Writing about Millennials (people born between 1976 and 2011) and technology can be a
challenging task, primarily because the messages we receive on this topic are so complex. One minute we're ushering in a new way of thinking that encourages collaboration and innovation thanks to having technology at our finger tips; the next we're arrogant know-it-alls who are entitled, needy, and disloyal because we've been raised in an instant-gratification world fueled by technology.
But throughout this discussion, fascinating trends emerge not just about how we use technology, but also why we use it, especially when it comes to making the world a better place. We use technology to access and share information about causes, organizations, and people whom we may want to support; we use technology to connect with others who share our passion; and finally we use technology to take action and see the results of our efforts.
Indeed, the need to access and share information, build community, and see the results of our efforts drive the way Millennials use technology for social change. These characteristics have resulted in several profiles of the tech-saavy Millennial changemaker:
Supporters and Advocates
While a student at the University of Notre Dame, Shawn Ahmed was so moved by a speech given by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, that he withdrew from school and launched the Uncultured Project.
Focusing on Bangledesh, where his parents are from, he leverages social media to capture and share how communities are wrestling with poverty in an effort to raise awareness about this issue and funding for these communities. Though he works occasionally with organizations, his project is not an organization; rather it is his attempt to explore an issue that is personally meaningful.
In their book "The Networked Nonprofit" Beth Kanter and Alison Fine coined a term for
changemakers like Shawn: free agents. On her blog, Kanter notes that a free agent is someone who "is a passionate about a social cause, but is working outside of a nonprofit organization to organize, mobilize, raise money, and engage with others. Free agents are also fluent in social media and take advantage of the social media toolset to do everything organizations have always done, but outside of institutional walls."
Many of us have seen changemakers like Shawn: they might ask you to donate an organization they love through a special birthday campaign. Or they might ask you to sign an online petition. Either way, they use the technology at their disposal to learn, share, and engage around issues they support.
Innovators and Creators
Though building organizations from scratch is not easy, Millennials have become comfortable
taking on the task with many wanting to be entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship allows us to create the systems and community we think are necessary (and are, perhaps, lacking elsewhere) to bring about the change we want to see.
Some are explicit in their approach. In her 2010 TED Talk, Kiva.org co-founder Jessica Jackley talks about how she grew disenchanted with traditional ways of giving, feeling as though it was a way to distance herself from problems, rather than truly getting involved to make a difference. It wasn't until she heard stories from people trying to move out of poverty that she realized she could create a new way of giving that helps people in need while seeing a real impact.
Others have incorporated their desire to do good in their missions and the problems they are
solving. For example, Codeacademy, a website that provides self-paced, interactive lessons on how to code and whose founders Zach Sims and Ryan Bubinski were recently listed as Inc's 30 Under 30 Entrepreneurs, states that its mission is to "to turn a world of tech consumers into one of empowered builders. " Additionally, by making coding accessible, they are also providing an opportunity for anyone to learn one of the most important and in-demand skills today.
Connectors and Collaborators
With so many Millennials ready to get involved, many are trying to facilitate the process by
connecting them to the resources they need to take action.
Change.org allows anyone to create a campaign around a cause they believe in. Launched in 2007 by Ben Rattray, it has evolved from a blogging platform to a petition platform that allows people to quickly and easily organize around a pressing issues and monitor their success.
Platforms like Change.org act as hubs for the Millennial changemaker, and the success stories on the website indicate just how powerful this generation is. For example, when Bank of America proposed a $5 charge for debit card users, 22-year-old Molly Katchpole organized a successful petition that garnered over 300,000 signatures, sparking a national conversation, and forcing Bank of America to drop the fee.
With a desire to learn, share, connect, and act it's no wonder that we are seeing technology being used by Millennials in such exciting ways, all with the goal of changing the world.
Are you a Millennial leveraging technology to make a difference? I want to talk to you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org