Yesterday at TEDxBrooklyn, Barbara Bush discussed the history and success of her organization, Global Health Corps, a non-profit that provides a year-long fellowship for young professionals and recent college grads to work on the frontlines of global health in the United States and East Africa.  The organization was born of a simple question: How can we engage young people in global health?

Since asking that question in 2008, the organization has grown and currently has 60 fellows.  During her presentation she shared the stories of some of the fellows and I found her approach to engaging millennials in social change insightful and compelling:

  1. Provide skill based opportunities: People who want to do good work are often frustrated by the lack of opportunities to put their skills to good use.  Either the work requires little to no use of their skills or the skills required are highly specialized.  In fact conversations around health often focus on medicine which leaves out people who are passionate about health but don’t have medical experience.  Global Health Corps allows fellows to harness their interests and skills for social change by placing them in specific skills focused projects.
  2. Focus on the big picture: The purpose of GHC isn’t just to get millennials giving back; it’s also to start a movement of young people passionate about global health inequality.  To that end fellows stay in touch through the alumni network, and are offered support after the fellowship ends.  As a result, fellows see the impact of their work in the communities they serve and continue to be involved in the conversation around global health inequality in various capacities once their fellowship ends.
  3. Start with millennials in mind: Often people will start a project or organization and last minute try to figure out how millennials might fit in.  However, GPC thought of millennials from the beginning, so their inclusion (seen in terms of addressing their concerns and challenges in service) is built into the structure of the fellowship and the organization.

I loved her presentation and would like to add other approaches to engaging millennials:

  1. Retiring the phrase “next generation”: Here’s the thing: Barbara bush is a millennial successfully leading millennials.  When we say “next generation” we imply that she is not yet a leader, her work is incomplete, and that there is only one way to lead.  Additionally, this approach not only influences how you treat young people but also how you view their work.
  2. Provide needed resources: And this doesn’t necessarily mean money.  For example, mentorship and a sense of community with co-workers and constituents allow people to feel invested in their work and welcomed.  When thinking of supporting young people money isn’t the biggest issue, and I think this is actually really challenging to address. It requires innovation and often rethinking about what motivates people to do their best.

What other organizations are successful in supporting millennials?  What other strategies would you add?