Friday, April 18, 2014

Are Associations Ready to REALLY Help Youth Worldwide?

So, most of you regular readers know I have been interested in generational issues for a while now and I've been working with the NextGen group at ASAE. When it comes to Generation Y, Millennials (and now Generation Z or whatever we decide to call them :D) the media tends to have its narrative pretty well set. It's either, "Look out, we're doooooomed #Coachella," or "These entitled upstarts are ruining office productivity with the cell phones and the chatting and the Googleglass...bah humbug....." This cultural narrative is not at all helpful in terms of actually understanding issues faced by younger members. Generational temperament and culture has validity, but needs to be looked at on balance with the overall science of human development and hierarchies of physiological and psychological needs.

In our association community there still seems to be some confusion about what younger members need. In one sense, they need what we've already got - they just want to consume it differently. In another sense, we seem to be missing a few important points about key issues they are struggling with. At some point our continued floundering with these "whippersnappers" is going to lead to a crisis of confidence on their part and they are going to take matters into their own hands.

It's long past time for us to get serious about engagement. There is an e-book on the (maybe imminent) horizon coming from ASAE and the NextGen '13 group that tackles some issues head on (so hold onto your hats for that, I'll let you know when it drops). Here is another way to potentially build a framework around what associations can do to help global youth proactively deal with the issues they are facing.

According to this article from Fast Company, "The Countries Where Youth are Doing the Best and the Worst" the first Global Youth Wellbeing Index  is an attempt to look at six key areas of life and provide baseline measurements as to how these youngun's are faring.  The United States ranks sixth on this list (ahem). Maybe we should be developing specific policy initiatives as a community to see what we can do to move the needle on these six categories.  It's not enough to talk about making a difference, eventually we will need to set about putting programs in place to ensure we do.

Citizen Participation: Actual participation in democratic processes is considered one indicator of the overall well being of any individual. In the United States we have struggled with voter apathy for a number of years (there are reasons for that but that's for another post). With the exception of the youth turnout during the 2008 and 2012 elections, we have seen little sign that the situation is destined to dramatically change without some major changes on the part of the establishment. Associations need to look at how they can encourage youth to learn how to play an active, participatory role in governance of all types.

Economic Opportunity: Becoming a productive member of society also requires a decent level of access to economic opportunities.  However, globally youth unemployment continues to rage. As of March 2014, unemployment rates in the United States for youth aged 20-24 hovered around 12%. In some countries, youth unemployment is hovering around 25% and even higher.  Associations need to take a closer look at how the jobs market is working both here in the United States and internationally and better prepare individuals to enter the workforce.

Education: Ensuring younger members gain access to meaningful, measurable, high quality education, specifically geared towards helping them succeed is critical.  Education also needs to be affordable. There is some truth in the idea that individuals should "follow their bliss" and seek out education that appeals to them.  However, a more cogent strategy in a "noisy" world is laying down a specific path for people to follow to ensure they acquire the skills they need in the order in which they need to attain them and that we have mechanisms in place for them to clearly demonstrate their achievements. And again - (say it again) - AFFORDABLE!!!!

Health: There will be those who believe concerns about members health is not the job of the association, yet I disagree.  Teaching younger members about mind-body balance, ensuring we have access to healthy snacks and opportunities to rejuvenate during conferences and events and not making our volunteers burn the candles at both ends is part of health and wellness. We need to set a better example. It seems that most of our "high-energy" volunteers also are "high-energy" at their day jobs. We need to create volunteer expectations that don't put our best, most involved folks at risk of heightened stress and perhaps burnout.

Information and Technology: Digital natives, blah blah...we've heard this one a thousand times. Well, yes you have but what about our responsibility to collectively fight to ensure open access to the Internet for younger members and the generations coming after them? We have a duty to not only up our curating game but also to take an active role in policy that affects information and technology here in the United States and internationally. Internet freedom affects us all.

Safety and Security: Again, this one may seem like it doesn't apply to us, but I think we can make an argument that it might. We need to think about how we ensure younger members feel physically and emotionally safe when they engage with their association peers.  This means staying vigilant and actively promoting anti-bullying and anti-harrassment policies. When scheduling conferences and events, certain factors (such as open or concealed carry weapons laws) may need to be taken into consideration when booking locations.

Bottom line is - we have a duty to the next generation to ensure these six areas of life are positively impacted by the membership experiences we provide.  At the very least, we should ensure we aren't doing any harm in these areas. Let's get together and see what we can do about positively impacting the Global Youth Wellbeing Index for the better!


  1. I always love the work here, but especially noticed the section on health this time. When we burn out our people, we burn down the whole building.

  2. Thanks - I think you are is something we breeze right over to our detriment....thanks for reading!


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