In a recent article in Stanford Social Innovation, Carol Sanford explores the growing trend of young people opting to be entrepreneurs rather than pursuing careers at organizations. What stood out to me in her post was the last paragraph:

NextGenNow leaders are not social entrepreneurs because they don’t start with social or environmental problems, and build businesses around them. They start with and stay with their own drive and a unique vision. They use their personal passion to find ways to contribute in the world.

Up until now we’ve been hearing about how young people want to be involved in social change and are pursuing careers in the nonprofit sector or as social entrepreneurs. However, in her research she sees that young people are beginning to change the world without necessarily making that an explicit goal or pursuing a typical career at an organization. This is a unique shift in perspective, one that I think has many implications for social change and nonprofits.

What impact will young entrepreneurs have on social change?

1. Social change is a built in core value: Making the world a better place is simply a way of living. It’s not an additional action added onto an already hectic day. Instead it’s making conscious decisions about what we buy, what we eat, how we travel, and how we live.

2. Social change is more accessible: Once we remove the need for an organization to be at the center of a movement or social change in general, it becomes easier for people to feel as though they can take action wherever they are.

3. Social change is expected: Greater accessibility and the shared belief that all actions should have a positive impact will mean that people expect others to be mindful and engaged in social change. There is no reason not to be.

So what do these changes mean for nonprofits?

I see higher standards for nonprofits and the view of nonprofits as facilitators. Because people will no longer see a need for nonprofits (demonstrated in the rise of free agents for example) nonprofits will have to prove their worth and work more creatively with entrepreneurs. And as people build businesses and reshape their lifestyles in order to have a positive impact on the world, they will need information, access to like minded people, and social/economic capital, resources nonprofits can either provide or help young people find.

Of course many questions arise that young entrepreneurs often ignore, some of which I addressed in a presentation I gave at Demos on leadership challenges facing the sector.  Specifically, how do we address the gaps in entrepreneurship along race, class, and gender lines?  And are young people actually challenging power structures or just finding new ways to be part of them?

What do you think?  Are we ushering in a new approach to social change?  What impact do you forsee, if any, on nonprofits?