Rethink the Labels – Are Millenials the SDGen?

A teenager taps on his smartphone in Thailand.
A teenager taps on his smartphone in Thailand.

By Mei Kok

We need to start taking more youth perspectives into account for social and economic development to stay relevant.

We keep hearing comments about how young people nowadays are apathetic and becoming less social, talking only through the flat screens of the shiny electronic gadgets gifted to us by big leaps forward in IT innovations.

Being a millennial myself, I can’t help when I hear these comments but to compare our generation to that of our predecessors, Generation X, whose key values are, recognition, contribution, and autonomy, were shaped by the competitive period where a lot of economic technological and social progress happened post second world war.

Although it is true that millennials are always on our phones, I think dismissing us as apathetic is unfounded.

YouthSpeak, a global youth insight survey managed by the world’s largest youth-run organization AIESEC, has to date captured about 170,000 responses from young people from over 100 countries and territories. The results of this survey contradict the above stereotypes that have continuously been linked with millennials:

  1. When asked about what motivates them in life, millennials identified their top three motivators as family, purpose in life, and friends (in that order). These motivations are more important than financial success, recognition, and personal achievement.
  2. A huge majority (81.9%) of millennials is willing to volunteer their time and energy on purposeful projects, but many (52.5%) also claim that lack of resources is a main challenge in doing so.
  3. When asked about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) launched at the UN Headquarters in New York in September 2015, the majority of the millennials (54.6%) is unaware, but most would be interested in contributing toward their achievement, particularly on SDG 4 (quality education), SDG 1 (no poverty), and SDG 3 (good health and wellbeing).
  4. Some millennials find smartphones harmful, but most of them own smartphones that they use for information gathering, and communicating with friends and family.

The YouthSpeak survey results suggest that millennials, contrary to popular belief, are highly connected to their friends and family, empathize with issues they are familiar with, and have a strong desire to lead a purposeful life.

We have more young people in the world now than we have ever had in history. In fact, in many developing countries the youth makes up more than 50% of the total population. Millennials are taking over GenX as the biggest demographic cohort in the workforce, and many of them will be stepping up into leadership roles in the near future. Therefore, we need to start taking more youth perspectives into account for social and economic development to stay relevant.

Apathetic, individualistic, and complacent?

Peel away the labels put on millennials, and invest time into listening and talking to them. These purposeful and connected Millennials are the Sustainable Development Generation (SDGen), the generation that could lead us towards living as a more sustainable world.

Empower the #SDGen with education, and involve them in policymaking and developmental projects. As the youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai said, “One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.”

Give millennials the knowledge and tools, and let them use their interconnected network, enabled by technology, to inspire our families and friends to embark on a journey toward a sustainable world.

I am certain that we will see innovative and collaborative solutions, a movement driven by the #SDGen to make our world a better place to live in by 2030.