Archive for the ‘Millennials’ Tag

Wading out of my comfort zone

I have a confession to make to those of you who have not met me personally. I have a competitive streak in me that runs a mile wide. I love playing board games and card games.  If being an overachiever were a crime, I would be a convicted felon. Forgive me; it is probably one of the most stereotypical traits of Millennials. Considering the alternative, I think that it my drive to succeed has been a real asset.

Returning this work has knocked a little wind out of my sails because everything that I am doing to prepare for this semester’s activities for PAIR is new to me. I am drafting a volunteer training and writing a curriculum. It has made me rethink my typical full speed ahead approach. I spend more time explaining my thought process to my supervisor on an unfinished product rather than a complete one. My goal is completing a phase rather than finishing which requires me to concretely develop a plan of action. My thinking tends to be a little on the scattered side so thinking linearly has been difficult.

The biggest change has been the level of collaboration. During my work at AED, each project had a team but the tasks were assigned and completed as though each one was an independent project. My work responsibilities typically did not require the input or insight of others until they were complete. Even then, my draft was returned to me in the same way that a teacher returns a graded paper. You make all the corrections they tell you and then return the paper. Really working collaboratively is something that I have not done in a professional setting before.

I never thought that I would admit it, but I really like working this way. Coming from a former lab nerd, I think that should count for something…an achievement of sorts?


Gen Y leadership on social change is more crucial than ever

It has become blatantly clear that Millennials have a lot of responsibility at their feet for cleaning up the current mess that the world is in. It certainly is not everyday that you see almost daily failures of financial institutions that have been around for over 100 years. While these major headlines are shocking, it is the changes at the local level where the human impact is most apparent and greatest: the failure of small business and families’ decisions to cut back on medical care.

If you are looking at my hometown of Houston, the economic depression is compounded by the lingering effects of Hurricane Ike. You would think that we would have learned from the lessons of Hurricane Katrina: safer mandatory evacuations, rapid restoration of critical services, and faster disaster recovery to get affected families back to normal as soon as possible. Instead, many of the victims of Hurricane Ike have found themselves ignored by the very institutions that are supposed to assist them. Maybe Generation Y is right to be suspicious of institutions’ ability to effect social change.

Optimists may prefer to make social change the focus of their career, electing to work within established institutions to change them from the inside outward. Others try to find their own way to be the change they want to see in the world whether through digital media or the next great idea to help the most people.

You don’t need passion to cause social change

At first, I thought it was more Generation Y navel gazing. But having come across a couple of articles questioning where is the passion in the lives of Millennials, I thought it was time to say something.

So many people spend their adult lives looking for that “one thing” that causes them to light up. The one thing that makes them jump out of bed in the morning. That one passion that we are all supposed to find and pursue.

This sounds great until you realize that we are human: multifaceted beings with the ability to discern among the many choices available. Trying to find that one passion in life is like looking for your soulmate: it might be out there, but while you are looking for this supposed ideal, what else are you missing? It’s perfectly acceptable to “date” other interests; why should you commit to just one?

Passion feels great but it is neither necessary nor sufficient for good things to be done. What matters is follow through rather than a strong emotional attachment to the work you are doing. I really like working in public health, but I am interested in other topics such as quality education and empowerment of women that I support. My lack of passion for a particular cause does not diminish my ability to do good.

If that one passion is what drives your work, what happens when the thrill is gone and it fades? You can look at the baby boomers and see how their passion for free love for the world has primarily turned into love of money.

Having a lot of choices is a good thing. The decision paralysis causes us to evaluate our priorities which in turn stirs us to action. After all, the actions matter the most.

Social movements 2.0

flickr photo courtesy of racoles

flickr photo courtesy of racoles

The jury is still out on the potential that social media has to facilitate social change. I would argue its widespread prevalence is a major shift in itself at least in person-to-person interaction. I wondered what the world would look like if all of these individual interactions coordinated as a major social movement, linking online and offline activity.

The old way that social movements used to progress: emerge–>coalesce–>bureaucratize–>outcome–>decline

Social media definitely has the possibility to revolutionize this progression, making participation more democratic. I think the new movements start globally and move locally rather than the opposite in the past. There are countless wonderful posts describing what social media does best, so there is no need for me to reinvent the wheel. Here’s what I see as some of the defining characteristics of social media’s effect on social movements.

1) Linkages between offline and online activity are essential.

Armchair activism will not lead to substantive, sustainable change. The danger in social media is that people can mistake these tools as an end, rather than a means to an end. Rather than eliminating face-to-face interaction, social media enables and facilitates communities united behind that may not have otherwise formed, or may have been weaker for lack of social media.

  • Meetup can help coordinate those initial meetings to formulate an action plan or plan events to gain more supporters in a given locality.
  • If your cause starts after a physical meeting, keep in touch by creating your own online social network with Ning and create an online hub to recruit supporters and share news and insights.
  • If your supporters are not all in the same city, which of course is virtually every online community, dopplr will allow you to let people know when you are in town.
  • Don’t forget that call to action while you are online; Social Action’s newest product, the DonorsChoose plugin, allows you to have suggested steps for action alongside your WordPress blog post.

2) Technology facilitates social change by reducing costs of resource mobilization.

Resource mobilization is what allows your newly formed group of supporters to organize your actions into a single coherent message targeted to the individuals and institutions that you are hoping to influence. Usually people think of money, when they see resources but there are a number of other resources related to significant actions including recruitment, advocacy, raising awareness, communication and publicity. One of the best things that social media does is reducing the monetary costs, given that many of the services are free. It also saves resource-poor groups and organizations from things like high printing costs.

  • Need to find a expert and/or mentor? LinkedIn connects professionals worldwide and may help find your cause’s version of a celebrity advocate.
  • Online fundraising? Awareness raising? Showing off your online networking profiles? Sprout allows you to build mini-sites, widgets, etc. to embed on you Web site, blog and several popular social networking sites.
  • Social networks for change such as Care2,, and TakingITGlobal allow people around the world to find out about your cause. Social Actions aggregates several of these platforms together, making it easy for organizations to publicize their causes and calls to action.

3) Supporters have the ability to tell and publicize their cause’s stories, needs, and goals.

Mainstream media in the past presented a tough barrier to getting the word about your cause. Organizations usually had to relay on time-intensive means of publicity like word-of-mouth, which could be slow and impractical. Social media lowers the previously high bar to awareness raising, allowing you to tell and show the emotional side of your cause in words through blogs, audio, photos, and videos. Once your supporters are emotionally engaged, they will be more likely to become more involved in advancing the cause.

  • Microblogging through Twitter gives you 140 characters to talk about anything and aids in community building. Tumblr provides the sense of Twitter with the look of a blogging interface. Posterous is like blogging for dummies, allowing you to email your entries.
  • Got podcasts? Make sure to submit them to podcast search engines like the iTunes directory so the public can hear about your cause. If you want to capture insights immediately auditorially, use your mobile phone to record and publish with Utterz so people can hear what you hear.
  • For those visual learners, photo and video sharing sites can show the impact of your cause in living color. With Flickr, you can share photos; YouTube and Vimeo both facilitate video sharing.

4) Social media enables greater transparency into the political process.

I wouldn’t characterize any government as being open and transparent, but there are some changes afoot that allow you a peek into the inner works of the federal government. Transparency of the political process, or at least substantial knowledge of the process, is key to help secure lasting change related to your cause. I feel that my year living in DC with several friends working on the Hill was a crash course on how the government works on a daily basis. For those who have not had this privilege, you can check out a few of the resources below.

  • Social Butterfly aka Alexandra Rampy created a wonderful list of government agencies and legislators active on Twitter. Hopefully this list will grow even longer in the future. You can also check out the list of blogs and podcasts that the federal government produces.
  • Learn from other activists who have worked in public policy and politics by reading wikis. Wikipedia is of course very popular, but PBWiki and Squidoo are good resources to look at as well. If it is not there yet, you can help build it!
  • Along with wikis, presentations provide a resource about tips related to advocacy. SlideShare is one of the most popular sites to share presentations.

Gen Y and global health: Not a match made in heaven

What would you think if a job that you were interested in asked you to work for free for at least six months to a year before even considering applying? And not only work for free, but also work abroad? Would you jump at the opportunity?

This is a basic expectation of most entry level jobs in global health and the entry level jobs that expensive to obtain experience qualifies you for are far from challenging and substantive. Here is an excerpt of responsibilities from a large nonprofit organization that works in global health (portions are redacted that are specific to the organization.)

“• Assist in preparation, review, and editing of reports, scopes of work, papers, manuals and presentations;
• Schedule and coordinate meetings and prepare necessary meeting materials;
• Maintain organization of electronic and paper files;
• Assist with tracking and submission of all project deliverables on two key projects;
• Work with travel agent to coordinate travel logistics for site visits and meetings;
• Assist in preparation of consulting agreements, purchase orders, and/or sub-contracts.”

Global health is definitely one industry where Gen Y has not changed the way the workplace functions. There is a high barrier to entry for recent college graduates who can not afford to pay for their volunteer experience abroad neither during college internships nor after graduation. Unpaid internships are the norm rather than outliers. Global health is an industry where supply outstrips demand, partly due to the advent of high profile organizations such as the Gates Foundations and the Clinton Foundation.

Even when you finally enter the workplace, finding a challenging position is very much about paying dues. Entry level jobs consist almost entirely of administrative work. Management hierarchy and approaches to management are heavily influence by government practices due to the overlap of both personnel and the funding from agencies such as United States Agency for International Development (USAID). These same management practices certainly play a role in the declining interest in government careers.

Millenials generally have two paths to receiving a promotion: work in the mindnumbingly dull entry level job for 2 years or go to graduate school. Promotion is heavily based on seniority of tenure and/or credentials rather than talent and expertise. I would love to spare myself from spending thousands of dollars, however it is not really an option. My decision to live abroad was prompted as much by personal reasons as career considerations.

The future of this field depends on the injection of new ideas and perspectives that Gen Y has to ability and desire to deliver.  I wonder when and if the powers that will be willing to accept and welcome them.