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Sam Davidson's blog

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Can Gen Y Really Change the World?

I've been asking myself this question for most of the last three years, mainly because lots of people are asking it of me. I speak somewhere about Millennials and how they are changing the way change happens and afterward, some very curious Gen Xer or Boomer approaches me and asks if we're really seeing a shift in the nonprofit sector or if these well-meaning young people are just full of innocent idealism and getting lucky when they tweet something and some sort of good results. I reassure them that Generation Y has the chance to really change the world.

But we can't forget to ask for help. That's the only way we'll go from changing the world to running it.

This, in fact, will be the focus of my talk this Friday in Grand Rapids. I'm part of the Innovation Series at the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network National Conference. As a Millennial, I have a great confidence in my generation to bring about positive change, mainly for the reasons Barbara Ray, author of Not Quite Adults, mentions in this post. The self-confidence of Generation Y paired with the skills they learned volunteering while growing up give us all a real shot to produce some real change.

But, I'm not afraid to be critical of my generation, especially when we're not listening to the wisdom of others. Optimism is great, but overconfident pride can be destructive. I love that my generation is full of entrepreneurs, but lots of people starting businesses without a clue means there will be a lot of broken dreams. The most successful Millennial entrepreneurs I know have paired up with someone from another generation before trying to create their own job. This isn't a sign of weakness. Asking for help is a sign of intelligence.

Twenty-somethings have drastically reshaped the world in just the last 60 days. Read Thomas Friedman's take on the recent uprisings in Egypt and elsewhere. Combine passion, revolt, the desire for something better, and technology and you have the makings of a new dawn in countries dominated by old regimes. It's as if Gen Y was the fulcrum and technology the lever to lift the oppressive weight of bad government.

We are instrumental in the way good happens. We've grown up doing it. We will be the generation to shock the world. But, we'll need to work with others to pick up the pieces. I hope to encourage hundreds of my peers on Friday to keep changing the world in a very real way. But I'll also challenge them - and me - that it will soon be time to go from merely changing the world to running it. To do so, we'll need to collaborate, just like we always have.

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