Kamy Akhavan, Director of Content
Kambiz "Kamy" Akhavan, former CEO of ProCon.org, the nation's leading source of nonpartisan research on controversial issues, now leads the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California. As the Executive Director, Kamy oversees the operations of all Center components including the Unruh Institute of Politics, the Fellow's Program, the USC Dornsife/LA Times Poll, and community and global engagement. Kamy avidly writes and speaks on numerous topics including the power of debate, how to burst echo chambers, dialogue over division, how to save democracy through critical thinking, and why and how to teach controversial issues in school. In addition to those topics, Kamy has moderated debates, served on panels, and provided keynote speeches on marijuana, gun control, immigration, death penalty, physician-assisted suicide, college affordability, and more. Kamy has more than 20 years of experience in bridging divides at national levels. His work has served more than 200 million people, including students at more than 13,000 schools in all 50 states and 100 countries. He has been published and interviewed in textbooks, magazines, television, radio, newspapers, and websites including Reuters, Associated Press, Fox News, ABC, Washington Post, NPR, CNN, and CBS. Kamy was born in Iran, grew up in southern Louisiana, and has lived in California for over 25 years. He holds a BA and MA in History from UCLA.
Ben Austin, Director of Civic Engagement
Ben started his career in national Democratic politics, but has a track record of working “across the isle.” In addition to his many Democratic bonafides he also served as Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles for a Republican mayor (Richard Riordan) and was appointed to the California State Board of Education by a Republican governor (Schwarzenegger). Ben founded and led Parent Revolution from 2008-2014 where he invented, passed into law and implemented California’s landmark parent trigger law. He has worked on four presidential campaigns, served as communications director for the 2000 Democratic National Convention host committee and worked in the White House office of Political Affairs during the Clinton administration, coordinating politics for the President and First Lady in western states. Ben practiced law at Irell & Manella and served as a criminal prosecutor in the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office. Ben graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and cum laude from Georgetown Law School. Ben is a Fellow of the Aspen-Pahara Education Fellowship and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network.
Loren Bendele, CEO
Loren has spent the majority of his career leading teams to build user generated content technology platforms that effectively harness the “wisdom of the crowd.” He is the previous CEO and co-founder of Savings.com (acquired by Valpak) where users share and vote on deals, discounts and coupon codes. Savings.com also built Favado, a grocery community and mobile app to allow the community to find and vote on sales and coupons for local grocery stores. Loren has also been a supporter of K-12 public education and political reform. It was his passion for both of these areas (user generated content and education/political reform) that inspired the idea for Gell. He believes that civil discourse is a critical pillar of effective societies and that it is a natural evolution for technology to enable broad-scale and diverse civil discourse on important issues and elections to ultimately help society make better decisions. Earlier in his career he has worked as a strategy consultant with The Boston Consulting Group and as a chemical engineer with Dow Chemical. Politically he is an independent with a track record of voting for republicans, democrats and independents.
“The biggest problems and opportunities in society span across geographic and political boundaries. Environmental stewardship, managing pandemics, handling job displacements due to AI, reducing income disparities and other global challenges are not contained within one country. We must learn to collaborate and work together to make the best decisions; transparent civil discourse and healthy engagement will be required for society to build consensus and work together to manage our future.”
Adam Lane, CTO
Adam served a mission for the LDS church in Santiago Chile and returned to graduate from UCSB with a degree in Computer Science. After starting as a software engineer at Computer Associates, he has worked at progressively smaller companies, ultimately finding his sweet spot as a leader of small tech teams accomplishing big things. Adam considers himself a libertarian and votes independantly on each issue and candidate.
Tom Milligan, Director of University Relations
Tom Milligan began his career in the Santa Fe Bureau for the Albuquerque Journal – New Mexico’s leading daily newspaper, covering water rights, city politics, business and sports and simultaneously had a stint on radio as a morning drive news and sports “wacky sidekick.” From this eclectic mix, he moved into a 20-year career at public universities, and directed communications, marketing and government relations programs at Colorado State University, the University of Massachusetts, and the University of Tennessee – three states with three very different political environments. He also served on the board of American Public Land Grant Universities and worked as an advocate for higher education nationally. All this to say that he has spent his career being fully engaged, but never partisan, in local, state and national politics. Taking this stance has allowed him to see the value, and benefit, of true engagement, authentic interaction and fact-based debate. Gell offers a unique chance to build that kind of engagement into the social media atmosphere – a place where it is sorely lacking.
“Simply turning away from the toxicity in most digital debate is the best way for this kind of divisive politics to carry the day. We can do better, and we must. Gell is one way to insist on a fact-based exchange of ideas — all of the passion, none of the recrimination. I really believe this simple approach can make a difference, and we all owe it to our democracy to try.”