DISCUSSION A generation’s destiny to change the world

by Yolanda Villafuerte _______7th June 2013
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by Katerini Papavasileiou

Returning home from a lecture, two weeks ago, I was overwhelmed with this ‘strange’ conviction that the world’s future was in my hands. Since then, I have been utterly convinced that anything less than changing the world was a waste of my time. Everyone has his or her moments of inspiration and my motivational lever was a lecture from a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

On 20 May the father of Microcredit and Social Business, Professor Muhammad Yunus, gave an influential lecture at Peacock Theatre (LSE) about his journey in changing the life of almost two generations of people in Bangladesh and his vision for the world’s future. “If I could make so many people so happy… why not do more of it? That is what I have been trying to do ever since”, he stated in his speech at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Award Ceremony. His view on business and life resonates with my own and when observing the enthusiastic audience in the Peacock Theatre, I wondered if my generation might challenge the existing ‘rules of business’ and build alternative organisations.

Prof Yunus supports a free market economy and believes in the purpose of business and its impact on societies. His approach to multi-dimensional entrepreneurship makes him a constant innovator with more than 50 companies and the only social entrepreneur named in Fortune Magazine’s ‘12 Greatest Entrepreneurs of Our Time’. The potential of entrepreneurship goes beyond making money, businesses can also create happiness capturing the social, emotional, environmental, political well-being of the people and communities it works with. Yunus launched Grameen Bank in 2006 which started by lending $27 to a group of villagers at a reasonable rate and according to CNN Money report, the bank now has loans to nearly 7 million poor people in 73,000 villages in Bangladesh.

Yunus believes that “Capitalism is about options and society should give alternatives to young people to choose what they want to work for. Do they want to work for a company who creates money or creates happiness?” With the rising interest in social business, this seems a very sensible prompt for businesses as the number of young people driven by purpose rather than money increases. These young people belong to the Millennial’s Generation (born 1980 to about 2000) and one overwhelming characteristic of the millennials is that they are not motivated by success in the same way previous generations were.

The attitude of ‘Generation Me’ is something that interests many researchers and journalists who have published countless reports on the special or not so special characteristics of a generation who grew up with social media, the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001 and phantom vibration syndrome. According to Pew Research Centre Report in 2010, this generation is confident, connected and open to change. Many other reports show a generation addicted to technology as they cannot image their life without digital technology or the internet. On the flipside, data also highlights high levels of creativity and innovation in problem-solving processes which far exceed the levels measured in any previous generation. They are optimistic, and pragmatic, believers of business and diversity as drivers of social progress. Although ambitious, millennials place more importance to work-life balance than their parents and desire meaning and a larger purpose in their daily jobs.

Millennials are criticised as selfish, individualist, narcissistic and lazy, a “me me me generation” as Joel Stein puts it in his article in TIME’s – a cover that has inspired many memes on the internet. However, millenials also appear willing to take control and get involved in difficult situations rather than waiting passively for governments to solve the problem. They believe that “….politics today is no longer able to meet the challenges countries are facing”. Notably, this generation is hugely pro-business and sees businesses large or small as important vehicles of change with the same potential and impact as government to affect society’s issues.

Millennials, like Professor Muhammed Yunus believe that we can and should “…create businesses to solve problems” and that organisations should be more than just a responsible citizen in the societies in which it operate in. This is a generation inspired by businesses that stand for creating positive change on people, the environment and communities.

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