For Impact


The Gen Y Social Entrepreneur Wave: Part II

For Impact Ideas, On Change in the Social Sector | | Nick Fellers

Read part I and Part III

I’m still a young pup but squarely at the end of the Gen-x era, which offers a pretty cool vantage point from which to reflect on upcoming Y-generation.

This part of my thinking is framed from questions I often get from boomers, usually leaders of organizations, that want to know what’s “wrong with kids these days”.

  • “They’re always looking for the next job.”
  • “Job security used to be a selling point, it’s like they don’t even care.”

I try to bridge the gap… I think we have to start with a completely different foundation to understand what lies ahead with this next generation and realize not what’s wrong but where there is immense potential for any group, company or organization.

Imagine you are 24 years old today. From the time you were 16-18 and beyond you’ve seen some interesting things that have framed your worldview:

  1. The dot-com crash & the housing bubble. Most generations see one big bubble and this generation has seen TWO by the time it’s entering the ranks of the real world. If you’re 24 your “adolescent to adult life” has been capped by bubbles.
  2. Enron / Detroit. You’ve seen big institutions crumble and vanish. Both because of mistrust and the changing world. Either way, the idea of trusting an institution is not something you disagree with.. It’s not even something you comprehend – you haven’t really seen a model in your lifetime.
  3. The Great Depression is lost (probably). Your grandparents probably didn’t live through the great depression.

    Those of us in our 30’s and certainly those older all had someone in their life that was impacted by the great depression. I know this shaped my parents and hence me in a way that has always made me/us a little ‘on guard’ or live with throttled optimism. Not all a bad thing but just very different, I would imagine if you never had this experience shaping you directly the throttle for optimism could be wide open.

  4. 9/11 – You were all set to take on the world, go to college, get a job… An event happens that forced so many of us to take pause and search for meaning and purpose in our lives.
  5. The web. For your entire ‘social life’ you’ve never not been connected to the web. You’ve never been more than a computer screen removed from anywhere else on the planet. It used to be that young adults were encouraged to ‘get out of town’ so that we would see some more of the world. The experience would open our eyes and make us think bigger about possibilities. Gen Y has ONLY lived beyond the walls of town, it’s ONLY wired to think bigger about possibilities….

Generally speaking, it’s not that this generation ‘doesn’t want a job’ or that they are lost on the internet. It’s that they are wired to see a bigger picture – one constructed in the ‘world is flat era’ — and more possibility with fewer restraints that we may have had because of our need to live within the walls of institutional safety. They aren’t shunning the systems we know, they just don’t know them – at all.

This is a generation that favors cool projects — full of meaning — over ‘career jobs’.
This is a generation that only knows the entrepreneurial spirit, not much by choice but more because the inverse of this spirit – whatever that may be – isn’t defined.
This is a generation that isn’t charting a course for retirement, 401k benchmarks and social security. Absent of this mode they are more free than you and I to think about meaning, purpose and significance.

This is a potential cocktail for that I think results in this new generation of social entrepreneurs — how the rest of us ride the wave is something we’ll have to figure out but it should be fun.