Opinion: 'Me' generation aims to change the world
A recent Telefónica-Financial Times Global Millennial Survey looks at how technology shapes Millennials lives and outlook.
June 7th, 2013
05:54 PM ET

Opinion: 'Me' generation aims to change the world

Editor's note: Erica Williams is a social impact strategist and World Economic Forum Young Global Shaper. She is the CEO of EWS Strategies, a social impact consulting firm that works with high-impact businesses and next generation leaders.

By Erica Williams, Special to CNN

(CNN) - Millennials have gotten a bad rap lately.

Despite much evidence to the contrary, we are seen as selfish and entitled, with little regard for the actual values that we espouse and the socio-economic context in which we live.

But a recent Telefónica-Financial Times Global Millennial Survey - which spoke to more than 12,000 adult millennials, including 1,000 Americans - adds insight to not only what millennials believe, but also what they are doing as a result of their beliefs.

In a world with unrepresentative governments, rising economic gaps in a fluctuating economy, and persistent gender gaps, millennials are blending new ideas about work with their desire to change the world to confidently face harsh societal realities and realize their vision for a brighter future.

As a millennial woman who works to help businesses and young leaders do good and implement innovative social change projects, I have spent the better part of my career working with ambitious, mission-driven millennials.

I know all too well the economic, societal and environmental pressures that this generation faces.

For almost a decade, I worked as an advocate and young nonprofit leader, tackling these and other issues and had begun to achieve professional success

But a year ago, I began to feel an itch. I started to ask myself a series of questions that became louder day by day: Am I fighting these obstacles and pursuing justice as creatively as I know how? Are there new – better and faster – ways to change the world? Am I really making a difference – and doing so in a way that allows me to live a full, financially stable life?

These questions – about money, creativity, work-life balance, and innovation – are often regarded as entitled and self-centered.

But they are far from it. They are a logical and empowered response to a world in which amazing tools are at our fingertips and unprecedented pressures are on our shoulders.

For me, the answer to those questions pointed clearly towards entrepreneurship. Since launching my social impact strategy firm, I’ve discovered an exciting, inspiring world where fellow millennials from all walks of life are digging in, creating unconventional jobs and applying their unique generational knowledge to the problems of the day.

I have met Rachael Chong, the young female CEO of the volunteer matching startup Catchafire. Emily May, a next generation feminist that has created a tech-centric model to end street harassment, is sparking a global movement.

I have been inspired by the ideas of the Echoing Green’s Black Male Achievement Program’s young fellows, and awed at Tasha Bowens, a former colleague who quit her 9 to 5 to move to a farm and start a sustainable agriculture organization focused on food justice.

It is also interesting to note how many of the leaders that I have met and worked with are women. According to the survey, American men are twice as likely as women to be "millennial leaders," a category that the study defined by their access to technology, their belief in their country’s future, and their perceived entrepreneurial opportunity.

In the midst of a national conversation about women in the workplace and the growth of women-led startups like Girls Who Code focusing on girls and technology, Telefonica’s survey revealed some interesting gender gaps with regards to entrepreneurship and technology.

Only 16% of women strongly agree that they have opportunities to become an entrepreneur or develop and bring an idea to market, compared to 22% of men.

Only 22% of women believe that technology plays a critical role in shaping their outlook on life compared to 39% of men. Also telling is that 69% of women consider themselves on the cutting edge of technology compared to 80% of men.

Yet even in the face of these disparities, young entrepreneurs are plugged in. The average millennial spends six hours a day online.

These entrepreneurs are diverse, passionate and carving out careers that many of their parents wouldn’t have been able to understand five years ago.

While some of these stories and those that make the covers of magazines are uniquely privileged and “first world",  they speak to a spirit and ethos around entrepreneurial mission-driven work that is being manifested across cultural, economic and geographic lines.

Our desire to fix things through our work and ideas is born of our circumstance.

Telefonica’s survey confirms that many of us remain supremely confident while doing so.

74% of millennial leaders believe that they can make a global difference, according to the survey. Over half of this group believe that their country’s best days are ahead of them.

So what? Millennials are entrepreneurial and cause-minded. Is there really an actionable takeaway for the rest of the world? Absolutely.

Anyone working with millennials, trying to engage them, or working on the same global challenges using more traditional methods, should take note and appreciate the value of cross generational collaboration and hybrid models to make an even bigger impact.

Organizations like the United Nations Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative and even the White House are starting to take advantage of this generation’s spirit and know-how. The opportunities for existing organizations to embrace and partner with this generation to change the world are endless.

And so are the possibilities for the future.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Erica Williams.

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Filed under: Age • How we live • What we think
soundoff (56 Responses)
  1. dirty Joe

    The "Me" generation is hilarious.

    They all got trophies in no-score sports leagues as kids so they think they're all special winners.

    They wear stupid hipster glasses so they think that makes them smart (even though they don't have to remember things anymore like phone numbers or where they parked – hey, there's an app for that!)

    They have 454 fake friends on facebook so they think that makes them popular and social.

    Their helicopter parents stepped in anytime there was a problem in school, work or life so they feel everything should go their way- always. And if you don't get your way, their strategy is to whine and complain until they do.

    Instead of actually working for a living, they think everything should just be handed to them. I know this guy, he's about 25. Just started working. Everytime a manager or supervisor position comes open at his work he applies. After 1/2 a year on the job, he seriously thinks he should be promoted and is upset and disappointed when he is not. I'm quite surprised he hasn't had his parents call his work for him.

    July 9, 2013 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      You mention helicopter parents, ultimately aren't they the problem? Not the kids? Im a millennial.. or barely, I was born in 1980 and Im quite successful, not outrageously so or anything but Im very proud of the hard work and time I put in to get to where I am today.. but it was primarily from the parents pushing and exposing me to the world and the successes and failures that come with it.

      Instead of blaming the kids why not look at the older generation that raised us and place some hate on them.

      Boomers are the problem in my eyes, they let this current situation, whether it is the economy or social values slip to this point. MEers are just inheriting it!

      July 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
      • Not a hater, but I do hate LeBron


        I'm glad you worked hard and are successful in life.

        But come on! People can't blame their parents for the adults they've become.

        Tell members of your generation to grow up and quit being whiny, spoiled, iPhone-addicted, skinny-jean-ironic-t-shirt-and-retro-sneaker wearing, moustache-obsessed, fixed-bike riding, tattooed, crappy-music liking leeches on society who expects everything handed to them.

        LOL about the lack of memory dirty joe. 40 years later and I still remember about 30 childhood phone numbers. I bet most millenials don't even have their own mother's number memorized. Since every available piece of information is on their iPhone, they don't know anything of historical significance. They think every workplace should have couches, a foosball table and a kegerator

        July 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
  2. tuckerfan

    When I was 20, a long time ago, my father turned to me and said,

    Congratulations my son, never in your life will the gap between what you know nd what you think you know be greater. Now go forth and win the day.

    (t was cogent then, and is cogent now. Don't worry MEers, your thirties are coming when you will finally give up childhood and do great things. Can't wait to see what you accomplish when we pass the torch to you.

    July 9, 2013 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. A.Robards

    Williams, millenials, et al....suck. A crap generation.

    July 9, 2013 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. jeff

    "Opinion: 'Me' generation aims to change the world"

    Of course written by a 'ME' generation.

    July 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • SP

      Would you have preferred her to say "My generation hopes to take all of the resources from our parents generation and live the high life saddling our grandchildren with massive debt?" You know, like the generation that was born in the late 40's through the 60's did?

      July 9, 2013 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mac

    This chain of comments is getting a little silly. Every generation seems to think it is better than all the others. For those of you who are older than the so-called "millennials," just try to remember what your parents' and grandparents' generations had to say about people in your age group when you were young adults. Fellow millennials, believe me when I say that your children will think you are even more backwards and selfish than you think the older generations are now. The world we live in was built by the men and women who came before us. Each generation has led its own cultural revolution amid extraordinary challenges, and we should be grateful for their contributions. My generation is working on its own revolution now, but we face our own challenges, including two wars (fought mostly by millennials) and a dismal economy that has disproportionately affected young adults. To the older generations: You may not understand us, and our lives may be different from yours, but we are not, as a whole, as selfish or lazy as you think. Most of us just want to work hard, earn enough money to support our families and make a difference in the world. Surely, you can understand that. After all, you wanted the same things when you were our age.

    July 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Anna

      And we failed, just like your gen will.

      July 9, 2013 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
  6. CW

    Erica Williams is a social impact strategist...What the hell is that?

    July 9, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peoples State of Illinois

      She is probably CEO of the only employee, herself.

      July 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • SP

      And you're critiquing the lack of knowledge of the millennial generation? Start by asking any major corporation where they see the biggest opportunities for marketing to potential consumers, and you may get your answer.

      July 9, 2013 at 4:07 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Bart

    C'mon, the "Me" generation is the baby-boomers. Look at what they are doing now. They are going to make everyone else pay for their retirement, medicine and they had a sweet ride with cheap everything.

    July 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Peoples State of Illinois

      Written by someone that either does not know what they are talking about, or didn't think about what they wrote before writing it. The "baby boomers" have been working 30 plus years and paid into the benefit programs all that time. They are just wanting their own money back. It is the government that has put this country in the shape it is in, both parties.

      July 9, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • SP

      Sure is Bart. And even for those poor laborers of "30 plus years" they take FAR more in benefits than they paid in. But they earned it, unlike us millennial who just expect everything without working for it. Then again, I guess we'll find out the hard way when we get to pay off all of their debt.

      July 9, 2013 at 4:15 pm | Report abuse |
      • Peoples State of Illinois

        You just shown your lack of knowledge (giving you the benefit of the doubt). It has been statistically proven that the "baby boomers" will receive far less in benefits than they have paid in, after they retire, before they die.

        July 9, 2013 at 4:42 pm | Report abuse |
      • SP

        And now I know YOU are making stuff up. The latest study showed that the average person currently gets more than 30% more out of social security than they put in (adjusted for inflation), and more than 70% of what they put into medical benefits. Just like most people, you make up facts and then accuse others of doing the same. Good day to you.

        July 10, 2013 at 10:25 am | Report abuse |
  8. Peoples State of Illinois

    I had a discussion with one of my millenial coworkers one day and he said, with a perfectly straight face, and in all seriousness, "I deserve go get what I want, when I want it. That is the way things are supposed to be." I thought he was kidding, but he wasn't. He also believed that the government should be providing all his food, housing, car and phone, for free! I shook my head and laughed at him, and he had the gall to get mad at me. He is in the process of having a huge awakening.

    July 9, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • SP

      Funny, I heard the same thing from someone who grew up in the 50's. Only difference is that I was smart enough to not make sweeping generalizations. By the way – thanks for taking care of the deficit.

      July 9, 2013 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
      • Peoples State of Illinois

        You are thanking the wrong person for the deficit. Thank the liberals, or just the government in general.

        July 9, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
      • SP

        Oh, you were for raising your taxes so that I do not have to pay for the money your generation spent?

        July 9, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Report abuse |
      • Peoples State of Illinois

        Of course not. I'm for responsible government spending, rather than the waste that goes on now. The people in this country pay entirely to much in taxes, much more than is really necessary.

        July 9, 2013 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
  9. rebiii

    Right, "cause-minded".

    This is the generation that was the raw material out of which the N.S.A.'s spy programs were fashioned. They probably think that the music they listen to, and the fact that they send $20 every now and then to N.O.W. or Save the Children makes them different from THOSE spies, you know, the heartless white males in trenchcoats from the 50s. I'll try my best to keep my applause in check.

    July 9, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mattie

    Every generation wants life to be better for their kids and then calls the new generation spoiled when life turns out to be better.

    July 9, 2013 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jorge

    This generation is no different from generations past; clueless, naive and bound to underachievement, attrition and limitation by the vices of the generation before it. Surprisingly, a few of them will survive this to make good changes in the world (hopefully).

    June 20, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • jack

      You nailed it Jorge! This younger generation especially thinks they are highly intellectual and they know all the answers. The first problem is that the standards of education are falling rapidly, so sure maybe you do have a college degree, but that doesn't mean jack anymore. They claim to be progressive and aspire to "change" everything yet they are ignorant and discrediting to any kind of view different from their own. They also want something for nothing. Look at the case of Sweden where younger people see they can get paid without working so they figured out why work.

      July 9, 2013 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
      • Alan

        Want to change the world?
        It is really very simple. Just one thing needed.
        Change "ME" to "WE"...... as in "We the People"..... Get it?

        July 9, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Report abuse |
      • Don't know Jack

        Jack – thanks for demonstrating the point. I could say that your generation could've done a lot better in managing our nations debt, it's environment, and it's economy, or that you were the ones who taught my generation in school with that "crappy education." But the facts are that my generation is more highly informed than yours, and even though our education is falling behind compared to the rest of the world, it's still miles better than anything you were taught in school. Now, want to talk about me, me, me? Let's talk about you not wanting your taxes to go higher to help pay down the debt my generation will be burdened with, or you not wanting to take a cut out of your benefits so that my generation can take out what we put in.

        July 9, 2013 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
      • Peoples State of Illinois

        @Don't know Jack
        You have proved that you don't.

        July 9, 2013 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Verbs

    This generation will stress the authoritarians into having ulcers and aneurysms. Best case scenario.

    June 12, 2013 at 11:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Sherri

    FIRST, they need to learn to spell, and write a coherent sentence. I worked at a university and we were all called into a meeting to be told how to treat this group. How they have been made to feel special since they were born (1985 and since). How they want many special things when going to college (rock climbing walls, pools etc) and that if they don't get them, they will go elsewhere and since it is all about butts in seats, we needed to cater to them. We also heard how their parents call the professors if the poor child does not get the grade they want. How these 'kids' call their parents during class etc. Parents complain if junior does not get the job he/she wants and on and on. Well kiddies, you are not special. I was so glad when I was able to retire and get away from these little darlings. And if you ever read their resumes (which I had much opportunity to) you would almost cry. They were almost illiterate. The university had to give remedial classes for freshmen because they could not do entry level work. THIS is what we are graduating now.

    June 11, 2013 at 6:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. willard

    The picture at the head of the article is apt. Look at those two. "Derp, isn't there an APP??"

    June 11, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
  15. cminto

    This article is so poorly written, with so many typos, incomplete or run-on sentences it was almost impossible to feel like it carried any substance. I'm a millennial, and I find it embarrassing that someone "representing" my generation can't even proof read an article for a national news site.

    June 11, 2013 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  16. Josh Calvin

    the only millennials I know are enrolled in Medicaid (don't have insurance), work "odd" jobs, live at home with parents, go to sub-community college, and spend all their money. Sounds good to me. And talk about social change; nice life.

    June 11, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
  17. Scott

    For better or worse this generation is going to be affecting things for a long time. To give an indication of their size, before the term "Millennial" caught on they were referred to as "echo-boomers". This generation is going to be larger than the baby boomers. Gen-X is pretty much assured historical obscurity by virtue of being sandwiched between two large demographics.

    June 11, 2013 at 10:03 am | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Yeah, Gen-X will be obscure...aside from that whole ushering in the internet era thing...

      June 11, 2013 at 10:21 am | Report abuse |
  18. Scott


    Go make my Starbucks.

    June 11, 2013 at 9:53 am | Report abuse |
  19. mike

    "CEO of EWS Strategies, a social impact consulting firm that works with high-impact businesses and next generation leaders."

    Social impact consulting, eh? Yep...sounds like another millennial with a fluffy faux-job. I'd love to see the impressive list of high impact businesses and what actual services she provided them.

    June 11, 2013 at 9:32 am | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Heh...her company doesn't even show on the first page of Google results for its own name. Really tired of these kids just making up companies so they can pretend to be a real CEO.

      June 11, 2013 at 9:41 am | Report abuse |
      • Erica Williams

        Hey Mike – Several of my clients are listed in the bio for my personal website ericawilliamsdc.com and if you're interested in testimonials, feel free to email me. 🙂 EWS soft launched last year as an independent consultancy and thus didn't need a new web presence separate from my own. That said, now that we have grown, the new site will be up in July and I hope that you'll come check it and our services out. In the meantime, regardless of what you think of me, my work or Millennials at large, thanks for reading the taking the time to comment!

        June 11, 2013 at 1:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • CW

      Sounds like a trust fund type 'daddy' job. Can CNN find someone with a normal life experience?

      July 9, 2013 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  20. Cosmicsnoop

    OK, For some reason I can never get on Discuss, they are blocking me or something, considering I signed up with three different e-mails and I still can't get on or get an e-mail from them. So I am using this forum to discuss the NSA spying. Millennials should be all over this. The way to handle it seems easy to me. We should throw a rock into their plans. I, like most people, have more than one e-mail. I do not want to incriminate anyone else so what I am doing, and if a million others did too it would work, is sending e-mails to myself filled with just incriminating words to screw up their filters. I'm just going to write: bomb, terrorist, etc. and keep sending e-mails back and forth. If they come to question me, first, I will answer no questions without a lawyer, since that is the law. Secondly, since I have done nothing wrong, there's nothing they can do. Time for a little Civil Disobedience so we can still call ourselves Americans.

    June 11, 2013 at 7:59 am | Report abuse |
  21. Farrok

    How do you know you are getting old? A smart phone is too smart for you to use.

    June 11, 2013 at 4:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Jorge

      How do you know you are young and naive? When you still can't see the same old cr*p happening over and over again...

      June 20, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Report abuse |
  22. Jim

    While I'm not a huge fan of hippies, to say the only thing they accomplished has been legalizing dope is a bit of a stretch. The counterculture was a significant force in the end of the Vietnam war, a large contributor to music, art and entertainment of the era, the start of the environmental movement, and various other things. Every generation contributes something, good and bad and every generation has its problems, dumb people and smart people.

    June 10, 2013 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
  23. the sparrow king

    also society already made the same analogy about hippies back in the 60's and thier only note worthy accomplishment sinse then was legalizing dope in two states. great. while us milenials created facebook and ushered in more revolutions and assylums of free speech that it makes hoffman look like super hitler!!! not to mention the fact that weve no blood on our hands from starting imbecilic wars because hey were to young to run for office!!!!!!! given all that please dont bash us were smarter then u. dont make us hack the luanch codes!!!!!!!

    June 10, 2013 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Scott

      Sadly the Boomers can accomplished far more than that. The Boomer collective gave us the restrictive drug programs of the late 70's, 80's, and 90's. Yet after telling us for years that pot was harmful with no purpose, now we're told it's ok......but only for the old sick folk. The rest of us can't have it.

      What we're seeing now is a function of naked self interest by these same Boomers.

      June 11, 2013 at 9:57 am | Report abuse |
    • numbnut

      Well, you're not smarter in the spelling category.

      July 9, 2013 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
  24. the sparrow king

    im a milenial watever that means and one day we shall unleash a weapon of unimaginable destructive narricism!!!!!! and we shall call that weapon facebook!!!

    June 10, 2013 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • ed dugan

      You're right! The only word that describes millennials is INSIPID. They walk around with their faces down texting nonsense to one another. Erica Williams is a fraud selling BS to people who can't think for themselves. Wait until the horrible public school education they receive catches up with them. They will have their phony "self-esteem" and very little else. At least hippies TALKED to each other.

      June 11, 2013 at 9:23 am | Report abuse |
  25. betterdays

    Get those government grants, kids. Save the world from a comfortable perch on the gravy train.

    June 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
  26. Halo Elijah

    That's true, millennials need to be more sensitive to the needs of the baby boomers in order to acquire their demand for business and services. Ages 40+ want some good help, they don't want to be teased for not knowing how to use a certain smartphone app.

    June 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Zhanne

      Age 40+? Baby boomers are what – over 50 at the least now. Please don't include Gen X in assumptions of technological cluelessness. Thx...

      June 10, 2013 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike

      Most 40 year olds are pretty tech savvy these days.

      June 11, 2013 at 9:33 am | Report abuse |
  27. Josie

    Sorry but the Millennials I have run into (and not all of them, just a large chunk of them) really do focus on themselves and thing that "THEIR" generation has done all these "GREAT" improvements. Well for one thing feminism has changed, and it is amazing to watch how it has...in both extremes. Generation X were the ones that started with technology and helped bring about things such as the internet, which lead to Facebook and now kids who are literally hooked to their smartphones almost 24/7. Nothing like watching a teenager panic because they are told to put their phone up at work because they aren't allowed to have them. I don't have anything against some of the Millinials I have met, but I do have a problem with a large chunk of them. And sadly the older ones are getting to the age of having kids here soon, but then again hopefully they wait and don't have too many till they are older...if they move out of mom and dads house. Oh and about the economy, there is always jobs out there, but with some you will have to work, work hard and many times not make enough...so budget.

    June 10, 2013 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |