Larry Brilliant has been called a polymath, a visionary, and a man who has been at the right time and the right place for some of the most important events in our lifetime. He is a philanthropist, futurist, technologist, and renowned epidemiologist who led the World Health Organization’s Smallpox Eradication Program that saved 2 million lives. His life and career are filled with unexpected experiences and supported by a remarkable cast of characters. The stories of these experiences coalesce into moving talks that inspire audiences to adopt an optimistic outlook despite the many reasons not to, and to be the change they wish to see in the world.
Early in his career, Brilliant lived in a Himalayan monastery in India for nearly a decade. His teacher there advised him to use his medical degree for service and instructed him to join the World Health Organization Smallpox Eradication Program in New Delhi. The youngest member of the team, he learned epidemiology on the ground and eventually rose to leader of the WHO program in India and South Asia, becoming a pivotal figure in a historic campaign that achieved the first and only eradication of one of the oldest and deadliest diseases known to humanity.
Brilliant’s transforming experience in eradicating smallpox sparked his journey as a self-professed social change addict. Along side his wife, he co-founded the Seva Foundation, an NGO that has helped restore eyesight to over 30 million people in two dozen countries. He was the inaugural executive director of Google.org and defined the mission-oriented and strategic goals of Google’s philanthropic efforts. He is also the founding director of the Skoll Global Threats Fund and remains a senior counselor at the Skoll Foundation. In 2005, he founded and is currently the CEO of Pandefense Advisory, an interdisciplinary network of experts advising private, public, philanthropic, and nonprofit organizations on pandemic awareness, prevention, and response.
An MD and MPH who is board certified in preventative medicine and public health, Brilliant was an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan, chairman of the National Bio-surveillance Advisory Committee, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s agenda council on catastrophic risk. He was also a science advisor on Stephen Sodergergh’s Contagion, produced the Open Your Eyes and The Final Inch documentaries, and was featured in the documentaries Unseen Enemy, Saint Misbehavin’, Ram Dass Fierce Grace, and Medicine Ball Caravan.
His memoir Sometimes Brilliant is a riveting account of the heroic efforts of the extraordinary people involved in the eradication of smallpox in India. More than a simple chronicling of his atypical journey to this mission, it is a revitalizing testament to what can be achieved when passionate people unite around a common cause. His writing has been featured in Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Foreign Affairs,The Guardian,The Hill, and many peer reviewed publications. He has also appeared on BBC, PBS, NPR, NBC, Fox News, and is a CNN medical analyst with over 100 appearances on CNN shows in the past five years. In the fall, he will write a column for TIME magazine featuring the perspectives of a scientist and a religious scholar on topics such as omniscience and artificial intelligence, and epigenetics and reincarnation.
Brilliant has been named one of TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People and UC Berkeley’s International Public Health Hero, and is the recipient of the TED Prize, the UCLA Medal, and several honorary doctorate degrees. A highly sought after speaker, he has lectured at the White House, NIH, the Pentagon, the Royal Society and Oxford. He has delivered inspiring commencement speeches at many universities including Harvard, University of Michigan, and UCSF Medical School. In the corporate space, he has given over 100 presentations to top companies and events including Salesforce’s Dreamforce, Davos, Aspen Ideas, Google, and Cisco.
The Case for Optimism
In his work as a physician and epidemiologist, Larry Brilliant has witnessed some of the greatest existential threats to humanity, but he remains optimistic. Rather than focusing on all the hurt and harm in the world, he instead turns his sights to those beacons of hope working to make the world a better place. There are many reasons to be pessimistic about the future but with every act of goodwill comes an even more convincing reason to be optimistic. In this talk, Larry shares the incredible stories of ordinary people who accomplished extraordinary feats that changed the world—stories that keep his spirits high in the face of hardship. A call to action to everyone in the audience, this inspirational talk will leave audiences on a high note, motivated to fulfill their duty to make the world a better place.
Expanding the Boundaries of Philanthropy
What comes to mind when you hear the word philanthropy? Most of us think of hefty checks to worthy causes. But such thinking limits the act of philanthropy to the wealthy when, in fact, we should all commit to philanthropic efforts. Philanthropy isn’t always money, and money isn’t always the best solution. A global philanthropist who has founded and advised many charitable organizations in his career, Larry Brilliant asks you to think creatively about the ways you can give back. How can you serve your community with your time, your expertise, your access to things out of reach? We all have something to offer. For every aspect of our lives that we take for granted, there is someone for whom those very things could be life changing. Embracing philanthropy as a universal endeavor, regardless of financial means, empowers us to share our unique gifts and make meaningful impacts in the lives of others.