Millenials and Social Entrepreneurship

The Washington Post published an article today, For This Generation, Vocations of Service: Recent College Grads Forgo Traditional Careers, Money to Start Nonprofits Focused on Outreach, that many pubTalkers may find interesting. Not only was I introduced to the term "Millenials" - those born in the late 1970's or 80's - but I was again reminded of the role of the social entrepreneurship in addressing societal needs.

The article states, "Social entrepreneurship, the movement in which people...launch ventures to address problems in impoverished areas, emerged nearly three decades ago and is growing in appeal among young adults. Every generation has its altruists. But many Millennials...are displaying a notable urgency to make social change, even as their peers seek high salaries through traditional paths of law and business."

The article also mentioned the importance of cross-sector collaboration in affecting long-term, sustainable change. Pamela Hartigan, co-author of the new book "The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World," explained: "In the 1960s and 1970s, politics was the way we thought of changing the world. But young people today. . . believe that change is going to be brought about by business and market discipline," Hartigan said. "And so they seek to set up enterprises, not to pad their pockets, but to transform what is broken in our societies in a long-lasting way." She added that some get restless: "They are very impatient about not having a job that's meaningless."

The notion that politics is no longer the way to change the world is intriguing - particularly given the upcoming election. I also wonder about the feasibility of continued social entrepreneurship in the immediate future given the dwindling funds available to nonprofits. Much to ponder...


Ann -- I think this is a really important point. Certainly, interesting innovation is occurring now as ideas cross boundaries and people experiment with various management practices and program development approaches to solve public problems. People of all ages and backgrounds are involved and the new information technology environment supports this fluidity. However, the 'field' of social entrepreneurship has been labeled and created in the last five years, holding up market-based solutions to problems as the primary source of innovation. I'm skeptical of its premise but for perhaps different reasons than you.

Update: Here is a critique of the whole field of social entrepreneurism.

The national economic events at the top of everyone's mind in the last few weeks highlights the fallacy that one sector can claim to be the source of innovation. What makes public affairs great in our democracy is the important roles of all three sectors. My experience highlights countless nonprofits that work in partnership with government to innovate and solve important public problems each day. In addition to politics, I hope that Millennials can find places in both nonprofits and the administrative arms of government to innovate. Jobs in these places are 'meaningless' only if we let them be. Until they are reclaimed and redesigned, we will be losing the valuable energy needed to make this country great again.

"The notion that politics is no longer the way to change the world is intriguing"

It's definitely intriguing, but as a millennial myself, hardly surprising. For many of us, our first real participatory experience in politics came was either the 2000 or 2004 national elections, both of which were, in my opinion, heartbreaking to say the least in so many ways.

This may be why many of us have turned to other avenues of change (nonprofits, social entrepreneurship, business, etc) because, government has failed to produce results for us. We put in our time, pounded the pavement, made phone calls, and ended up with, in our estimation, nothing to show for it. To put it bluntly, many of us feel like we got burned.

The attitude of many millennials now might well be "I can get together with my friends who care, and we can work really hard to fix a problem we see in society instead of waiting around for 51% of our city/state/country to agree with us." That’s not to say that we'll become disengaged from politics, or that we'll completely give up on it. I think this year's election shows just the opposite. But it does mean we won't be putting all our eggs in one basket anymore.

I think you're right, Susan, in that national elections did prove to be frustrating for many millenials when things didn't go as... well, expected. But I would argue that the motivation for seeking alternative avenues of change (or finding more baskets for eggs) goes far beyond elections. Government often seems inaccessible, glacial and far too bureaucratic to spark the energy and passion needed to "change the world." In my professional experience and as a millenial, that's often found in nonprofit work and social entrepreneurship. But I believe that to sustain change, we must enlist all sectors - including business, nonprofits and especially government.

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