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Mehrunisa Qayyum Headshot

Millennial Generation Demands Innovation From Both Public and Private Sectors

Posted: Updated:
INAUG
ALAMY
Post inauguration discussions mostly reviewed the following:
  • First Lady Michelle Obama's haircut,
  • the "liberal" rhetoric within President Obama's inaugural address,
  • the First Lady's evening dress,
  • who got tickets to which ball or event; and
  • whether Beyonce lip-synced or not.

The bottomline is: we distracted ourselves away from some of the most important developments, like the variety of community service projects organized throughout Washington, DC that consider the power of collective efforts and how to capitalize on community innovation.

Community service projects might not have trended on Twitter with the hashtag #Inaug2013, but community service is "trending" in a different way. For example, the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank co-organized the "Millennial Ideas Forum" with the Millennial Trains Project to publicly ponder the potential legacy of the "millennial" generation through speakers, films and performances at the M Central in Northeast Washington, DC. Topics included:
  • Tinkering: "How Millennials Are Making Government Better"
  • Tenacity: "Magic and Tragic Tales from Merlindia's Main Man"
  • Rethinking: "The Costs and Values of Global Leadership"
  • Disruption: "Techonomy: Reinventing Business As Usual"

Who are the "millennials"? Well, millennials are born into it. But the mindset is what defines the most active within this generational cohort. Aside from the 20-somethings who activate debate over social media, they are the future that President Obama referred to in his speech who must reconcile shortfalls in public funding and lend their innovation. As Juan Martinez, a National Geographic Explorer shared, "the millennials include those who elected the first African-American president" as part of our "legacy".

In fact, the millennials are those who have already pushed for climate change to be part of the global agenda. On that note, The Millennial Trains Project was initiated by Patrick Dowd's goal to harness the energy coming from the Occupy Wall Street Movement and channel the questions regarding corporate social responsibility into action. Dowd was a Fulbright Scholar in India who organizes problem solvers in the business and the activist community. Dowd's full story may be found here as Huffington Post shared in its Entrepreneurship Expo last summer.

Rethinking the Costs and Values of Global Leadership

The "Costs and Values of Global Leadership" panel invited both the private and public sectors' perspective on why invest to in innovation overseas. The Huffington Post Chief of Staff, Koda M. Wang, moderated the Rethinking panel by asking the panelists to explain why global initiatives need both the public and private sector. Whether we like it or not -- the U.S. still assumes a key position in global leadership. Steve Fedelstein framed the public sector perspective as the Director of Policy from the U.S. Agency for International Development by drawing attention to the rise of "non-state actors," like the Gates Foundation, who carries out philanthropy in 35 countries, like Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan. What the public sector calls development, the private sector calls corporate social responsibility, or "intraphilanthropy." J. Skyler Fernandes framed the private sector perspective as a venture capitalist and Founder of the "Missing Middle Initiative" by describing how leading countries, like the U.S., might consider investing in certain sectors or expanding its notion of public good.

What is the real harm of offering free Internet hubs if budding thinkers or programmers have access to ideas and improve upon programming... and develop the next innovation? Qualcomm operated an "Internet bus" in Egypt to provide connectivity to communities so that they may connect with other communities. If the social and financial gains outweigh the costs, that is not socialism, that is a savvy investment.

The cost of global leadership means that we engage with "frontier" markets -- those that have not yet proven a politically risk-free environment nor provide the necessary infrastructure to attract big tech companies. On the other hand, the value of global leadership appreciates that such "frontier" markets include communities of people that require development aid. More importantly, "frontier" markets may provide the backdrop for the next big innovation.

Whether we believe in our immediate ability to bounce back financially or not, our economic position is still relatively stronger than most. Regardless of whether we are operating from a powerful financial position, or not, our leadership has resulted from our talent, drive for innovation and ability to take risks beyond the initial stage. This last point sums up what Skyler Fernandes advocated for: not only America's business health, but for the "frontier markets" that are alternatively referred to as "the developing world." As Fernandes stated,"innovation benefits from harsh conditions... that's where innovation comes from in the sectors of technology, alternative energy and pharmaceuticals." Lately, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon have already taken note of this -- considering its human capital surplus. Not too long ago, Dubai innovated in the petro-chemicals industry because they were not blessed with the oil-wealth of their neighboring gulf countries.

Millennials Demand Innovation From Both Public and Private Sectors

Back to the inauguration, and the expectations we may have of government in addressing some of the biggest challenges President Obama mentioned: climate, community's social investment, and the economy. The "collective action" he spoke of can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Some political commentators interpret Obama's words as an insidious call to socialism or view his words as an ode to liberalism, as stated by George Will. Others stated that the speech did not push far enough, or address unemployment and the larger economic challenges, as stated by Jack Welch.

Eighteen minutes will not produce the immediate solutions on paper. Rather, the speech is a way to galvanize those who will take the risk and collaborate -- be it individually or organizationally via public-private partnerships, intraphilanthropy or pushing our corporations to take on more social responsibility.

As I argued before, when the Occupy Wall Street Movement caught our attention with its socially responsible mantra (which was championed by many "Millennials"), innovation is neither liberal, conservative, partisan, capitalist nor socialist. Innovation is born out of both individual and collective design and requires both public and private sector attention. The country that best harnesses innovation, at home or abroad, wins more than leadership status--it earns its return on investment.