Social Activism, Millennials Edition

The history of the 20th century has been marked with movements and revolutionary ideas that have changed the world forever. Most of our grandparents participated in some of the social movements that gave birth to the society that we know today. The product of their work is modern society. All of their ideas were seen as radical when they were first articulated, but today the same principles and ideas are seen as common sense. The older generation has made its contribution to the development of society, now what about the Millennials? What will be their legacy for the generations to come, and how do today’s young people feel about social activism?

As most studies have shown, the Millennials are a generation like no other before. They have seen multiple social activism movements that produced brilliant results, and at the same time they have witnessed countless cases of corruption and misuses of NGO donations and money given for charity. Millennials have seen it all. Still, according to the 2016 Millennial Impact Report, 76 percent of young adults believe that people like them can affect positive change. The same report shows that the percentage of Millennials participating in social activism is highest when it comes to signing petitions – 71 percent of young people surveyed report participating in that form of activism, and 66 percent note that they have supported community projects. The participation of this generation in various forms of social activism is noted while a relatively low rate of participation is reported in public demonstrations – only 49 percent of Millennials have confirmed their attendance and support for this form of protesting and demanding change. So what has made young adults stop using these “traditional” forms of social activism? Isn’t it easier just to show up for a demonstration than to volunteer at a community-based project? 

Well, it is rather obvious – Millennials are all about personal experience and contact. The generation that is constantly being criticized for their addiction to social media is actually a quite pragmatic group of people. Young adults today are willing to support and participate in social activism and charity organizations that are putting forward reachable goals and transparency and are doing it with sophisticated storytelling and technical savvy. Millennials are not prepared to devote their time to old-school NGO activities that haven’t produced visible results. This characteristic caught the eye of Chase Adam, who decided to start Watsi – a health nonprofit that is digitally focused on creating a direct connection between the patient and the donor. Now this is something that today’s young people are willing to support. The online platform enables you to communicate regularly with the person you are helping or who is helping you. It also provides an insight into each patient’s medical records, expenses, and treatment options. The personal connection is created, the results are transparent, and the goal is reachable. Managers at Watsi have invested a lot in fostering their appearance on social media, and they have adjusted their method in accordance with the preferences of Millennials – and the results are showing already. Watsi has raised $7 million since it was founded in 2012, and 65 percent of the donations have come from their target group – the largest generation in the world today, the one-and-only Millennials. 

There are multiple examples of charity and nonprofit organizations that have started to change their methods of fundraising and operating to attract the demanding generations of the future – Millennials and Gen Z. One of these organizations is Pencils of Promise, based in New York and dedicated to building schools, providing scholarships, and training teachers in developing countries, and which is now focusing on social media to provide near-total transparency of their work and top-quality storytelling. According to Natalie Ebel, the director of marketing for Pencils of Promise, this shift in the way they work is already paying off. They have managed to create a brand dedicated to building communities for brighter futures for all rather than a brand that only asks for money.

Changing a look and profile to attract the younger generation is an approach that has also been chosen by United Way Worldwide – a charity organization that is almost 130 years old. Today they are focusing on methods that are tech savvy. They believe it is essential to get closer to future generations in order to ensure that the youth today will carry on with their charity activities in the future.

So, living in the 21st century is producing a massive shift in the way we perceive the world around us and in the way we advocate change. Today’s young adults may not be interested in demonstrating, but most of them are likely to take part and volunteer for the benefit their communities. Earlier generations fought for legislation that ensured equal rights and freedoms for all. The Millennials are keen on helping to fulfill those rights and freedoms on a local level. The impact may not be so memorable, but if you have helped save one life, it is as if you have saved all of mankind. 

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