Why Millennials May Just Be the Best Entrepreneurial Generation Ever

The entrepreneurial nature of the Millennial generation -- those born between 1980 and 2000 -- is stunning. Millennials have disregarded the life and career flowchart that was so formally laid out by the Baby Boomers. But Millennials aren’t keen on waiting. It isn’t in their DNA. They don’t wait for taxis, they take Uber. They don’t wait for emails, they text. They don’t wait to work up the corporate ladder, they start their own business. So it should come as no surprise that they have no interest in waiting to make a difference. They inherited a flawed world and have a zeal to repair it that’s unique to their generation. It’s as if the generation has been hardwired to believe in the fierce urgency of now.


Everything is about today. The moment. The instant. The Millennials are an on-demand instant-gratification generation that has become emboldened by technology and molded by world events. So if they don’t wait for anything in their lives -- why should they wait when it comes to making a difference?

They shouldn’t. And with social entrepreneurship, they don’t have to. A study released in summer 2014 found that 94 percent of Millennials are interested in putting their skills to work to benefit a cause. More than half wished their employer had more programs engineered for giving back.

Millennials are all about engagement. This fact is reflected in their unique brand of activism. In the 1960s, for example, activism was about disengagement -- boycotts. Today, Millennials use the inverse approach -- buycotts. “This generation will use their role as a consumer to make a point,” philanthropist and investor Jean Case told me.

Some say they’ve become the most prized (and perhaps feared) consumer group of all time, and their habits are surprisingly different from past generations. Consider the findings from the 2015 Millennial Impact Project:

  • 84 percent of Millennials made a charitable donation in the past year, and 70 percent volunteered for a cause.
  • 48 percent of Millennials have donated to a giving campaign promoted by their employer at some point. 
  • Millennials are 27 percent more likely to donate to a cause if their manager does, but 46 percent more likely to donate if a coworker asks them to.
  • Millennial employees find value in using their pro bono skills for good. Most Millennial employees volunteer between one and ten hours a year.
  • 77 percent of Millennial employees are more likely to vol­unteer if they can leverage their skills or expertise.
  • Millennials also want to know that their involvement means something. The Millennial Impact Project found that 79 per­cent of Millennial employees who volunteered through a com­pany-sponsored initiative felt they made a positive difference.

This generation believes that profit and purpose can go hand-in-hand. Unlike previous generations, whose pursuits of money and excess are well documented, Millennials have far different goals. It’s no longer simply about making money, and that’s an extraordinary shift in thinking.

“I think Millennials realize that money as a be-all and end-all doesn’t equal happiness,” Scott Harrison, founder of charity: water, told me. Scott would know. Almost all of his 80 percent domestic staff members are Millennials.

Millennials are known for turning down well-paid internships or jobs in favor of an opportunity that allows them to have a greater impact. Mathew Paisner, CEO of AltruHelp, a website that connects aspiring social entrepreneurs to local opportunities, noticed that 75 percent of his applicants were willing to decline Fortune 500 opportunities to instead join his venture. It’s hard to imagine Generation Xers or Baby Boomers following the same course of action.

They wouldn’t. No other generation would. But Millennials are different. The pioneering CEO of Salesforce.com, Marc Benioff, is keenly aware their unique composure. “When you look at the Millennials’ value system, what Millennials want, they want to have meaning in work,” he said. “They want to understand that the company they’re working for is not just building products and selling products.”

“We have had a chance to truly appreciate the link between the local and the global,” says Alex Swallow, previously chief executive of the Small Charities Coalition, and a Millennial himself. “At the global level, we are more likely to have traveled abroad, to have friends from other countries, or simply to have grown up with the internet for a core part of our lives. At the local level, we are more likely to have moved away from our communities. The social enterprise and charity sectors, I think, benefit from having people like this who have an understanding of the larger picture.” 

Time magazine labeled the Millennials “The Me Me Me Generation.” It sounded like a stinging indictment until you read the subtitle. “They are narcissistic, overconfident, entitled, and lazy, but they just might be the new Greatest Generation.”

Comparing any generation to the members of the Greatest Generation is a tall order. They waited on breadlines during the Great Depression, and held the lines at Omaha and in the Ardennes. The Greatest Generation has always been held up as the generational exemplar. For 70 years they were unmatched in their fortitude and in their achievements. Now, for the first time, a rival generation has emerged. The challenges it faces are completely different, but in many ways they are eerily the same. Both faced an uncertain and violent world, handed to them by their forefathers. Both had a strong faith that the best days for our country and for them lay in the future. And this new generation, the Millennials, has the verve to make an impact on the world larger than any generation that came before it.

While accepting his party’s nomination for a second term in office, President Franklin D. Roosevelt looked out at the delegates and declared, “Here is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.”

So, too, can it be said about Millennials. For this generation has its own rendezvous with destiny.

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