The Economy by Konya Weber: Millennial generation sparks social entrepreneurship

Konya Weber, professor of marketing and chair of the Department of Business and Economics at Northwest Nazarene University.April 30, 2013 

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Konya Weber

The jury may still be out on this new generation known as the millennials - defined as individuals born between 1982-2000. Regardless of your opinion of the millennials, the fact stands that they are our future business leaders, consumers and citizens. This generation has been touted as the most researched generation based on its sheer size and potential economic impact on society. It has the distinction of being the largest generation at approximately 80 million members.

However, many businesses are scratching their heads about how to engage the new breed of workers who appear more comfortable sitting in front of their computers communicating than in front of customers. They don't want to punch a clock or be tied to a desk, but rather work on the go. Unlike older employees, the millennials are not set on an 8-5 workday but can flex their workday or even workweeks to accommodate the global economy. Workers in this generation will work long hours but want to control when, how and why they work. Many millennials want a purpose in their work and want to make a difference in the world. How? By becoming social entrepreneurs - a new breed of entrepreneurs.

Many millennials are not seeking employment with Fortune 500 companies but are opting to start their own companies to address social and/or environmental problems. Profit is not a dirty word. These social entrepreneurs are focusing on helping others improve their lives while providing jobs and economic growth.

Being a social entrepreneur has definite appeal, as millennials are disenchanted with the status quo.

In the Deloitte Millennial Survey (2011), 92 percent of this generation rejects the notion that the primary measure of success is profit alone, and believes innovation (56 percent) and societal development (51 percent) are also measures of business success.

Universities, such as Northwest Nazarene University, are creating opportunities for these millennials to unleash their inner social entrepreneur by sending their students to social venture competitions to compete against other budding social entrepreneurs for effective, profitable business models. A commanding 86 percent of millennials reported business as having 'about the same' or 'more' potential than the government to meet society's challenges as reported in the Deloitte Millennial Survey.

The winning NNU-selected social venture team proposed starting a company called Douemour (do more) that designed a high-quality portable lantern doubling as a water bottle and using solar panels to provide clean, sustainable light.

For each lantern sold in the United States, Douemour will provide light to one person in Rwanda, where a lack of light makes it difficult for students to do homework in the evening.

Graduating NNU economics major Shanna Rippy said, "This project really showed me that business is good and how business can make a huge impact on people and our world. My group is going to pursue this idea and making our company an actuality."

Graduating accounting major Tim Vanderpool observed, "Being a social venture doesn't limit a company's market and opportunity; it just changes them."

Another NNU team, which received honorable mention at the Seattle competition, proposed WasteSmart, a company recycling excess waste, incinerating it, and then transforming the ash into useful, profitable products. Senior business major Sergio Mendoza commented, "It's great seeing a lot of social venture businesses with the potential to make an impact in this world. "

The debate continues on whether millennials are too unrealistic in their expectations or if they represent a new paradigm for businesses to do good and still be profitable. Regardless, society doesn't have a shortage of problems, so why not let the millennials channel their energy and passion into solving them while supporting the growth of the economy.

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KRWeber@nnu.edu

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