Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Power to the (Young) People!

"Let's see if anyone shows up."

A couple of years ago Simon Johnson invited Mari Kuraishi and me to come talk to his class at the MIT Sloan School of Management. We awoke in Boston the morning of the class to find several feet of snow on the ground, and to hear on the radio that MIT was officially closed for the day. "Come on over anyway, and let's see if anyone shows up," said Simon.

When over eighty students showed -including some not enrolled in the class - I knew that the world had changed. Even a decade before, few business school students were interested in social change. Now, whenever Mari or I speak at any of the leading business schools, the room is almost always packed.

Students really care about the state of the world. And unlike previous generations, which relied heavily on protesting the current state of affairs, the current generation is taking action to actually change things.

An excellent example is the International Youth Volunteer Summit (IYVS), which was formed in 2006 by two undergraduate students at Northwestern University. Their idea was to hold dialogues with young changemakers and allocate resources to the students with the most innovative ideas to change the world.

Let's get this straight, because it is very significant: Students are working directly with communities in developing countries to create initiatives designed to address challenges and create wealth.

Not World Bank, USAID, or other experts. Students.

This year, they partnered with GlobalGiving to raise money for their projects and to enhance the likelihood those projects would be sustained over time. They have done an exceptional job, raising over $16,000 in less than three weeks for projects ranging from an initiative that connects AIDS orphans in Uganda to US artists to designing and building sustainable new water systems in Costa Rican communities to training of 300 micro-entrepreneurs in Guatemala.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. The new generation will not be satisfied with complaining. They will continue to take action. And as they gain experience, confidence, and more resources, they will be a major social force acting outside of top-down, official channels. That gives us reason to be optimistic.

PS: By the way, that same Simon Johnson has recently been nominated to be Chief Economist of the IMF. As I said, Times are changing...