Millennials: The Problem or the Solution?

backpack-girl.630x300.OPTThe headline for this blog post is the name of an excellent session I attended last week as part of Marmalade (formerly known as Oxford Jam) which runs concurrently with Skoll World Forum (on Twitter #SkollWF and @SkollWorldForum).

A lot has been written about Millennials over the last couple of years, some negative and some positive. I spent Friday morning at the Old Fire Station in a session with participants who were primarily British and under 35. I was quite clearly the only American and the only person over 40 in the room. I am used to being on the frontier (formerly known as the fringe, ☺).

When it comes to Millennials, the key differences are rooted in major societal changes like being the first Internet natives, coming of age during the financial crisis (and the related precarious work environments), and greater personal and global awareness and also greater political apathy. Here are some examples from the session (two reports below back all this up):

How Millennials are different From Baby Boomers

  • Boomers are worried about taking out a second mortgage to go to Barbados on holiday. Millennials are worried if their kids will be alive in 100 years
  • Boomers prefer competition. Millennials are more comfortable working in collaboration — and in sharing profits while the profits go to a few in the traditional business model
  • Millennials travel more
  • Millennials seek purpose more
  • Millennials are more authentic
  • Millennials like personalization
  • Millennials are politically active on the local level but fewer are voting on the national level — voter turnout for 30-somethings has dropped by 25% in the last 35 years
  • Millennials  wish there was a box on the voting ballot that says “Don’t like any of the choices” or “None of the above”

How Millennials see work

  • They grew up with the recession and the reality that work life can be precarious
  • They’re ambitious and want to be really good at their jobs
  • They think they want to work for the most competitive firms until they get there
  • Mostly, they want to work for companies that “do well by doing good”
  • They’re jaded about companies that are not committed to doing the right thing or, even worse, that are hypocritical ( i.e. a fast food company that rolls out a healthy eating initiative while still selling a majority of unhealthy food)
  • They view money as “units of freedom” in that it allows them to do the things they want
  • They are far from the Company Men
  • They want balance in their lives

How being the first Internet generation affects the way Millennials think

  • They think globally because they are native Internet users
  • They’re more comfortable sharing and being transparent
  • They demand transparency from others, companies included
  • They use social media every day
  • They think of “involvement” in terms of how social media has redefined it — Kiva, crowdsourcing, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat and WhatsApp are just a few examples

How Millennials will make an impact

Global Tolerance, a consultancy that works with NGOs and TED and presented on the panel, says the business sector is driving huge change related to Millennials and over the next five years we will see a huge societal shift.

From its report entitled “The Values Revolution”:

“Pressure from the rising tide of value-driven citizens and consumers is making its mark and changing the landscape for public, private and non-governmental organisations as this report demonstrates.”

Another report from Impact Assets, The Millennial Perspective: Understanding the Preferences of the New Asset Owners, mirrors the Global Tolerance findings.

What is vertically interesting to me is how the Millennials will also change the investment landscape.  Millennials in North America alone will receive some $35 trillion over the next 30 years as money is passed from Boomers to Gen X and Y and then to Millennials. Of this money, demographic studies indicate that more than 60% of those receiving this money will be women. In addition, women have shown through various research that they are more open to investing their money using a values screen or interested in investing in companies that are “doing well by doing good”.

So with Millennials and women in charge, how, exactly, will the investment landscape change? I believe what we’re seeing with impact investing today will become, before too long, the new normal. What do you think?

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