Millennials Are Taking Entrepreneurship In a Whole New Direction


Any millennial who saw the 20,000 pages of Obamacare being piled high in Senator Mitch McConnell’s office should have asked themselves a single question:

Does it really have to be this way?

Young people have grown to expect certain things of the products we consume. Speed is a given, efficiency is a must, and we tend to also go in for brands that “speak” to us or have some unique appeal. We love the dialogue: companies that try to reach out and have conversations with us are appreciated. This gives a double benefit – we get to make our preferences heard as consumers, and businesses are able to put out products that sell. 

These expectations make for a dynamic sort of society. As President Obama put it, “America’s possibilities are limitless, for we possess all the qualities that this world without boundaries demands: youth and drive, diversity and openness, of endless capacity for risk and a gift for reinvention.” 

But this puts us into an odd sort of situation. Why should we have all of these demanding expectations of the products we buy when we still settle for the slow, hulking bureaucracies of government services? 

The answer, of course, is that we should not. And now, with the help of a growing “global consciousness” and technological innovations, we may have our new answer: the social entrepreneur.

“While a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit,” explain authors Giles Hutchins and Martina Mangelsdorf, “a social entrepreneur also measures positive returns to society and the wider environment.” 

“It simply resonates with some of the typical Gen Y values that characterize this generation: collaboration; accessibility; sustainability; globalization; self-expression[.]” 

This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, a free market functions as little more than the collective expression of our principles and values in a given environment. As Sen. Rand Paul put it, the marketplace is the “most exacting direct democracy” ever known to man. As millennials begin to make networks, accrue capital, and see the possibilities of the technology they have, social entrepreneurship seems poised to become a powerful tool for 21st century problem solving.

What sort of things can we expect? Well, have a look. A Kentucky initiative that improves access to health care for folks in poor communities, an organization that helps poor families make more cost-conscious decisions, a Cincinnati organization dedicated to education and career guidance – the list is long and varied. 

Strangely enough, some of the best guidance on the subject may come from our “friends across the pond”.

“Unlike America,” notes Harvard professor Stephen Goldsmith, “Britain has benefited from a decade of deliberate thinking about how government should work with the social sector.”  Indeed, if one wanted to take a look at in-depth case studies, Demos put together a fine report on five different social enterprises in Britain – including an old Victorian hospital that was flipped into one of the leading facilities for AIDs care. 

As the report notes, Britain’s “welfare state was designed for a world of male full-employment and stable families that no longer exists.?” To address the ills of modern society, a new “wave of innovation must develop a problem-solving welfare system, to take over gradually from the current system that often simply maintains people in a state of dependency and poverty.”

Does this sound familiar?  With due apologies to fans of Lyndon Baines Johnson, it really should. Our War on Poverty – despicable both in name and philosophy – is ineffective, insulting, and a model of poor design.

It is a strange sort of state to be in. America was once the pride of the world when it came to private associations and public-minded ventures – it was full of the “voluntary associations” praised so highly by Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. Men and women got together and took on problems as a part of civil society – if something needed doing, we did it. 

Unfortunately, this vibrant society of co-dependents has repeatedly demonized by our president as indicative of  an “on-your-own”, “sink-or-swim” philosophy most fit for Ron Swanson.

But we know better. Young people have grown up in the decentralized, “there’s an app for that” society. We’ve learned to do more with less, and we regularly assemble the sort of networks needed to put meaningful change into action.

We’re tacking 21st century problems with a 20th century government.

Our generation promises to be one of decentralization and privatization – all it needs are ambitious entrepreneurs who are willing to step up and make a difference in their communities and their world. It’s time for us to kick the bureaucracy, revive civil society, and make real progress our common goal.