Being a student at a liberal arts college has taught me that the translation of thought is our society’s most valuable currency. So when I got an email from a subscription mailing list about the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic hosting an “Ideas Forum,” I knew it was time for me to embark on a spontaneous adventure. After lots of last-minute bookings, frenzied “fitting-my-life-into-a-bag,” and red-eye bus rides, I found myself at the doors of Washington, D.C.’s Sidney Harman Hall, ready to be seated in an auditorium filled with remarkably passionate people, all restless to talk about our time’s most pressing issues.

Cross-national collaboration becomes increasingly important as we see other developing societies become more and more stable. South Korea, for example, used to be a U.S. aid recipient, but has now reached the status of a donor country. According to Secretary of State John Kerry, this shift in global responsibility will require more diplomacy and dialogue between the U.S. and foreign governments. International collaboration is becoming increasingly vital for markets as well. Southern Company’s CEO Thomas Fanning noted that 80% of the world’s purchasing power lies outside the U.S. For business owners and entrepreneurs, this means that considerations of scaling globally and engaging international markets should be factored into business models.


Ebola requires readiness. Health infrastructures must be bolstered and strengthened to account for the possibility of outbreak, which is why President Obama commissioned a Global Health Security Council earlier this year. The theme of preparation is critical, and is especially applicable to preparing the next generation for our progressively technological society. Code has become a modern-day language and the alphabet needs to be taught early, according to White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith, who claims that code should be taught to 2nd graders. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker believes that the U.S. would be leading the world in 3D printing, internet design, and phototonics, underlining the importance of investing in innovation. 

With over a third of the conference’s speakers holding “CEO” or “Co-Founder” positions (such as edX’s Anant Agarwal, Etsy’s Chad Dickerson, and DEKA’s Dean Kamen), the notion became very clear that several groundbreaking advancements are on the horizon, and we need to get people involved and excited about the process.

The Washington Ideas Forum spanned diverse topics—everything from energy, to food, to political campaigns, to genomics, to defense, to sports. Without a doubt, though, Ebola held a special place in the conference, and for good reason. Not only did it speak to issues of science policy and health research, but it tied together other greater messages worthy of attention. 

So instead of criticizing the “unnecessary hype,” let’s continue the conversation, think out loud, and share our ideas.