N-Sync, the Spice Girls, pop-rocks, furbies and Beanie Babies. Growing up in the 90’s was a childhood of colour, fun, noise and creativity. Millennials (Aged 20-36 in 2017), grew up in a time of relative political stability, saw the first African-American president, and grew up believing we could do anything we set our minds to. Nothing seemed beyond our reach.
With a steady entrepreneurial spirit and can-do attitude, Millennials broke down barriers, forging our own path to create our own type of prosperity. But the world was going through a rough time. We watched in disbelief as the World Trade Center towers fell, battled through the 2008 financial crisis and perpetually lost and gained ground over financial stability, relying on family and friends to get through.
Collaboration, community and partnership are recurring themes for Millennials. Growing up in constant contact with friends and family via mobile devices and social media, we have developed a solid sense of community connection and a strong need for belonging – understanding better than most that social media connections and online friendships fail to give the same emotional impact as face-to-face relationships.
Whilst Millennials have a strong sense of community, many are by the same token individualistic and often self-centred (Selfies!). These traits can however be focused towards the collective good, by honing the strong drive to do something productive as an individual, to solve the massive challenges facing our world.
In the photo: World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers. Credit: World Economic Forum
Now already, and increasingly so in the fast approaching future, we will be facing extreme and often overwhelming challenges. In an era of accelerating global climate change, the impacts of ocean acidification, rising temperatures, and land degradation will directly threaten our air and water quality, our food systems, and our health and wellbeing. The World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Annual Survey 2017 shows that climate change is the top concern of Millennials across the world, for the third consecutive year, followed by global instability and inequality.
In the photo: The Global Citizen Festifal Concert in Central Park NYC. Credit: Global Citizen Festival
With characteristic optimism and individualistic ‘I am going to solve this problem’ flair, Millennials face these challenges head on. The need to be included (Fear-Of-Missing-Out – FOMO), and make a real difference, dovetails neatly with the communal culture and need for belonging when Millennials work together to solve global issues. We come together in droves to solve grand challenges at the Global Citizen Festival, attend poverty hacking groups, donate time and effort by volunteering, build innovative social enterprise start-ups, and are a large driving force in the numerous collective change movements that are shaking the foundations of the establishment – including the fossil-fuel divestment, climate action and clean energy transition campaigns.
In the UK, young people have been volunteering with local environmental charities including Trees for Cities to plant trees in community parks. They have also had success in convincing 54 UK Universities to divest from fossil fuels.
Millennials know what they want for the future, strongly voting against the regressive populism of Donald Trump, and against Brexit, favouring instead a more inclusive, collective future, with the knowledge that we are stronger together.
Using the global structure of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a guide to focus this powerful energy, Millennials are engaging with diverse groups to create dynamic ways of hacking the system to solve systemic problems like entrenched poverty and climate change. The only question is whether it will be too late. By the time millennials come to occupy the seats of power, reaching key positions of authority, climate change may have passed irreversible thresholds, hurtling us towards an uncertain future.
It’s our future, our children’s future, and as an optimistic Millennial, I can’t wait to see how we band together to rise to the challenge.