I’m writing this post on the heels of Donald Trump’s election victory, one of the most stunning upsets in American political history. His defeat of Hillary Clinton overturned years of wisdom about how campaigns operate and put the spotlight on how America’s demographics are changing.
Predicting the future of U.S. government is challenging, but this much is certain: Government isn’t engaging the future majority.
Millennials represent the largest generation in history. To them, the world is filled with injustice and need, but government isn’t the solution. Millennials believe in social entrepreneurship, meaning they think they can do well both financially and for the world around them.
- 56 percent would take a pay cut to work somewhere that is positively changing the world
- 85 percent make purchasing decisions based on a company’s link to a cause
- 81 percent donated money, good or services, even during the recession
- More than two-thirds believe they could make more of a difference in the world by running their own business than they could by running for political office.
As social entrepreneurs, millennials pursue opportunities to solve the world’s problems. As these problems have grown increasingly complex, the big question is: How can the problem-solving work of society be redesigned so it is more responsive to our needs?
Hence, advocacy is changing. Millennials expect associations to focus on a greater good and to engage them in the process.
Three generations ago, the federal government could address many forms of injustice through legislation by mandating a 40-hour workweek, instituting a minimum wage and establishing housing codes.
Today, our societal challenges in education, health or the environment demand innovation from many directions — and a faster response. Furthermore, the capacity and motivation needed to solve problems is now widely dispersed.
Associations have access to some of the best talent and ideas among thousands — even millions — of people, but advocacy can’t be about motivating people to send letters to elected officials anymore. Associations must think like social entrepreneurs and find ways to elicit, nurture and harness the talents of millions of potential change-makers for a greater good.
In 2006, Blake Mycoskie visited Argentina and was struck by the intense poverty and lack of shoes for children. He created TOMS, a company that would donate one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair sold. The motto of this multi-million dollar company to “be in business to help change lives” has resonated with millennials, donating more than 10 million shoes in just 7 years.
From building major league baseball stadiums to getting legislation passed that protects hundreds of businesses from closure, I’m familiar with several examples of associations using advocacy for good. However, there are some key differences between social entrepreneurs and advocacy — practices that associations would benefit from adopting.
Advocacy as we know it is declining and becoming irrelevant, while social entrepreneurism is growing.
In the current political climate of scandals, heightened partisan discourse and a struggling economy, politics are a challenge few young people are willing to tackle. Young people feel frustrated, powerless to make a difference, distrusting, fearful and uninformed.
This is a challenge associations can help solve.
More than half of our nation’s top-elected officials were holding an office by the time they were 35 years old. That trend of young Americans running for office has ceased. Associations can help change this.
Beginning in the 1980s, civics requirements in high schools were gradually reduced. Associations can educate and inspire young people about the importance of government and create processes for engaging them.
Why bother? Because even though the voting majority is getting younger, America’s political representatives are getting older. Because the participation of young, motivated people has the potential to revitalize America’s federal, state and city governments. And because as young adults begin their careers and families, we need everyone – regardless of party affiliation – to understand, support and engage in our nation’s political system.
We might not be able to predict the future of government, but we can improve how we educate and engage future generations. Our democracy depends on it.