Engaging the Next Generation of Social Impact Leaders

Net Impact 2017

“We have reached a tipping point where companies are either going to start to integrate purpose into the fabric of their organizations, or they are going to risk losing market share”
– Kevin Cleary, CEO of Cliff Bar & Company, 2017 Net Impact Conference

A Purpose to Come Together
This year’s theme at Net Impact, Path to Purpose, applied to participating companies as much as it applied to the young professionals in attendance. Net Impact is an annual conference for aspiring leaders motivated by social impact. Participants were curious to see how companies are contributing to solutions on global challenges, and companies were eager to talk about their work. The two-day conference in Atlanta drew more than 2,000 young professionals from across the globe to inspire, innovate, and contribute to social progress. They spent the days in and out of workshops and panel discussions, and engaged in networking with more than 800 represented companies. The young professionals were excited to meet with spokespeople from companies addressing issues about which they are passionate.

With the theme Path to Purpose, the conference presented a “path,” or group of sessions participants could attend that focused heavily on giving young professionals the knowledge to navigate and lead in the social impact space. In my role as a representative from PYXERA Global, it was clear that the issue areas to which many of these workshop participants hoped to apply their leadership skills were in agriculture and environmental sustainability.

At the center of the agriculture challenge is the reality that in order to feed more than 9 billion people by 2050, the way we produce food and consume food needs to improve. These changes will have significant implications for the environment, so it’s no wonder that these two issue areas rose to the top at Net Impact and are driving the search for purpose among many future change-makers.

Throughout the conference, I witnessed the passions of participants converge on, and challenge, the attending company representatives. The freedom and space to explore complex global challenges with leading experts is a unique opportunity that sets Net Impact apart from other events. From the dialogue and action inspired at Net Impact, it is clear that these young professionals are not just the next generation of employees; they are also emerging leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs.

Engaging the Next Generation of Innovators
Net Impact continues to engage enthusiastic individuals and makes the business case for social impact. One specific activity that asks people to apply their skills to a purpose-driven goal is the Food Solutions Challenge. Again, with a focus on agriculture and environmental sustainability, the 2017 Food Solutions Challenge consisted of a series of events hosted by Net Impact chapters to respond to the question: How might we move towards a carbon neutral or carbon positive food supply chain? Net impact provides a platform for recognition and opportunity to scale with a $5,000 cash prize. Foodl, the 2017 winner, uses the motto “Buy what you need, need what you buy.” The solution uses radio frequency (RFID) technology to communicate to users what items in the fridge are about to spoil, what’s needed, and how much.

However, not all young professionals working towards social impact will be entrepreneurs. Many will go on to join the corporate world, and their motivation for selecting those companies hasn’t changed over the decades. The recent Gallup report, State of the American Workplace, found 12 primary elements of worker engagement. The mission or purpose of a company, which makes an employee feel like their job is important, ranked at number eight.

For reasons that transcend the physical needs fulfilled by earning a living, employees want to believe in what their employer does. They like the feeling of belonging to a community….Employees cannot energize themselves to do all they could do without knowing how their job helps to fulfill a higher purpose. —State of the American Workplace

Young leaders of today aren’t interested in just any job. As the Gallup report indicates, purpose and passion are a priority. They need to feel motivated, supported, and excited about the larger global challenges addressed in their work. The drive for meaning and purpose is not unique to this generation. According to the report from IBM’s Institute for Business Value entitled Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths: The Real Story Behind Millennials in the Workplace, roughly the same percentage of millennials (25 percent) want to make a positive impact on their organization as Generation Xers (21 percent) and baby boomers (23 percent).

Similarly, what keeps young professionals interested and committed to giving their best effort at a company appears to be consistent over generations as well. According to authors Ira kay and Bruce N. Pfau, Ph.D. in their book, The Human Capital Edge , young professionals look to four questions to gauge if they are committed to a company’s mission:

  1. Is this a winning organization I can be proud of? Employees want to work for a successful, high-performing company and for leaders with a blend of competence, integrity, and vision.
  2. Can I maximize my performance on the job?Virtually all employees want to be able to do a good job. This means working in an environment that will make the most of their skills and that provides the resources, information, authority, and training necessary to perform at their best.
  3. Are people treated well economically and interpersonally?People want to work in an inclusive environment where they are respected, valued, and treated fairly. They want their opinions to count, and they want their contributions recognized and rewarded both financially and psychologically.
  4. Is the work itself fulfilling and enjoyable?Everyone wants to enjoy the work they do and the people with whom they do it. They also want to derive a sense of meaning and purpose from what they do every day. (quoted directly from Harvard Business Review)

As potential employers and employees continue to engage, these themes will dominate the networking conversation. Net Impact was no different. Employers participating in the career expo should be prepared to discuss all of the above and tie it back to a greater purpose. Prospective employees are interested to learn how current employees found themselves at the current company. They want to hear why they have stayed. Recruiting the innovative talent at Net Impact is exciting and gives employers the opportunity to show how they are contributing to creating social impact.

So what?
Driven by purpose, like many others from earlier generations, young professionals at Net Impact are looking for meaningful opportunities to apply their skill sets and knowledge to real world challenges. Companies at Net Impact are engaging potential employees early in the hopes of recruiting innovative and dedicated minds. When companies listen and deliver on the demands of the future workforce, there is no limit to the impact that can be achieved.

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