, it can respond to things, and then it connect to other sources of of assets, so it can connect to public funding and that sort of thing. How do we bridge the gap between need?
And then really scaling ideas. We work on a broad range of initiatives at the Center for Strategic Philanthropy. From biomedical research, we have quite a large portfolio in biomed, and then in our social and environment portfolio, we work on things ranging from energy, criminal justice reforms, sustainable fashion so anything that is really a critical need that fits in with the work we do at the Milk and Institute.
We dive in. We talk to all the experts. We figure out where there are gaps, where there’s need. We build a roadmap for action, and then we take action. Yeah. And that’s a new term for me, by the way. I’m gonna take that one with me. So this is an action tank I’m in. That works. That works well for me. So speaking of taking action, so you, you may not be aware of this, but cause I don’t think our, we’ve released some of those other interviews, but one of the questions that I’ve been asking some of the others here was what is your favorite moment at the milk, at the Milk and Global Conference so far?
And you keep coming up. So one of your projects. I understand there was an award given last night. Can you maybe tell us a little bit more about that since you’re one of the favorite moments? So when I ask you that question, they’ll just say, you know, you can’t say yourself. Well, okay. Let’s, let’s start with the award though.
Okay. And let me also thank you for saying that, and that’s very humbling to hear. What I think people are probably resonating with is the idea that we brought entrepreneurs from. Five different countries here in Milk and global who’ve been spending the last two years building new programs, new innovative solutions to support small holder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa.
So we sourced people. We sat on a call for. People to, to bring more food to the table. Mm-hmm. While bringing economic value to small holder farmers, we had over 3,500 people from 105 countries. It was, it was bonkers. That’s what I do on the day today. I’m like well, so thousands of people from all over the world.
Mm-hmm. Joined in, they had these great ideas. We got a panel of judges to pick 25 of these teams. Mm-hmm. We gave them a quarter million dollars in funding to get started on their projects. And then we worked with them for a year connecting them to all sorts of resources. Training with Stanford online through Global Innovation ca, catalyst Partners partnership with World Food Program to go check out their work in the field, verify their data a true pick.
We had a platform that we use that also validates data. We had individualized mentors for these teams. I mean, really engaging to say what is it that you all need to succeed and how can we best. Provide that. At the same time, it was all wrapped up in a competition Wow. Where people had a $1 million grand prize they were competing for.
So trying to do good in the world and then trying to compete for this prize. So anybody who’s been following the Milk and Woode Prize has seen, learned about these competing teams as they’ve been going along. So I think the excitement that people were talking about is following. You know, well, more than a year’s worth of work of getting to know these teams, of seeing them really change their product, work with farmers, try to do good in the world, and finally get to this moment where we declare a winner.
Wow. Can you talk a little bit maybe about why this, this area was targeted for such an initiative? Cause I don’t wanna assume that maybe some of our listeners or viewers know. Sure. Great. Well, we partnered with the Mozee Foundation, who are based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and formed the Milk and Zepe Innovation Prize Program.
Mm-hmm. So it’s a multi-year program, or we have a series of these competitions linked to the UN Sustainable Development goals. So when we were working with the Mo Sepe Foundation and saying, well, where should we start? So we basically wanna do. All the things that are good in the world, and we thought, let’s look to those sustainable development goals.
The first two are ending poverty and zero hunger. So we thought, let’s look to farmers. Let’s look to agriculture. Mm-hmm. So in Sub-Saharan Africa, right now, 60% of people are employed in agriculture. 80% of that output is from small holder farmers. So we said that’s where we wanna start. That’s where we can make the most impact.
So we chose Ag Agritech as the first competition. Hmm. And when you say small holder farmers mm-hmm. Like what, what does that mean? So rather than really large industrial farms who tend to have a lot of the profit from food creation, small farms are ones that we defined as as 10 hectares or less.
Mm-hmm. So it’s the majority of farms in Africa where people are getting food for their communities or their nearby vicinity. And we were saying, how can we make sure that. The food that right now is about 40% of the food produced is just lost. Mm-hmm. Then there are also issues with climate change and other things that we’re not getting the same yields or people have to respond to climate.
So a lot of challenges that farmers are facing and we want to make sure to focus on them. I said from the beginning, we always wanna think about where can you have the most impact. Mm-hmm. There are. A million, probably more problems in the world that are worth solving. Hmm. Thinking about where to start and diving in on something is what we do.
That’s the strategic part of the strategic philanthropy. So that’s why we started with a agritech. Yeah. And the reason I asked that question, by the way, is cuz I’m trying to wrap my head around it. I, and I’m guessing so of my audiences as well, what it looks like to have. Thousands of submissions from thousands of areas.
Yes. And to think about like the, just the management side of that. I want, I want you, I won’t bug you with that one today, but I know that was quite a bit. But are there any obviously now the award’s been given Yes. Are there, has there any of the, either the, the tech and or individuals or things that you’d like to comment on just regarding the award in general?
Of course. How much time? There we go. So I’ll encourage everyone to go to milton mope prize.org to check out more about all of our winning teams. So we had five winners. In addition to that $1 million grand prize, we had a second place that got $300,000. Third place that got 150,000. And then we got two bonus prizes that we were able to give out.
One was the most creative use of fourth industrial revolution technologies. Wow. That’s very cool. Okay, define that please. So, fourth industrial revolution. That’s the, so cool. I don’t know what it is. It’s the, it’s the moment we’re living in. When you think about it, you study in school the industrial revolution.
There’s actually a series of industrial revolutions that have transformed humanities. We are living in the fourth industrial revolution. So that’s things like, Ai, big data, robotics, all that sort of technology that is developed at such a fast pace that we as humanity have to figure out. What are we gonna do with this?
Mm-hmm. Is it something like any technology that has been developed, the railroad? Mm-hmm. The printing press, anything else there can be good that comes from it and there can be bad that comes from it. Mm-hmm. So what can we do as humanity to figure out with this new tech, how do we try to harness it for good?
Mm-hmm. So we actually built that into the milk and the innovation prize program. Hmm. That’s why we wanted to say, of course, there’s lots of ways to solve problems. Is there some way that we can use that new technology in order to scale? Because that’s one of the main issues people can. Have something that’s a solution that will work in a small area.
Mm-hmm. But with a growing human population, we wanna look for solutions that are gonna be able to grow and scale and help as many people as possible. Hmm. So to answer your question, well there was one other president didn’t mention, which is our people’s choice. So we did have a public voting campaign.
So that was something where we wanted to engage the public to say, what do you think? You know, we have all these experts who are brought in in the World Food program, et cetera. But what do people think? What product would you really wanna buy? What do you think has the, the biggest effect in your communities?
Mm-hmm. So those were the five prizes we gave out for some of the technology or the things that we saw. I think a lot of these are technologies that can be used in other areas, other fields and scaled far beyond Sub-Saharan Africa. We wanted to make sure there were things that work specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa first, which is why we tested there.
So what we found of those five prizes, Three of them were in biotechnology. Hmm. So that was really interesting to see how people were using biotech. So that’s things like one had a drought resistant rice. Hmm. So something that, If there’s drought or flooding, it could resist up to two weeks of, you know, wow, something’s flooded.
Are you gonna lose all your crops? Or can you still have, have rice that you’re gonna be able to harvest? So that sort of thing that it’s not a robot hand that’s coming in and doing something. Yeah. But it is a technology that we are able to use to make sure that that food is growing. We had other ones that had machine learning and machine vision.
So lots of different technologies that we were excited to see and celebrate last night. And that’s amazing because as, even as you’re saying, When I think about that type of rice or sustainability like that has the power to save lives, right? Like that’s gonna feed people. Yes. Which is one of the big objectives.
Yes, it is. Yes. And our, our grand prize winner, I should say that’s probably something people are gonna look for was is a team called No Feed. And what they do is they use an upcycle organic waste. So from farms, restaurants, other areas, it’s. Using that organic waste and not just letting it go.
And they use biotechnology also to create organic, sustainable, plant-based protein as well as bio fertilizer. So it can be, so you’re using basically scraps, you’re cleaning up areas and then you’re using that to do things like it could be made for things like. Feed for fish, which is cheaper for farmers, gets more protein on the table.
It can be used on the field to make sure your crops grow more. It saves farmers money. Mm-hmm. On getting fertilizer, which can be expensive. It’s all organic, it’s plant-based. So, you know, we’re not just thinking about. The food itself. We’re also thinking about nutrition, sustainability, climate resilience.
Hmm. So if people were excited about about that moment, it really, I think it’s because you’ve got to see people who are out there who are dreamers. Builders who, I mean, I talked to one of them who was telling me how he sold his house in the city, convinced his wife and child to buy a farm. Wow. And go. And he’s like, if we’re gonna be doing this, we need to actually start farming.
So in addition to his company, he started farming spinach. So I mean it, they care so deeply and so passionately that that spirit of entrepreneurship, and I think for your audience, you know, people care a lot about entrepreneurship. Yeah. It resonates, you know, this is something we think about. Are we gonna look at challenges and shut down and say, there’s so many hard things happening in the world.
Are we gonna say There’s so many hard things happening at the world and I can play a part in doing something better. I can, I have an idea that could possibly change the world and save lives. And we saw that here on stage and there is. Hardly anything better than to celebrate that sort of spirit. Oh, it’s amazing.
And I think correct me if I’m wrong, I think some of this content will be streaming and live, like people are gonna, or I should say it’s streaming online and people will be able to even see some of this. Am I off on that or That is right. If we can get a link, maybe we can post it. Yeah. And people can watch cuz then you can hear from the five winning teams themselves, which Oh yeah.
Be way better than the way I can describe it. Oh, I’m, I’m not gonna, no, but I, no, you’re the teaser. So I’m in, I’m like, I didn’t, I didn’t have the privilege of seeing all of them yesterday, so I’m gonna have to watch. As well. Please do. Thank you. Yeah. We’ll, and we’ll def for the audience, we’ll definitely put a link to the, to the prize and all of the content in the show notes so that people can check it out.
Thank you. So you, you knew this question was coming. What is one of your tw milk in 2023 conference? This is forever in stone. What is one of your favorite moments so far? No pressure. Oh, I know it’s, Hard cuz there are so many. I will say one really powerful session was about criminal justice reform.
Mm. Which is an issue I care passionately about. Many of my colleagues were, were working on a, a project around criminal justice reform. So to hear directly from people who are spending their time, energy in this case also, they had John Legend, so celebrity. To really address this issue and talk about people who have lived experience with incarceration and what it means for all of society and for their broader communities.
That was really powerful. I will say there’s something called Milk and Magic. This is, what is that? Oh, so this was actually gonna be my more general answer, but I wanted to highlight one specific panel. So Milk and Magic is, This much broader feeling of these connections, that would never happen. Mm-hmm.
You walk by people, you can’t believe all these people are in one room. Yeah. And the opportunity to go and connect. I have never in all of my time seen anything like it. Mm-hmm. And the, the. This spark that happens. It really is milk and magic. And you know, behind the scenes we’re all working and scrambling, doing things.
We all do. Yeah. And then you get to a milk and event and it’s just like everything is possible. There are incredible people everywhere going out and building and making connections. That’s the milk and magic. Yeah. And, and I think that magic in the, let’s just say if it was encompassed or put into a bottle that app is amazing.
Like connecting people after the fact. I mean, for those that have had the privilege of attending the milk and conference, I highly recommend it. I mean, it’s, it’s amazing to get involved. And speaking of getting involved, yes. Like, like how do people, like some, for some people they’ll be in the business community, corporations, yes.
All over the place. And they may not know. Now they know. Little bit more about it, but in general, if people wanna get involved see the content, see more about what you’re working on, like how, how does that happen? Great. Well, you can find us on philanthropy dot milkin institute.org. I would encourage you to look at, particularly for those in corporations.
We had a really great public panel on corporate philanthropy. Really thinking about the role that corporations can play. It’s changing dramatically, and I think corporations are trying to figure out. How and where do we engage and what’s the best way? So we actually have a philanthropic leadership collective of corporate leaders.
So I think they’d be really interested in that panel and we could certainly talk about the work that we’re doing with corporate philanthropy. For business leaders, there are so many things on finance. I would encourage things like our diversity and asset management, inclusive capitalism panels. So we’ve got some incredible work.
There. I think you had my colleague Cheryl Evans on mm-hmm. Who has a amazing, and she is amazing and she has all sorts of work on, on really lifetime. How do you have financial security for a lifetime? So I think there’s something for all of your audiences for the entrepreneurs. I would direct you to our innovation competitions program.
So the Milk and Woode prize is one. We have other innovation competitions. We are always looking for entrepreneurs for mentors. Lots of ways to get involved, so please do find this. We’d fantastic. Connect. Fantastic. And then to the audience, we’ll put, of course what we’re gonna have a whole lot of links in the show notes so that you can just click on, on the links and check out everything that was mentioned, including the award and some of this this video that was streaming.
So, got a whole lot to see after this interview. Well, Emily, just wanna say really appreciate you coming on the show today. Take some time outta your busy conference schedule. I know you got many things to do, so we appreciate your time over at Mission Matters and really appreciate you coming on today. So thank you.
Thank you so much for having me on today. It was really a pleasure. Thank you.