Millennials Exploring Social Exclusion With Pope Francis: God, the Internet and Disrupting Business

Why invite 40 millennials and not the top 40 CEOs? What sort of insight can we offer that the world's foremost academics on social inclusion couldn't? How can a heterogeneous group with diverse religious beliefs help shape a debate hosted at the center of the Catholic world?
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Next week 40 Global Shapers of the World Economic Forum will travel to the Vatican from 5 continents to hold a private audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican. This meeting aims to respond to challenge Pope Francis poses: How do we create a new global mindset to overcome social and economic exclusion?

Ever since I was honored with an invitation to join this gathering in Rome, I've been wondering: Why invite 40 millennials and not the top 40 CEOs? What sort of insight can we offer that the world's foremost academics on social inclusion couldn't? How can a heterogeneous group with diverse religious beliefs help shape a debate hosted at the center of the Catholic world?

The Internet as a gift of God.

I found part of the answer online. Pope Francis understood from early in his tenure the power of social media and the internet. In fact, writing about communications and global understanding, Pope Francis calls the internet a gift from god. The English-language Pontifex twitter account has almost 5 million followers, the PopeApp has more than over 200,000 downloads and his entire agenda is available and streamable for the world to see. Given this interest in the possibilities the web can offer to his pastoral concern for humanity, conferring with digital natives is a smart move. Among the 40 participants, many are already using technology to enhance democratic participation, document and visualize human rights information or amplifying the voice of the underheard through mobile.

Real change will bring about some disruption -- which Gen Y's love.

Another hint about why Pope Francis is interested in this meeting can be found in the Evangelii Gaudium, a document Pope Francis issued in 2013 outlining his views on church reform. In it, Pope Francis goes beyond suggesting business people become more charitable. In fact, he questions the notion of Milton Friedman that "the only social responsibility of business is to increase its profits." A section dedicated to the economy and distribution of income indicates:

Business is -- in fact -- a vocation, and a noble vocation, provided that those engaged in it see themselves challenged by a greater meaning in life.

The challenge of overcoming socio-economic exclusion is too large for governments, charities, non-profits and agencies to tackle alone. The private sector has played a crucial role in catalyzing important leaps in health, engineering, communications and technology. Knowing this, Pope Francis suggests it is time to review the purpose of business and rethink models of growth.

This concept is not new to millennials -- a generation that brings us professionals who make career decisions based on meaning before salaries. In engaging Gen Y leaders, Pope Francis finds natural allies for creating a new global mindset around business. Thousands of companies that tend to appeal to the next great generation are enterprises with a social mission. Many of them have joined an international movement of B Corporations -- companies that redefine business success by making a public and often statutory commitment to their social mission. This way, directors and shareholders are not forced to abandon their altruistic objectives when times get tough. The long-term vision is to forever change the raison-d'être of business in society. This January at Davos, Pope Francis nudged the business community in this direction:

I ask you to ensure that humanity is served by wealth and not ruled by it.

Empathy + risk-taking = change

Now, switching to a global mentality where businesses have a mission beyond pleasing shareholders requires a significant leap. This is where Pope Francis has identified the potential of focusing on younger leaders -- having a shorter trajectory, emerging leaders have less to lose and therefore a more open mind about re-engineering the way the private sector is structured. In his 2013 manifesto, Pope Francis reminds his followers,

Young people call us to renewed and expansive hope, for they represent new directions for humanity and open us up to the future, lest we cling to a nostalgia for structures and customs which are no longer life-giving in today's world.

Given the right opportunities, young people are more susceptible to developing deep empathy and stimulate innovation. The Catholic Church, in particular,
Jesuits, have leveraged this feature of youth capacity for empathy with impressive results.

In Latin America, TECHO, a youth-led non-profit dedicated to alleviating poverty in urban slums, was founded as a Jesuit initiative. The impact speaks for itself: over 600,000 young volunteers from all faiths have been mobilized in 19 countries to build over 120,000 transitional homes for those at the base of the pyramid. The homes are built entirely by young volunteers and families, who later engage in community development initiatives to give continuity to the projects.

Likewise, the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has offered legal aid to 600,000 refugees in dozens of countries so they can unlock the key to inclusion in their home countries: legal documentation. In giving young lawyers the chance to understand the harsh reality of trying to make a living as a non-citizen, JRS is changing mentalities and the course of their careers forever.

Unlikely allies

Under Pope Francis´s leadership, the Catholic church has gained more non-Catholic fans than ever. Pope Francis understands the challenge. Speaking about young people in the Evangelii Gaudium, he admits

[A]s adults, we find it hard to listen patiently to them, to appreciate their concerns and demands and to speak to them in a language they can understand.

His statements about evolution and creation, his open support for the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church and his challenging world leaders on wealth distribution demonstrate leadership that is willing to question traditional interpretations of doctrine and focus on action. Without appealing to religious piety, millennials -- in our search for a meaningful life and career -- may be Pope Francis' unlikely allies in this quest for developing a new global mindset.


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