Millennials and the Challenge of Our Generation

There is no doubt that millennials are inheriting a world full of enormous challenges. On a daily basis, these problems are growing in magnitude and complexity. Let me share what I see as some of the biggest challenges facing the world today:

Food Security: Approximately 795 million people do not currently have sufficient access to healthy, nutritious food — that’s about one in nine people. Every year, 3 million children die from malnutrition, mostly in developing countries. On top of that, we need to be able to feed 9 billion people by 2050, because demand for food is expected to grow by 60%. Unemployment: Since the global financial crisis of 2008, more than 61 million jobs have been lost. More than 200 million people are now unemployed. We need to create nearly 500 million new jobs by 2020 if those currently unemployed, and the young people who might follow them, are to have real, viable opportunities.

Human Trafficking: According to the International Labour Organization, there are about 20.9 million victims of human trafficking across the world. Most of them are female, and most are also trapped in forced labor. 26% of these victims are children. Poverty: 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 per day, and 1.2 billion people live on less than $1.25 per day, which is the threshold for extreme poverty. Around three quarters of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and depend on subsistence farming. In developing countries, poor people spend 60–80% of their income on food, while the average American spends less than 10%. 750 million people lack adequate access to clean drinking water, and 40 million children survive without proper shelter. 270 million children cannot receive healthcare, and nearly a billion people entered this century without being able to read or write. 2 billion people do not have bank accounts, or access to basic financial services.

We face real problems as a global community, and in one way or another, they affect all of us. There is no such thing as a third world problem anymore. A growing body of research suggests that rising income inequality is exacerbating economic and social issues. But there is hope! Each one of us has the potential to make a difference, and we see examples of that all around us.

Mark Zuckerberg built an online platform, which has connected the world in an unprecedented way. Malala Yousafzai defied sexism, gender inequality, and violence to fight for women’s rights in Pakistan. Paul Polak, the founder and CEO of Windhorse International, lifted almost 20 million people out of poverty by making radically affordable irrigation technology available to farmers. His company, a for-profit social venture, is on a mission to inspire more companies to design, price, market, and distribute products that can benefit bottom billion customers. Personally, I’ve witnessed the emergence of quality education across Africa, where new leaders and skilled professionals are propelling the continent forward.

While these individuals certainly deserve admiration and respect, they can’t solve all of our problems. We need a movement. Barack Obama wisely said that: “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” We do not have time for apathy. We must act. First, take action to boost your awareness of global issues. Read widely. Get involved in groups and conversations that expose you the realities of our shared world. Then, take meaningful, deliberate steps to make a difference. For example, you could choose to purchase only environmentally friendly products, when possible. If critical masses of people mobilize in the same direction, they can force the market to switch. We know from economics that companies crowd around demand. If you’re not convinced by the power of consumers, take a look at the recent #DeleteUber campaign, which succeeded in expelling Uber CEO Travis Kalanick from U.S. President Donald J. Trump’s business advisory council.

Here at Babson, we’ve created a platform to spark these conversations and encourage emerging entrepreneurs to think and build global. Babson is the leader in Entrepreneurship education and sits as the #1 college for international students in the US. As students, we’re using this rare diversity to inspire the creation of social impact businesses that solve our shared global problems. On April 7th and 8th, we are convening impact investors, thriving social ventures, emerging entrepreneurs and the corporate world to engage with the question of “how can entrepreneurship solve the problems around us?”. This is one of the ways we can act on our passion for a better world.

Those of us with an entrepreneurial streak know that global problems often present great opportunities for innovation. Dream big. Create. Widen your understanding of the world. Most importantly, as we say in my native Liberia: “Don’t sit there! Do SOMETHING positive!” It’s time to build global! Let’s start companies that actually solve the challenges I outlined earlier. As someone said, it would be great to have drones delivering burgers at your doorstep, but what if those same drones could deliver medical equipment to remote communities? It is possible for companies to be both helpful and profitable. I hope that universities and schools around the world will challenge students to engage with global problems in meaningful ways. Let’s energize and mobilize young people!

I ask all of my Millennial peers, and those coming after us, to please take ownership. We do not have to passively accept the status quo. We will spend the rest of our lives together, why not play an active role in determining what our shared world looks like?