Bill Clinton CGI 2012 Demonstrates How Millennials Can Design for Impact

As we move into the twenty-first century, there is concern that the United States is falling behind in the world, that we are being out-educated, and that our economic supremacy is waning. Simultaneously, there is a recognition that many global challenges – societal challenges that affect the global community – require cooperation and collaboration on every level, from nation, to local communities and the individuals in them. It's hard to summarize the three days of amazing content from the 2012 annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, which wrapped up on Wednesday. The lessons learned in the conference should be implemented by millennials as we move forward in our lives and careers.

The CGI website posed this question: How are we designing our lives, our environments, and the global systems we employ in order to impact the challenges at hand?

The meeting explored e how the CGI community can “can utilize our abundance of global capacity to invent better tools, build more effective interventions, and work creatively and collaboratively to design a future worth pursuing.”

It is particularly inspiring to note that the breakdown of sessions reflect the reality that we all have a role to play: as individuals, in environments and in systems. Our global community is comprised of systems, and to create broad change requires systemic change. Suchchange is intentional; it isdriven by actors within the system, from corporations to government, for-profit and non-profit organizations and private citizens.

The overall conference theme, Design for Impact, is striking in both its simplicity and its nuance.

One speaker noted that in order to design for impact, you have to know your impact. That’s easier said than done, especially depending on the size of the entity. To break down supplier chains and understand as a producer what your impact is when it comes to purchasing raw materials takes true awareness. To then determine the impact you want to have and change your model or practice accordingly is another separate step. Critical thinking and creativity play equally important roles when it comes to such scenarios, and it is imperative that we are educating future generations accordingly.

In fact, in the education community, twenty-first skills are a hot-button topic for conversation. We are aware that we must ensure students possess the tools they need to succeed in a globalized world.

But we must also recognize and embrace the importance of civics in this pursuit, empowering and engaging the next generation to embrace the challenges ahead that will inevitably be passed along to them. The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a leading advocate in the effort to ensure that children nation-wide are learning skills such as collaboration, creativity, communication and critical-thinking that employers look for in employees. These same life skills are the ones that enable each citizen to contribute to the larger challenges we all face.

The role of business in creating change should not be understated. Corporations are capable of contributing to global and societal good. Public-private partnerships are one example of interaction between varying entities. 

Take, for example, the El Dorado Promise. In 2007, a $50 million dollar investment by Murphy Oil Company established the El Dorado Scholarship, a commitment to cover all tuition for graduating seniors to attend an accredited institution of higher education. And while Walmart has not historically been the best example of gold-start corporate behavior, they are also taking the lead in some important ways from environmentally conscious business practices and increasing access to healthier food for low-income families.

Whether or not you agree with the concept of big monopolies, they are for the moment firmly entrenched in society and should be encouraged to be standard-bearers.

Regardless, there is currently a tremendous focus on performance and profit for private businesses. If you combine that focus with the reality that shareholder holding time is decreasing from years to just months, it changes dynamics between short and long-term decisions. Companies are looking for short-term solutions and ideas to keep investors from dumping their shares; at the same time, entities and individuals alike should be encouraged to think about, and invest in, the long-term.

Corporate social responsibility can be a draw for investors as well as produce more efficient and productive public-private ventures. We need long-term thinking, intentionally articulating a broad vision for the future, but with enough nuanced detail that we can still design for impact.

Politically, as the number of democracies increases, world governments attempt to cater to public opinion. A downside of doing so is the rise of the constant campaigning and short-term decision-making. In the long term, we can still count on positive government contributions, especially when it comes to research and design investments that many companies may be wary to take on due to the risk factors. Government will continue to serve an important role for citizens and in addressing global challenges through international agreements and domestic policy decisions.

But greater collaboration with the business community and global corporations may have a political benefit in reducing some of the avid animosity between business and regulatory interests. How does one foster and design such public-private partnerships? They each bring something to the table: business brings innovation and flexibility, while government brings institutions and systems for implementation on a broader level.

The final thought on the conference takes me back to one of my earlier examples: the importance of education for future generations. While it is admirable and inspiring to see such powerful leaders’ world coming together at CGI – along with the annual opening of the United Nations in New York – under this banner, once again, the conversation is beginning and happening at the highest level. It is a community for the best and the brightest. Yes, they should be celebrated as leaders.

But what we need moving forward is for more citizens of all ages, of all ranks, of all abilities to consider themselves civically engaged. We need citizens with an understanding of both local and global challenges, who possess a deep seated belief in the power of the individual to affect change. We need problem-solvers who possess an ability to dissect a problem. We need communicators who can build coalitions and bring stake-holders to the table. We need leaders who value collaboration towards a shared end-goal, and we need innovators who can envision the world we want to inherent.

The questions are same for each of us. How do we live, how do we engage with our surrounding environment, and what role can we imagine for ourselves in the world? What do we each bring to the problem solving needed in the twenty-first century?

In closing, I want to add just a few thoughts on the rising generation of leaders, members of Generation Y or the so-termed millennial generation. Millennials are community oriented and civically minded. They seek both economic and emotional importance from all activities, including their profession. They want to make a difference and be change-makers. These tendencies highlight a few important connections.

First, for corporate social responsibility and in order to appeal to millennials, companies (as employers and as competitors for investments) should be willing to engage in society and provide opportunities within their employment structure for employees to do the same. How are we all designing work environments to utilize the passion and personalities of millennials, who will give above and beyond to a cause or effort they believe in?

There are organizations, such as Ashoka and Echoing Green, who are investing in the entrepreneurial talents of young people. Young people are starting their own businesses designed to inform the public and support those who are struggling economically. Nick Santos designed and launched the Environmental Consumer, a resource to engage individuals in understanding their product consumer and its impact on the environment. Or take Joe Shure, who started the Intersect Fund, an organization that provides small microloans to help others start their own businesses.

I am so inspired by all of these examples and ideas, for they demonstrate a generational mindset that is so very promising for our future. Ultimately, CGI is an awe-inspiring example of world leaders engaging in these big questions and setting the bar high for everyone else. Still, without the support of their citizens, as well as the private and public sectors, change may remain elusive.