To some people, the cohort born between 1995 and 2005, known as Generation Z, is an enigma. Research shows that a stunning 55 percent of these individuals use a cell phone for 5 hours or more each day, and yet only 26 percent of 16- to 19-year-olds take the time to volunteer regularly. Therefore, it may appear that my generation is a group of self-obsessed technophiles, more concerned with social pursuits online than the greater good of the world.
The truth, though, is that many of us are simply engaging with the issues we care about in starkly different ways than our parents. My generation, largely comprised of independently minded individuals, furthers what we believe in with bold inventiveness.
Evidence suggests that Gen Z prefers using entrepreneurship as a tool for change. Instead of volunteering or giving through existing groups, many members of this generation broaden the definition of traditional philanthropy to include social entrepreneurship — the practice of creating startups to generate social good. Gallup surveys indicate that nearly 80% of students in grades 5-12 want to be their own boss, and over 40% of students agree with the statement that they will invent something that changes the world. According to a study featured in “The Entrepreneur in Youth,” 64% of high school students said they want to start a nonprofit or charity.
For my part, I have launched a youth-led literacy nonprofit to strive for educational opportunity for all, something I am very passionate about. As I have watched my team grow, I can attest to my peers’ enthusiasm and dedication. This sense of self-motivation supports our desire to improve upon current humanitarian efforts through enterprise. In brief, Gen Z gives back by creating new, socially minded ventures.
On the other hand, we’re not afraid of getting involved in existing organizations. But when we do that, we have specific goals in mind. Gen Z is still willing to invest in causes by donating time and resources, or using our networks to raise awareness on social media. But most of us expect to be able to direct our support to specific initiatives within an organization. Even small donors want a say on how their contributions are used, and they want the organizations they support to be transparent about how they spend their time and money.
With this in mind, it is an exciting and challenging time for the Mackinac Center and all other charitable organizations. We should all be inspired to see how groups such as the Mackinac Center tap into the dynamic creativity of Generation Z.
Justin Witt is an advancement intern at the Mackinac Center.