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Millennials on Purpose: How 3 Young Professionals See 'Purpose' Changing the World

Image credit: Business & Sustainable Development Commission

Winning the hearts and minds of the Millennial generation has been a dominating narrative for corporations over the past years. Surveys, reports and opinion pieces continue to analyze the ambitions and demands of this generation; but what would the world look like if businesses embodied Millennial values at the core of their organizations?

As Associates working at Carol Cone ON PURPOSE this summer, we asked ourselves this question and realized that our individual visions reflected an underlying theme of the desire for purpose: our aspirational reason for existence, and driving force to do good for ourselves and others.

As we see it, to embrace the “Millennial way of life” is to create a world where individuals bring their purpose – their passion, values, and ambitions – to work, rather than leaving it at the door. As we Millennials share our personal views, it is evident that we are influencing new norms, whereby our career paths are synonymous with doing good and living well. 

Hannah Rosen

Senior at Bucknell University; Political Science & Anthropology Major

My education has taught me about many aspects of society and has made me extremely passionate about what I believe in: purpose. I’ve learned to care about human ecology, politics and business, and how they interact to impact the world we live in.

There is growing agreement that the environment is in desperate need of help, and many might say we are past the point of no return. It can be common for individuals to feel as though they are not able to make a big enough difference in reducing damage to the earth, so they don’t try. It can be especially daunting when our government doesn’t appear to be working toward significant, large-scale, positive change.

For these reasons, corporate social responsibility presents an opportunity to create a movement bigger than any one person. For-profit businesses have an undeniable hold on society, which can and should be used for good. Fighting the growth of big business in order to improve our environment and our livelihood has not been working; therefore, we should use the presence of corporations to catalyze the change we so desperately need.

As one example, electricity production is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States (US EPA). If more companies followed the trailblazers at Tesla, who are planning on powering their main factory with a solar farm, carbon emissions would be reduced significantly. Even if automakers alone made the change, carbon emissions would be severely reduced.

In addition to environmental degradation, companies are mistreating employees, mistreating animals, overlooking atrocious waste practices and more. If companies make changes on a systemic level to do better in these areas, it would be a great start for the unprecedented changes that our society needs. Large, for-profit businesses can have such a significant influence on the way society functions as a whole that the corporations embracing purposeful work could drive the enormous impacts our generation is capable of having on earth.

Megan Shkolyar

Sophomore at Cornell University; Industrial and Labor Relations Major

From my experience as a college freshman, most students have a strong dislike towards large corporations, no matter the industry – which is surprising considering they often walk around with a Starbucks cup in one hand and an iPhone in the other.

Two sectors in particular caught my attention: finance and fashion. I understand why my fellow Gen Zs and younger Millennials distrust financial institutions, but large fashion corporations was a shock, considering many of my peers shop at Urban Outfitters. I began to wonder what Starbucks, Apple and Urban Outfitters have in common – and that is they consistently run huge campaigns that demonstrate to Millennials and Gen Z that they, as large institutions, are supporting causes that we care about most. Starbucks has made it clear to consumers that its priority as a company is to be more sustainable, more community oriented, and more socially responsible – and consumers see that every time they walk into a Starbucks. Apple makes it clear that it supports clean energy and finding a cure for AIDS by making its products recyclable and launching (PRODUCT) RED devices, respectively. Urban Outfitters sells clothes that support various social justice causes, as well as recyclable Levi’s denim.

Considering that Millennials will have majority purchasing power by 2020 (Forbes), I believe that corporate social responsibility and running a company with purpose at its core is the way to win the hearts and minds of this generation.

Emma Harris

Carol Cone ON PURPOSE; Skidmore College Graduate, Government Major

Woman; Millennial; avid traveler; liberal arts college graduate. Those are a few words I use to describe myself. Every decision I make is centered around my inner purpose, even if it as small a decision as taking a walk down to the pier in the middle of the workday.

I see purpose on a spectrum: from doing good to living well. My “doing good and living well” mantra consists of different things – it is about taking on the responsibility to give back to my community and help others; traveling to a new country or city and truly immersing myself in its culture, rather than simply observing it; keeping my mind open and refusing to stay enclosed in a box of normalcy; and finally, making an imprint on the society in which I live in, instead of just being a long for the ride.

One moment that impacted the way I view my role in the world was in 2014 when Emma Watson, British actor and UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, co-hosted a special event for UN Women’s HeForShe campaign. In an insightful speech addressing gender inequality, she explained the two simple questions that motivated her to stand up on that podium: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Her words have echoed in my mind until this day. While simple, these two questions create a profound sense of internal accountability and open the door for honest, personal reflection. If this type of selfless responsibility is practiced by our corporate leaders, then the future of the world in which we live will be directly in our hands, rather than up to chance.

This is the type of world I want to see: one where business entities work side by side to conquer social, environmental and political problems. The united front business leaders have recently presented in the name of climate change has made me hopeful for the future of the corporate world. For those of you not convinced, I leave you with this: What do you stand for?

Conclusion

Living a life with purpose, and instilling purpose as a cornerstone in companies, is what brought the three of us to this career path. Millennials and Gen Zs don’t just prefer working for a company that allows its employees to contribute to something larger than themselves – these generations are actively searching for a higher purpose through work.

It is no longer a matter of if, but when companies will embrace these standards. And if they do not, they will be left behind. As Wes Moore, founder and Chairman of BridgeEdu and CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, stated: “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives, and it’s the rare person who can walk away from what feels like a sure thing.”

The ability to spend our days working for a larger purpose is exactly what the next generations want from the corporate world. Why leave purpose at the door, when it can flow into every aspect of our life?

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Carol Cone ON PURPOSE (CCOP) is a 21st-century consultancy, led by Carol Cone, that partners with organizations to identify, accelerate and amplify their purpose, CSR and sustainability commitments.

 


Emma Harris is a Purpose Associate at CCOP. A life-long lacrosse player at the highest levels, Emma found her passion for purpose while participating in the South African Lacrosse Project, a non-profit organization for the advancement of education. Since… [Read more about Emma Harris]


Hannah Rosen joined CCOP as an associate for the summer of 2017. She is a senior at Bucknell University, majoring in political science and anthropology. Hannah found her passion for purpose while working with various organizations such as the…
[Read more about Hannah Rosen]


Megan Shkolyar has been an associate at CCOP since 2016. As a student and member of Gen Z, Megan has realized the importance of social entrepreneurship and purpose- driven corporations. So she has gotten involved in organizations that promote…
[Read more about Megan Shkolyar]


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