There is much discussion currently around the plight, and the promise, of youth in America and beyond. Data shows that the job market is extremely tight for new graduates, many of whom return to their parent’s home as they re-group and hone their job-seeking skills. Yet for the uber-qualified darlings amongst them, prospects have never been better. Fantastic opportunities from leading tech and purpose-driven companies (think Google, TOMS and Warby Parker) knock at their virtual doorsteps. We hear it said that millennials are self-entitled slackers. Conversely, there is a view that they are the most talented, optimistic, and socially conscious generation to date, and they are poised, motivated and capable of changing the world. As these disparate perspectives coexist, it is incontrovertible that this group wields most of the buying influence in the consumer marketplace, and brands fervently compete to engage them. Since they are our future, however, we must look beyond a narrow view of marketing value and invest effort and resources to unlock their vast potential.
1. Why it is vital to involve youth in efforts of social impact?
There are a million reasons to involve youth in social impact efforts, but two stand out. First, we know that service is like mastering sports, music, reading, numeracy, and even nutrition; it’s best started in childhood, where it then lays a foundation for the rest of your life. Secondly, brain research tells us that young people are biologically wired for three things: novelty, risk, and peer authority. Kids see new solutions to old problems that adults simply miss. It’s no coincidence that many of America’s greatest companies, Apple, Microsoft, Dell, Facebook, Bristol Myers, Nantucket Nectars, and Yahoo! were invented by young people under 25. Youth are wired for creativity and, with their peers in tow, they reinforce the adage, “no risk, no reward.”
2. What are challenges and successful strategies for engaging them?
Most youth development programs follow the old model of youth as recipients, even focusing on youth as victims or problems to solved. If you spend your childhood as a recipient, you’ll spend your life as a recipient. Authentic transformation happens when you ask young people to be the actors and to take the lead; serving instead of being served. At YSA, we engage kids to be the leaders and the hope of today. When you call kids “the hope of tomorrow” or “future leaders” you put them on hold. You let them off the hook. The problems facing our planet are too big for us to wait for young people to grow up before they start solving them.
Finally, I would say that all children wonder if they matter. By engaging them in service, helping to solve real problems, we answer that question with powerful affirmation. The reason that young people are volunteering at record rates today is that service gives them what all kids crave: Meaning, adventure, community, power, respect, structure, challenge, and opportunity.
In light of these observations, brands that get on board with engaging youth at an early stage stand the best chance at owning their loyalty as they mature.
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