I work for the Milken Institute – a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank that helps people build meaningful lives. As the Executive Director of the Milken Institute Asia Center, I am responsible for creating the strategic vision, executing our plans, managing operations, and developing programs. The Milken Institute Asia Center provides neutral platforms and in-depth research for regional and global leaders to address equitable and inclusive access to capital, healthcare service, education, and employment in the Asia-Pacific region.

Laura Deal Lacey
Executive Director, Milken Institute

What inspired you to work in the international association sector? Would you recommend this career to others? Why/ why not?

We live in an increasingly divided world with a fragmented media landscape; it is important to create neutral platforms that bring global leaders together – virtually or in-person – to discuss the issues that are shaping our region and the world. There is an pressing need for global stakeholders to work together towards long-term sustainable and equitable solutions for individuals, communities, industries, and the planet.

I would recommend this career to anyone who is passionate about connecting people and solving challenges affecting the world. Working closely with experts and leaders in business and government to tackle key issues in the region has been a fantastic experience.

Can you remember a time when you needed to #BreakTheBias – either your own, or that of someone else? What lessons did you learn from this experience?

When I was 25 years old, I saw the photo of a panel I organized in the front page of a major newspaper, and instead of being proud I felt ashamed for putting together a “manel” – an all-men panel. I didn’t feel represented by my own work. It became clear to me that I needed to do better. Therefore, I started a Women Leaders Program at the organization where I worked at the time, with the aim to increase participation of women leaders as speakers. This was way before DEI became mainstream. When I look at where we are today, twenty-one years later, I hoped that we would have made more progress but, at the same time, I see that we are headed in the right direction. Representation is definitely improving. I am hopeful that by the time my 10-year-old daughter is in her 30s, representation won’t require special attention, it will be an inherit part of how organizations operate.

How important are diversity, equity, and inclusion for the future success of associations? What have you done to improve DEI? Did it work? Why/ why not?

Diversity, equity, and inclusion is necessary not just for an organization’s long-term success and sustainability, but also helps us grow as a society. Having an inclusive and diverse environment in an organization, allows for wider perspectives to be shared, discussed, and integrated into solutions and new ideas in business. I have lived in five different countries; I’ve had the privilege of working with people with different backgrounds and cultures.

I am passionate about giving the spotlight to global voices. When I design CEO/global leader programs, I make sure that, beyond gender, race, and ethnicity, we are also inclusive of voices from emerging markets and leaders from different social economic backgrounds. DEI isn’t about checking boxes – it has to be done with clear intent of inclusion, it has to be deliberate and well thought out. To solve global challenges, we need to engage with every layer of society to ensure that different viewpoints and perspectives are included in the solution and to ensure that solutions work for large segments of society.