Feb 4, 2013

The Missing Generation

Much has been written about the current generation of young people. Most people
agree that they are optimistic and hopeful and really believe they can change the
world for the common good. As I shared in our Ten Trends white paper “The Face of
Change”, the young people I meet on college and school campuses across the nation
are greener, more politically and socially active, and more global in their views than
just a generation before. Call them the active generation. They are on the move,
seeking positive change, and leveraging technology and social networks to do it.

Interestingly enough, though, as they progress into their next stage in life, young
professionals might also be dubbed the missing generation. Church leaders will tell
you that young leaders are missing in their pews and in key leadership roles. Non-
profit leaders will suggest that they are missing in key leadership roles. Fundraisers
report that it is increasingly harder to gain their trust and financial support. And,
college presidents and heads of school are often faced with aging boards with fewer
rising stars. Is there something larger at work here?

When I step back and look at the current orientation and skill set of young
professionals today, it becomes painfully clear where they are spending their time
and energy – and where they are not. Young professionals today are looking for
places where they can make a clear, distinct difference with their limited time and
energy. This path often looks much more obvious in arenas such as social
entrepreneurship, where there exists few limitations or structural barriers to their
difference making. Just look at the rise of innovative fundraising and social activist
programs through technology. Who is often leading the charge? Young professionals.

If my thesis is accurate, why are young professionals missing from the board room? I
can think of three really good potential reasons why there is a lagging interest in
serving in traditional non-profit leadership roles from this generation.

1) Structural – Young professionals see the built-in, slow to change psyche of
education and other non-profits and don’t have the patience for it.

2) Social – Young professionals are less interested in social ladder climbing and status
attainment than they once were just a decade ago.

3) Systemic – Perhaps most concerning, young people have lost their confidence in
long-standing social institutions, whether it be government, finance, education, or
religion, and don’t have the trust anymore or passion anymore to build them up.

Whether this is merely an educated observation, or a larger trend, I see an increasing
challenge on the horizon. How will educational institutions grow and harvest the very
talent and passion of those in their classrooms to continue to serve in their own industry? How can they capture the innovation and collective social network savvy of
these people in order to advance the industry? Seems like a daunting task. I will be
curious how we solve it. Or, if we can solve it.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to share your comments and share the article
with your colleagues.

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