3 Reasons Now Is The Right Moment For Millennials To Change The World

by Joan Hanawi

Millennial is kind of a dirty word.

I’d always thought of myself as more of an “old soul” than a Millennial, but actually, it’s exactly that mindset that makes me suited for the demographic of 18- to 34-year-olds in Gen-Y.

Apparently, I’m not alone in refraining from defining myself as a Millennial. A recent study by the Pew Research Center revealed that less than half of my generation would describe themselves by our predetermined label.

This summer, however, multiple friends from a range of generations told me I embody their idea of the quintessential Millennial.

My original disdain for this title shouldn’t be a surprise. There are countless articles out there that decry our work ethics, our attitudes and our lifestyles. “Millennial” has become the buzzword of the decade; you see it everywhere. It’s analyzed to death, and frankly, we’re tired of being told what we are or aren’t.

To me, Millennial is simply a pseudonym for youth. There is nothing special about Millennials; there’s something special about age. Throughout history, young people have been the ones to push the limits, demanding change. We have the passion, the enthusiasm and the opportunity to catalyze action for good, and we do it because we can.

There is no deeper meaning to my generation’s affinity for “changing the world”; rather, we see the problems around us and cannot sit idly by, which is arguably a characteristic that has defined youth over the years. But, for the first time, the current state of our world has created the perfect ecosystem for young people to act.

Gatherings like the annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) bring together Millennials from around the world who are committed to finding solutions to global challenges. Demands for transparency allow youth to push companies toward a double bottom line of social and financial return.

More than anything, my generation is coming of age at a time when they have the support to start their own initiatives.

However, aside from societal shifts, if you read any article providing a social commentary on the times, the second buzzword that surfaces is technology. And I believe the determining feature of today’s youth, of today’s “Millennials,” is our technology.

When you pair the ardor of youth with the unlimited potential of technology, the results are mesmerizing.

From my own experiences at CGI U, I was matched with a mentor, Seth Maxwell, through the CGI LEAD program. With his network of over 300,000 students and track record of 1,754 projects successfully completed, Maxwell, founder of The Thirst Project and fellow Millennial, models the way technology has transformed our ability to reach audiences and amplify messages.

Both Seth and I are part of the larger Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) community. Next week, CGI -- an organization of top leaders from philanthropy, business, government and civil society, dedicated to addressing the world’s most pressing challenges -- will be convening again at its 2015 Annual Meeting.

This year’s theme, the “Future of Impact,” will outline action steps and activities for the next decade of solving global challenges. And at the forefront of the meeting’s agenda for accelerating progress are those same two buzzwords: Millennials and technology.

From Twitter to Tumblr, Snapchat to Spotify, Instagram to VSCOcam, never before have people had the luxury of being young in a world saturated with endless social media channels and apps. Our gadgetry defines us. But I believe it is also this technology that has made addressing social causes the norm for my generation.

1. Social media and technology have made the world smaller.

Or, as Thomas Friedman puts it, they have made the world flat.

I used to take family trips back to Indonesia, my parents’ home country. These trips sparked my initial interest in international development, but the advent of the Internet’s connectivities allowed me to explore the realm of global humanitarian work from the comfort of my couch.

Now, there is no need to have taken a trip to learn about a global issue; social media puts these realities in our news feed.

2. A smaller world means increased access.

When asked about why I started caring about social issues, my answer is embarrassingly simplistic: Why wouldn’t I? How could I not care?

Ironically, as much as our phones absorb our immediate attentions, they simultaneously expand our global horizons. When images and stories of need are scattered throughout our news feeds, we don’t have the choice not to care. We have access to issues and connections to causes, allowing for more creative ways to get involved.

Due to modern technology, it is now possible for a teenager in Pune, India to connect with a college student in Calgary, Canada and both of them can contribute to a cause in Tena, Ecuador.

3. Increased access changes the face of action.

Technology has made it easier for young people to care, but has stunted our ability to take action. These days, liking a cause on Facebook is as inconsequential as swiping left or right on Tinder.

When I first started getting involved in social issues, I was moved by the compelling stories I would read online about families without clean water or children out of school, but I had no idea what an action step would look like. This frustration pushed me to start a digital storytelling project called Nova Narratives.

Social media is not a substitute for real action. Changing the world doesn’t necessarily mean flying across the globe, offering your solutions to foreign communities, nor should it. But changing the world can be as simple as becoming more educated on a new topic.

Through increased awareness comes the most thoughtful action and that is something people of any age are never too old to do.

So what does it mean to be young in this day and age? Some would say it makes you a Millennial, but I think it means we have the privilege of being alive at a point where we are at the crux of change.

We have more opportunity than ever before to make the world a better place. So it’s about time we got off of our phones and did exactly that.