STEVEN OLIKARA, PRESIDENT
Steven Olikara is a nationally recognized change-maker, entrepreneur, political commentator, and executive. He serves as the President of Bridge Entertainment Labs (BEL), dedicated to activating entertainment media to elevate new stories of “us.” He is also the Founder & Former CEO of Millennial Action Project (MAP), the largest nonpartisan organization of young elected leaders in the U.S. Steven’s commentary has been featured in numerous national media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, NPR, NBC, the Washington Post, USA Today, and more. He recently made history as the first South Asian candidate for U.S. Senate in Wisconsin.
His journey is featured in the documentary film, “The Reunited States,” on Amazon Prime and PBS. Steven also hosted the podcast series, “Meeting in Middle America,” which featured guests such as Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley, former U.S. Senator Russ Feingold, and Emmy-winning comedian Charlie Berens. He is a frequent speaker on civic leadership at venues such as the Aspen Ideas Festival, Harvard’s Institute of Politics, SXSW, the National Press Club, the White House, the United Nations, and more. In 2018, he was invited to testify before Congress on issues facing millennial entrepreneurs and gig economy workers. An avid musician, Steven is a former radio DJ in his hometown of Milwaukee, WI, and co-author of the book, JFK: THE LAST SPEECH, on the role of artists in democracy.
Previously, Steven has advised two multi-platinum recording artists on youth empowerment and sustainable energy initiatives, including Akon Lighting Africa which electrified over 1 million homes in Africa with solar power. Steven serves on numerous Boards focused on causes close to his heart: human rights, democracy, national service, and the performing arts. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a Truman Scholar. Steven has been named a Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2017 and a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum.
Eric K. Ward
Executive Vice President, Race Forward, and Senior Advisor, Western States Center
Eric K. Ward
A nationally-recognized expert on the relationship between authoritarian movements, hate violence, and preserving inclusive democracy, Eric brings over 30 years of leadership in community organizing and philanthropy to his roles as Western States Center’s Executive Director and Senior Fellow with Southern Poverty Law Center and Race Forward. Since Eric took the helm in 2017, Western States Center has become a national hub for innovative responses to white nationalism, antisemitism, and structural inequality, towards a world where everyone can live, love, work, and worship free from bigotry and fear.
In his 30+ year civil rights career, Eric has worked with community groups, government and business leaders, human rights advocates, and philanthropy as an organizer, director, program officer, consultant, and board member. Currently Co-Chair for The Proteus Fund, Eric is a member of the Pop Culture Collaborative’s Pluralist Visionaries Program and the recipient of the Peabody-Facebook Futures Media Award. Eric is in high demand as a speaker and media source, and is the author of multiple written works credited with key narrative shifts, including “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism.” He has been quoted in The New Yorker, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, ESPN, NPR, BBC, Rolling Stone and numerous other media outlets, and regularly publishes on Medium and The Oregon Way blog. Eric is working on a forthcoming documentary about whiteness and race in America and is an aspiring singer-songwriter under the name of Bulldog Shadow.
Betsy Levy Paluck
Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs, Princeton University, Macarthur “Genius Award” winner
Betsy Levy Paluck
Betsy Levy Paluck is a Professor and Acting Chair in the Department of Psychology and in the Policy School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. Her research is concerned with the reduction of prejudice and conflict, including ethnic and political conflict, youth conflict in schools, and violence against women. She uses large-scale field experiments to test interventions that target individuals’ perceived norms and behavior about conflict and tolerance, including mass media and peer-to-peer interventions. Professor Paluck is a 2017 Macarthur Fellow, and has been the recipient of the Princeton University Graduate Mentor award and the Cialdini Award for field research.
Dr. Dave Caplan, PhD
Writer & Executive Producer of ABC’s “The Conners”
Dr. Dave Caplan, PhD
Writer and Executive Producer Dave Caplan has enjoyed a career in network prime-time television and feature films that spans more than 30 years. He is currently writer/Executive Producer and co-showrunner of ABC’s “The Conners,” and previously served as writer and Co-Executive Producer on the acclaimed “Roseanne” revival. That show was the highest-rated scripted show in a decade.
Among ABC’s other shows that Caplan has written and executive produced are “George Lopez,” “The Drew Carey Show” (showrunner), “Norm,” starring Norm MacDonald, and the ‘90s cult hit “Dinosaurs.” He was also writer/Executive Producer/co-showrunner of the FX series “Anger Management.” His other notable shows include “Parker Lewis Can’t Lose” and TNT’s police/medical drama “Rizzoli and Isles.” Caplan has been signed to several exclusive talent deals with major studios, where he developed new shows and consulted on numerous others. He has won numerous awards, including the Humanitas certificate and Environmental Media Award. Caplan has been quoted in many national publications and blogs, including The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Forbes, Entertainment Tonight Online, Variety, The Hollywood Reporter, CinemaBlend, The Wrap, Refinery 29 and several others.
Caplan holds a PhD in Psychology, focusing on media-related issues, from Fielding Graduate University. Having conducted original research into story’s influence on audience empathy, he regularly speaks at schools and universities on topics ranging from media and news literacy to audience psychology and narrative persuasion. Caplan is an advisor to the Civic Health Project, which aims to decrease toxic partisanship and polarization.
Caplan is represented by management agency Odenkirk-Provissiero Entertainment.
President of Iron Light Labs
Jo Jensen is the president of Iron Light Labs. As a serial entrepreneur, Jo has created three successful companies, led non-profits, produced award-winning films, and designed high-profile marketing campaigns. An invited speaker at the White House, Jo’s work has been featured in national news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Good Morning America, IndieWire, and People Magazine. Jo specializes in impact production for documentaries and earned a Guinness World Record in 2012 for organizing the world’s largest movie premiere with 28,442 people in attendance.
Writer & Producer, “Cheers”; Co-Founder, Ricochet
Rob Long is a writer and producer in Hollywood. He began his career writing and producing TV’s long-running “Cheers,” and served as co-executive producer in its final season. During his time on the series, “Cheers” received two Emmy Awards, and two Golden Globe awards. Mr. Long has been twice nominated for an Emmy Award, and has received a Writers Guild of America award. He continues to work in film and television in Los Angeles and New York.
He is the co-founder of the podcast network Ricochet. Along with a series of podcasts that garner four to five million downloads per month, it’s alsonan online community for discussion and conversation from the center/right perspective.
His weekly podcast, Martini Shot, is available here and all podcast platforms. He writes regularly for The Washington Examiner and Commentary Magazine, and had been a Contributing Editor at National Review since 1993.
In recent years, he has been a columnist at The Spectator (London), The National (Abu Dhabi’s English-language newspaper), and The Observer.
His first book, Conversations with My Agent, chronicled his early career in television. It was published in the UK by Faber & Faber, in the US by Dutton, and in France by Actes Sud. His second book, Set Up, Joke, Set Up, Joke, was published in November 2005 by Bloomsbury.
His most recent book is Bigly: Donald Trump in Verse, published in October 2017 by Regnery.
Mr. Long graduated from Yale University, and spent two years at UCLA School of Film, Theater and Television, where he occasionally serves as an Adjunct Professor of Screenwriting. He serves as co-president on the Board of Directors of My Friend’s Place, an agency for homeless teens in Hollywood and is on the board of the American Cinema Foundation. He’s also an active and passionate member of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
On Twitter and Instagram, he’s rcbl.
Chief Executive Officer, Search for Common Ground
Shamil Idriss is CEO of Search for Common Ground (Search), an international non-profit organization whose mission is to transform the way the world deals with conflict, away from adversarial approaches toward cooperative solutions. With over 1,000 staff working in 30 countries, Search is the largest dedicated peacebuilding NGO and was nominated by the Quakers for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize. Understanding the power of media and narrative to amplify excluded perspectives and to influence social norms, Search produces hundreds of hours of dramatic and “reality” media programs through TV, radio and digital platforms each year, reaching tens of millions of people in conflict-affected societies. Prior to his current role, Idriss was the CEO of Soliya where he led a public-private sector coalition to establish the field of virtual exchanges. In 2005, he was appointed by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as Deputy Director of the UN Alliance of Civilizations. He served on the Steering Committee of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100 Leaders and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders and recipient of the 2015 Open Society Foundation’s New Executive Award.
Executive Producer, Two-time Emmy and NAACP Image Award Nominee
Riaz Patel is an Executive Producer/Director of TV series & media projects that create ‘perspectiveshifting’ experiences for real people. He has been nominated for Two Emmy-Awards, an NAACP Image Award, a Women’s Image Network (WIN) Award for creatively leading shows like HOW DO I LOOK? forNBC/Universal, HOW TO LOOK GOOD NAKED for Lifetime, FAMILY SOS WITH JO FROST for TLC, RACE TO ESCAPE for Discovery and many others. His shows have been filmed in twenty-one countries and distributed worldwide by companies like Discovery, A&E, MTV, NBC/Universal, Hulu, & Netflix. His most recent project, “The RAD Impact Awards” featured Priyanka Chopra, Margot Robbie, Charlize Theron, Laverne Cox & Travis Scott and earned 138.4 million impressions online. He is represented worldwide by ICM Partners.
Beyond the “screen world,” Riaz has also created entertainment-based solutions for real world problems: immersive “perspective-shifting” experiences that can catalyze change very quickly with a completely unconventional approach.
The first of those projects is a ten-year collaboration with The Jenesse Center, a domestic violence shelter in Los Angeles, to offer authentic ‘Self-Esteem Makeovers’ for victims of domestic violence. For his creation of ‘The Style Center at Jenesse’ – a physical boutique/salon within the shelter itself, Riaz was awarded the Silver Rose Award from Halle Berry, a special commendation from the City of Los Angeles, and the project was recently featured in a pivotal scene of the hit Netflix scripted series, MAID, about domestic violence.
Working directly with HRH Princess Reema of Saudi Arabia (currently the Saudi Ambassador to the US), Riaz creates tv programs and interactive workshops for millions of women in her nation. His work is specifically focused on helping women develop their personal identity and sense of self as they begin pursuing new rights, opportunities, careers, and dreams as equal citizens.
In reaction to the growing “divide” in America – and our social media-induced communication crisis – Riaz created The EPIC System, a new framework that changes HOW we talk about divisive issues. Forbes describes EPIC as: “Refreshingly elegant and simple, but under-girded by sound behavioral science, The EPIC System is a game changer for those working to build bridges while breaking down walls.” Riaz & his EPIC System have been mentioned in Forbes, The Washington Post, CNN, The Blaze, The Daily Beast, and The Huffington Post. EPIC is currently taught at universities, high schools, companies, and places of worship.
After seven years of testing, in 2022 Riaz will launch ConnectEffect, a 60-minute in-person experience, that will take large groups of total strangers – from all sides – and quickly emotionally connect them to each other. Once “connected” the audience will have desperately-needed conversations with each other about the real issues that are dividing them – but with real connection, compassion & understanding.
Emmy-nominated Writer and Producer
SJ MURRAY (Ph.D., Princeton) is an Irish-born EMMY®-nominated writer and producer (IMDb), award-winning director, and author. She is known for Primary Concern (2013, for which she was nominated for an EMMY for writing and producing), the Netflix hit Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution(2017), The Need to Grow (2018), executive-produced with Rosario Dawson, Five Years North (2020, an intimate portrayal of U.S. immigration that won Grand Jury Prizes at the Academy-qualifying Rhode Island International Film Festival and DocNYC), and Palliative (“Dying in Her Mother’s Arms”), a viral NYT OpDoc that was nominated for a 2021 News & Documentary EMMY. Her writing, producing, and directing for short-form content has also been recognized with numerous international creative awards, including the Silver TELLY® for excellence in video and television, and Communicator Awards® of Excellence and Distinction from the Academy of Interactive & Visual Arts. In 2018, she was selected as one of the #50Women[who]Can change the media & entertainment industries, and in 2020 she was awarded the “Film in Action” achievement award from the Ouray International Film Festival. She is a tenured faculty member at Baylor University and lives in Austin, TX.
Writer & Executive Producer “That 70s Show,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
Dean Batali worked as a writer on “That 70s Show” for seven years, serving as an executive producer for the show’s final season. He wrote for the initial two seasons of “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer,” and has written for “Duckman,” “The Half-Hour News Hour,” and “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.” He was the head writer for the first season of the DisneyJr series “Puppy Dog Pals” and executive producer and showrunner for the third and fourth seasons of the Hallmark Channel’s “Good Witch.” Before coming to Los Angeles, Dean worked as an actor and playwright for Taproot Theatre Company in Seattle, Washington, and has written and produced numerous musical theater productions. He is a graduate of The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, and live in Los Angeles with his wife of 35 years, Beth. The have two daughters, Erin and Katharine.
As the Executive Director of Civic Health Project, Kristin is dedicated to accelerating the efforts of academics and practitioners who seek to reduce polarization and improve civil discourse in our citizenry, politics, and media.
In addition to her role at Civic Health Project, Kristin serves on the advisory boards of AllSides, Business for America, and Listen First Project. She also serves as a year-round lecturer in Strategic Communications at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Prior to her current work in civil discourse, Kristin held senior executive roles at Intel, IBM, and multiple start-up software companies. She holds a BA in Political Science and an MA in International Policy Studies from Stanford University, and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Rob Romero co-founded the Civic Health Project following the 2016 presidential election, acknowledging the dangerous reality that increasing animosity and disdain between political factions not only undermines the capacity of our democratic process to yield cooperative and constructive leaders but also, in a more severe scenario, could threaten the very existence of a united nation. Rob is a passionate advocate for research, insights, and tools that help human behavior & biases, social media, and democracy to “play better” together, reducing the corrosive forces of polarization.
Rob is currently the CEO of Connective Capital, an investor in emerging growth companies. Prior to launching Connective, Rob held leadership roles in marketing and engineering at Cisco Systems and various tech startups. Rob earned his BA in Economics, BS in Electrical Engineering, and MS in Engineering Economic Systems from Stanford University.
Director of Strategic Initatives
Research & Operations Assistant
As Civic Health Project’s Research & Operations Assistant, Sofia supports several operational activities and helps develop new strategic projects. At the present moment, she primarily works on improving our fundraising and communication efforts and promoting the adoption of SCIM (previously called PQ/BQ), an impact measurement tool for bridging interventions.
Sofía holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Government from Torcuato di Tella University in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Prior to Civic Health Project, she was a research assistant on legislative behavior at her Alma Mater and worked at CIPPEC, a prestigious public policy think tank.
Social Media and Web Marketing Manager
As the Social Media and Web Marketing Manager, Cambria amplifies the message of decreasing affective polarization through the organization’s social media and web presence.
Prior to Civic Health Project, Cambria worked to leverage community members in volunteerism and civic engagement through the American Red Cross and UNICEF USA. In addition, Cambria completed a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship in Nova Scotia, Canada, studying the impact of education policy on indigenous populations and examining issues of educational justice. Cambria holds a Triple BA in Political Science, Peace Studies, and Religious Studies from Chapman University, and a MA in Political Communication from the University of Florida.
Of Americans believe that other Americans are the biggest threat to the country
Of Americans report having “too little” or “far too little” trust in each other
Of Americans say political polarization is a threat to America
Culture may be the last thing standing in this country that can bridge our divides.Eric K Ward, Executive Director, Western States
Center and BEL Advisory Council Member