For Impact


The Gen Y Social Entrepreneur Wave: Part I

For Impact Ideas | | Nick Fellers

I’m reposting a series of series of essays from 2010. You will be reading a lot more from us ‘on talent’ in the coming weeks/months. It’s a great time to revisit ‘The Gen Y Social Entrepreneur’. (originally posted Feb 2010).


Talking about social entrepreneurship in our sector is like talking about clean energy in the energy sector… tons of chatter and conceptually, not new. Until recently I’ve dismissed much of the conversation as ‘change chatter’.

To be clear, I LOVE the concept of social entrepreneurship… the idea of people thinking creatively and with an entrepreneurial attitude about changing the world! I actually feared (and maybe still do) that all the hype will elevate to a level of buzzword jargon (and maybe it has).

Lately, I have a new perspective on ‘change chatter’. And this perspective is that it IS our future. Social entrepreneurship (esp the young SE’s) will define or re-define the ‘change sector’. It will probably continue to wash away traditional lines of not-for-profit and for-profit and continue to organize around ‘for-impact’ or any other jargon – I’m open.

Last summer I had a chance to be with Robert Egger in New York. He shared a narrative about how the activism of the 60’s and 70’s gave rise to today’s nonprofit sector. The passion that was seen in the form of protests and marches matured to result in much of the nonprofit sector growth in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

This got me thinking about all this ‘social entrepreneur’ stuff and ‘change chatter’. From Ashoka to David Bornstein’s book to the Stanford Innovation Social Review… a lot of stuff. From what we, at The Suddes Group, are seeing in-the-field there is CLEARLY a swell from those in their 20’s.

Literally, out of nowhere, we’ve had a number of new young-social-entrepreneur-movement-type-orgs pop up on our radar – either they’ve attended boot camp or we’ve met up with them in the field.

As a side note, if you ever get to hang out with any of these orgs or any other Gen Y social entrepreneurial orgs – do it. Incredible energy, passion, enthusiasm. Pretty damn refreshing.

It’s cool to think about the nonprofit sector as we know it today and think about the DNA injected from the chatter of the 60’s and 70’s and then think about what it will or won’t be in 10-15 years.

Who cares how one defines ‘social entrepreneurship’? I’m up for the downstream effect of the ‘chatter’. Here comes a generation that only knows of the world as flat and one that isn’t caught up on for-profit or not-for-profit but going at the goal to save lives, change lives and impact lives in the best possible way…. That simply by using the word ‘entrepreneurship’ entertains an entirely new vocabulary and way of thinking.

They’ve already given a cache to the movement. In and of itself, that is an achievement. We have two new Notre Dame grads working with us The Suddes Group. When I came on board ten years ago (also out of ND) people seemed to look at me with pity for ‘wanting to spend my life with charities’. Pat and Mark – they’re like rock stars – jumping into the new world of social entrepreneurship!

Read The Gen Y Social Entrepreneur Wave: Part II