What happens when the generation obsessed with changing the world collaborates with the generation obsessed with finding meaning?
Baby Boomers and Millenials are coming face to face in the Western world's workforce. In more traditional sectors, this has caused a clash of objectives. Social enterprise is the playground in which these objectives align.
Social enterprise is the marriage of the practical and the ideal, the focal point of the intrinsic drives of these two generations. After years of building private-sector competency, millions of Baby Boomers have found themselves autonomous: well-equipped with skills, capital, and a desire to ‘move from success to significance.’ Simultaneously, many of the most existentially confused generation – Millennials – have discovered that doing is the quickest path to purpose. Taken together - the skills, capital, and pragmatism of Baby Boomers perfectly harmonizes with the energy, tenacity, and globally-inspired ideas of Millennials.
Historically, the singular career path in the Western World was an apprenticeship model. Over time, the burden of professional development has shifted away from the collaborative energies of apprenticeship, and onto the shoulders of individuals. Professional development does not generally include focus on mentoring as much as it does leveraging much broader networks to climb a structured hierarchy. This is evident in how few corporations offer legitimate professional development opportunities and how quickly employees jump from one job to another. While a trait of most highly successful entrepreneurs, I suspect, is an independently discovered appreciation of deeper mentor/advisor relationships, the broader, public appreciation of mentorship as necessary or expected has been mostly lost.
Social enterprise is different. It has unanimously enshrined this lost art of mentorship. Baby Boomers and Millennials want to and enjoy working together in social enterprise because of how well their objectives align. The quest to understand how business can be catalyzed for a cause greater than profit is part of the greater generational objectives: a search for change and meaning.
As the co-founder of a father-son social enterprise, I’ve had an unfair opportunity to accelerate professional development via a sort of apprenticeship. Over the past two years, in developing other mentoring relationships, I’ve realized that my experience is not wholly unique – ‘apprenticeships’ are common and even required sector-wide. Good mentorship and/or coaching has become a pre-qualifier of successful social enterprises. The entire sector aggressively encourages and facilitates mentor-mentee relationships. “Accelerators,” “Incubators,” “Enterprise Philanthropy”- at the core of all of these efforts is an open embrace of mentorship and open-learning.
There is still a lot of sector-wide learning that needs to take place around mentorship and coaching. A lost art is being unearthed. But, ultimately, I appreciate that social enterprise is not doing business as usual.
The sector recognizes that its success is utterly dependent on the collaboration of the young and old. The prerequisites and/or byproducts of valuing mentorship – such as humility, collaboration, rapid-learning, checks and balances – all work together to conspire the para-religious fervor which has allowed rapid growth/expansion of the social enterprise sector. This culture gives the social enterprise sector an accelerated capacity to rapidly solve some of the world’s lingering social challenges. The merger of experience and energy – the young and old – may be the most critical element in catalyzing the meaningful change the planet needs.