HORSE SHOE, North Carolina – Underemployed, drowning in school debt and yet still vying for a better world via nonprofit work, the Millennial Generation has the potential to spur change on an international scale. Sporting the latest Macintosh product and vintage sneakers, this demographic of 90 million is revolutionizing the philanthropic fight against global poverty.
She left for Eastern Iowa on August 12, 2014. Flying out of Asheville Regional Airport, the 18-year-old North Carolinian watched as a carpet of Appalachian mountains slowly turned into flat plains. It was here, after choosing to forgo college, that Katie Miller began her 10 month journey as an AmeriCorps member.
“There were several moments when I thought, ‘This is the greatest decision I have ever made,’” Miller said.
Though referred to as the “Me, Me, Me” generation by TIME magazine, an increasing number of 18 to 29-year-olds are choosing to follow this service driven path. As the 2013 Millennial Impact Research Report suggests, 72 percent of millennials are eager to join a nonprofit organization.
ThinkImpact, a Colorado based educational corporation, takes young people to developing countries for social innovation “institutes.” According to Saul Garlick, the organization’s CEO, individuals in “Generation Y” want to bring social change in a unique way.
“Millennials are looking for authentic ways to make a difference. That means they want transparency, they want immediacy, and they want to be a part of the critical equal,” Garlick said. “The more direct the interaction, the more powerful the experience. Millennials want to be able to see the change personally.”
This do-goodish pitch all comes back to high levels of empathy. The 2010 Pew Research Center report, entitled, “Confident. Connected. Open to Change,” further summarizes the complexities of the introspective demographic.
Raised by single moms during the Great Recession, exposed to horrific images of Katrina and forced to watch as the towers fell, millennials are actually more compassionate, sensitive and socially-conscious.
It is perhaps this touchy-feely perspective, coupled with the fact that 20 percent of millennials are living in poverty themselves, that motivates the younger generation to absolve economic inequities worldwide.
“Since 9/11, there’s been more of a – I don’t mean this to sound pejorative – knee-jerk reaction to start a new charity whenever something goes wrong,” said Chuck McLean, vice president of research for GuideStar, which collects, analyzes and distributes information about nonprofits.
With the help of intensive online reporting, technology and social media, poverty-ridden countries are receiving more exposure. Tack on the fact that 83 percent of 20-something-year-olds actually sleep with their cellphones and there is a perfect storm.
Movements such as #EndPoverty 2030 or the “Live Below the Line” challenge are examples of what happens when millennials, as Garlick states, “operate at the intersection of technology, transparency, and hands-on activity.”
And no matter how much flack they receive from boomers, the civic-minded “Generation Y” has big plans for the world’s people.
“Community service is part of their DNA. It’s part of this generation to care about something larger than themselves,” says Michael Brown, co-founder and CEO of City Year, which places young mentors in urban schools. “It’s no longer keeping up with the Joneses. It’s helping the Joneses.”
– Lauren Stepp