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The Millennial Era: the Age of the Selfie? Or the Selfless?

By and - Jan 22 2015

Selfie

Observe: the Millennial in its natural habitat. It clings to its mobile device for dear life, a clear indication of both textbook materialism and a compulsive need for connectivity and entertainment. Look, as it exhibits characteristic narcissism by way of the “Selfie.” And listen, as it discusses the “I’m so special” mentality so typical of its generation. These “trophy kids” are fickle in everything from their brand preferences, to their employment tendencies, to their political beliefs, and remain an invasive species that threatens this habitat (read: society, economy), its growth, and its norms.

So read countless assessments of the “Millennial,” a narcissistic, materialistic, and parasitic creature whose transition into adulthood threatens to disrupt the status quo. But could it be that Millennials are disrupting the status quo for good? As Millennial development professionals who engage frequently with both the public and private sectors, we like to think so.

The recent launch of two Millennial surveys, one released by Deloitte just last week and another by Telefonica in the fall of 2014, prompted us to speak out on this topic. In spite of accusations that youth today are ushering in the Age of the “Selfie,” findings by both surveys indicate just the opposite, with Telefonica reporting that optimism among Latin American Millennials may actually be externally focused. The Orlando Sentinel writes that theirs “is not a selfish optimism…[as] seventy-two percent of Latin American Millennials believe they can make a positive difference in their countries…”

Looking at Millennials on a global scale, the Deloitte survey agrees that our generation is consciously focused on changing the status quo for good. Working through a corporate lens, the Millennials interviewed by Deloitte in 2015 as in years past do so through their consumerism and as talent currently employed by, and slated to lead, the private sector. According to this year’s edition, six in ten millennials report that “a sense of purpose” is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employers. Among “super-connected Millennials,” or those most active on social networking tools, there is an even greater focus on business purpose, with 77 percent reporting their company’s purpose was part of the reason they chose to work there. Given that a previous edition of the Survey reported that Millennials are emerging as leaders and will comprise about 75% of the global workforce by 2025, and given that the most vocal members of this generation are also the most purpose-driven, it’s safe to assume that this focus on purpose will come to make a tangible impact on the corporate world.

In the philanthropy sphere, Millennials are also an expected force to be reckoned with. Over the next 40 years, it is expected that Generation X and the Millennial Generation will inherit an estimated US$ 41 trillion from Baby Boomers. And money aside, Millennials are leading a cultural shift in how they engage with their communities. Living in the digital age and social media, they thrive on engagement, valuing their networks and giving together. They tend to be more impact-driven and already, are giving almost $3,000 more than older givers on average.

Yet despite the Millennial Generation’s strength in numbers (both in terms of workforce ratios and dollars inherited), there is much work to be done. Our generation is one clearly driven by purpose, one focused on shaping not just government, but also the private sector, as a force to confront societal and environmental challenges. But to really disrupt the status quo, we must take this drive and turn it into action. We most move away from simply “liking,” “tweeting,” and “commenting” and work to spark actual change in the way we address development. Telefonica and Deloitte prove we have the power to change more than our Facebook status. We also have the power to change the status of our society in general. We have to empower ourselves and become the force that closes the door on the Age of the “Selfie,” and opens one leading to the Age of the Selfless instead.

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