Be the Founder of Your Career
There has been a lot of talk about the entrepreneurialism of the Millennial generation over the past week. Martin Lindstrom called Millennials “born entrepreneurs” in his Fast Company piece “Generation Y Is Born to StartUp.” And William Deresiewicz cut the niceties and called them “Generation Sell” in his New York Times piece, “The Entrepreneurial Generation.” Deresiewicz explains:
Bands are still bands, but now they’re little businesses, as well: self-produced, self-published, self-managed. When I hear from young people who want to get off the careerist treadmill and do something meaningful, they talk, most often, about opening a restaurant. Nonprofits are still hip, but students don’t dream about joining one, they dream about starting one. In any case, what’s really hip is social entrepreneurship—companies that try to make money responsibly, then give it all away.
From my position within Echoing Green, an organization working primarily with Millennials, I’ve got to say, these folks are onto something.
I recently spoke at NYU Stern’s Conference on Social Entrepreneurship, where I told my colleagues that over the past six years I have seen an interesting shift. Six years ago I heard almost no one dream of being a social entrepreneur when they grow up. Today, almost everyone tells me they want to start a new nonprofit or social business. They want to be a social entrepreneur. This is a great opportunity for our field.
Though not without its dangers.
Before I go on, I want to take a minute to talk about why Millennials are attracted to social entrepreneurship. It’s about more than how compelling the field is right now. For starters, Millennials care. UCLA’s national poll tells us that overthree-fourths of incoming freshman believe it is "essential or very important" to help others in difficulty, the highest that figure has been in 36 years. They also rate “working for a cause” as a top career objective, ranking it even higher than making a lot of money. And as Lindstrom and Deresiewicz pointed out, Millennials entrepreneurial. According to The Affulence Collaborative, 40% of Millennials envision starting their own business, and about 20% already have. As such, a high percentage of the Millennial generation has identified social entrepreneurship as a pathway to finding something incredibly important to them: purpose.
Many Millennials do very well in the Echoing Green Fellowship process. In fact, over the past four years, over 55 percent of Echoing Green’s Fellowship semifinalists have been under 35 years old.
But when I ask many people who want to start a new organization—Why this issue? Why is a new organization needed? Who else is doing this work? How is this innovative or sustainable? What connections do you have to the population or to others in the field?—many times, there is not a substantive answer.
It is my fear that many of our very talented young—and even their leaders—have begun to conflate leading with starting something new. Which is a problem, as not everyone is—or should be—a social entrepreneur, and a world full of leaders who strive to be social entrepreneurs creates waste, duplication, and much worse.
But what if we could find a way to take all of the altruistic, entrepreneurial energy of the Millennial generation and target it toward helping young people found careers, not only organizations? That is what Echoing Green’s new Work on Purpose program is all about.
Let’s encourage more young people—en mass—to be the founders of their careers, not the founders of new organizations.
I would like to end this post with my closing words from NYU Stern Conference on Social Entrepreneurship:
There is this incredibly magical field called social entrepreneurship that has grabbed the attention of all of us and of a young, talented, caring generation. Most members of this generation will not be social entrepreneurs, but if we can channel their altruistic energy, they will be solutionists; changemakers; champions; and supporters of the work.
This is only the beginning.
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