Think philanthropy is the province of later-in-life multi-millionaires whose major life's work is behind them? Think again. Philanthropy is all the rage on the online social networks, as young Americans wear their causes as important indicators of who they are and who they want to be. Amidst the tycoons and household names at the Wealth & Giving Forum's gathering at the Greenbrier were stories of college students and young entrepreneurs breaking free from the generational stereotypes of materialism and disinterest.
A group of students from three North Carolina colleges took the state the first day, after an introduction from Jeff Flug, the CEO and Executive Director of Millennium Promise Alliance - himself a former high-powered bonds trader at JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs who traded in his pinstripes and bonus pool for development work.
"This is a group of 19- and 20-year-olds who are passionate about wanting
to help others. They understand at a young age that people are more
important than stuff."
Lennon Flowers, a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina, spoke directly about what is generally written about her generation and its attitude toward material gain.
"The reputation of my generation is one of apathy, that we're too numb
behind our iPods to care about what's going on in the world. I think
there's a lot of passion out there, but passion along isn't what's
UNC, Duke, and Bennett College have joined together to sponsor a Millennium Village, part of an effort to achieve the UN's Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The students are raising $1.5 million (including matching pledges) in the
first student-led sponsorship of a Millennium Village - essentially, the adoption of a small village in the developing world - as "a tangible way
of demonstrating students' commitment to the international effort to
eradicate extreme poverty." The group's pledge shows a different side of a young, activist generation:
the students of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke
University, and Bennett College, as members of a greater global
community, feel a responsibility to dedicate our energy and resources
to empower those in extreme poverty, and to demonstrate the role of
universities as catalysts for global change.
we see this as a unique opportunity to unite students, faculty, and
community members to engage in an academic dialogue to critically
assess and improve sustainable development strategies such as the
Millennium Village model.
Emily Glenn, senior at Duke University, and Sharrelle Barber, a Bennett grad and UNC graduate student, also spoke passionately about the cause that united students at three very diverse campuses. Said Glenn:
"We don't see ourselves
as a group, it's a movement. We all agree that it's fundamentally
unacceptable that people die from diseases that are easily
The students admitted to some frustration as they approached potential supporters with their plan - they learned quickly that ideas alone often don't sell philanthropic contributions.
Another young entrepreneur, former New York nightclub promoter Scott Harrison, told the gathering later in the weekend how he ditched the glitz and early morning hours of Gotham's velvet-roped precincts for a lowly staff photographer's gig on a Mercy ship bringing medicine and services up and down the west coast of Africa. The experience stirred his interest in clean water, which led to the creation of charity: water - which charges $20 a bottle for spring water with 100% of the price going to dig wells for clean water in Africa. He showed this video, created at Sundance, before his talk the Greenbrier:
charity: water @ Sundance - Current TV pod
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At another plenary session, Jean Case, CEO of the Case Foundation, spoke passionately about her involvement with PlayPumps International and the battle to bring clean water to African, but she also touched on the optimism she feels about the younger generation of activists and philanthropists. Almost half the world's population is under 25, she noted, and many are getting deeply and personally involved in causes in way that hasn't happened before:
“We are seeing such a huge opportunity to engage individuals
at all levels. And this space has not yet been fully tapped. Social networking
opens up exciting opportunities to bring people together and to define
themselves by what they care about...
“I think we’ll look back at philanthropy as this quaint time
when rich people wrote checks and we’ll be living in a time when philanthropy
is part of everyday life.”