Millennials Combine Entrepreneurship and Service

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Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine and National Journal's Ron Brownstein
National Journal
Stephanie Czekalinski
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Stephanie Czekalinski
April 16, 2014, 2:38 p.m.

Your job, after gradu­at­ing col­lege, is to work really hard. In 10 years, maybe you can buy a house. It was that aus­tere de­pic­tion of life after col­lege that pushed Paul Singh, founder of Dis­rup­tion Cor­por­a­tion, an as­set-man­age­ment firm in Ar­ling­ton, Va., to­ward en­tre­pren­eur­ship.

“Your fu­ture isn’t in your con­trol if you go down as a salary man,” he said dur­ing a Wed­nes­day pan­el dis­cus­sion at a Na­tion­al Journ­al and The At­lantic town-hall event on mil­len­ni­als in Rich­mond, Va., un­der­writ­ten by Mi­crosoft. “You have more risk than someone who is an en­tre­pren­eur. Your fu­tures are not se­cure.”

Today’s young adults are well aware that this eco­nomy provides no guar­an­tees of steady em­ploy­ment. But while many older mil­len­ni­als (the pop­u­la­tion born between 1980 and 2000) are now striv­ing to find their way eco­nom­ic­ally, they are also part of a gen­er­a­tion con­cerned with do­ing good.

In 2012, a full two-thirds of mil­len­ni­als were in­ter­ested in en­tre­pren­eur­ship, and more than one-quarter (27 per­cent) were already self-em­ployed, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce Found­a­tion. That same year, 22 per­cent of mil­len­ni­als vo­lun­teered, ac­cord­ing to the Cor­por­a­tion for Na­tion­al and Com­munity Ser­vice. Cur­rently Ameri­corps, a fed­er­al pro­gram that matches more than 80,000 vo­lun­teers a year with non­profits, schools, pub­lic agen­cies, and faith groups across the coun­try, has five ap­plic­ants for every vo­lun­teer space avail­able.

While a tur­bu­lent eco­nomy nips at its heels, mil­len­ni­als are com­ing of age with a foot firmly planted in two camps: ser­vice and self-in­terest. Many young adults are drawn to ad­dress­ing so­cial prob­lems — and, sim­ul­tan­eously, de­vel­op­ing their own ca­reers — by launch­ing busi­nesses or or­gan­iz­a­tions.

Des­pite the dif­fi­cult eco­nomy, many young people who have vo­lun­teered through Ameri­corps are op­tim­ist­ic about their chances for suc­cess.

“Wheth­er ex­pressed through start­ing own busi­ness and start­ing own or­gan­iz­a­tion, they feel like ‘I can do this,’ ” said pan­el­ist As­im Mishra, of the Cor­por­a­tion for Na­tion­al Com­munity Ser­vice, which ad­min­is­ters Ameri­corps.

Mark Hanis, dir­ect­or of the Beeck Cen­ter for So­cial Im­pact and In­nov­a­tion at Geor­getown Uni­versity, who was also on a pan­el, said that mil­len­ni­als shouldn’t over­look op­por­tun­it­ies for what he called “in­tre­pren­eur­ship,” where one brings an en­tre­pren­eur­i­al men­tal­ity to an es­tab­lished com­pany or or­gan­iz­a­tion.

“Ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions … might need fresh think­ing with­in them. You don’t have to start your new com­pany,” he said.

Vir­gin­ia Sen. Tim Kaine, who gave the key­note in­ter­view at the town-hall, stressed the im­port­ance of ser­vice to young people re­gard­less what paths their ca­reers take.

Kaine, who said he sup­ports a man­dat­ory year of ser­vice for young people, him­self took a year off from law school to work in Hon­dur­as, where he ran a school that trained car­penters and weld­ers. “I think about it every day,” he said. His ad­vice to today’s young people? “The things that you do that give to oth­ers are the things that are really power­ful.”

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