Long gone are the days of street protests and hunger strikes. These days the socially concerned 30 and under crowd are mostly on laptops joining Facebook Causes pages, Tweeting their moral outrage, and texting $5 donations to disaster relief efforts in between TV shows. Slactivism rules... or so we are told.
Such portrayals ignore what many Gen Y and Zers (youth under 18 years of age) are doing in the real world to address poverty, injustice, global warming and other pressing issues of our day.
One increasingly popular hands-on approach is social enterprise.
Social enterprise -- the merging of profit making businesses with social causes -- presents a very different approach to social change. In the past most changemakers and activists viewed business as the enemy. Today an increasing number view it as a tool to achieve better results and a more practical way to sustain good works over time.
Take Samasource as an example. The organization's mission is to address poverty among women, youth, and refugees in developing countries. Samasource offers micro-work (piecemeal data entry and other computer-based work projects) to the unemployed or underemployed worldwide. In less than two years Samasource has generated over $700,000 for 900 poor workers in nine countries.
Samasource's Gen Y founder, Leila Chirayath Janah, developed the venture as an alternative to the "culture of handouts" common among international poverty reduction programs. Although a nonprofit organization, Samasource generates 30 percent of its revenue directly from corporate and government contracts.
Encouraged by a growing number of classes and training programs in top business schools and universities,social enterprise has become a hot new career path. In 2009 149 business schools in 24 countries offered courses incorporating social, environmental, or ethical issues - up from 111 schools in 18 countries in 2007.
Training and support networks like Ashoka and the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation are helping social entrepreneurs launch and grow their ventures, while growing industry associations like the Social Enterprise Alliance and Social Venture Network are bringing entrepreneurs, investors, and experts together to share their expertise and build the field.
Numerous Social enterprise business plan and idea competitions now exist to help young entrepreneurs gain seed capital and other startup support. Social impact investing (as opposed to socially responsible investing) is an emerging investment class which gives venture investors an opportunity to advance specific social or environmental causes while generating a return on their investment.
Social enterprise marketplaces and peer-to-peer support groups like Mission Markets, Changemakers, and Entrepreneur Commons match investors and other support opportunities with social entrepreneurs directly. And today's entrepreneurs are able to leverage Web-based crowdfunding platforms (i.e., 33 Needs, Crowdrise, and Kickstarter) to raise money directly from pooled donations.
Youth as young as 11 years of age are getting into the act through a variety of youth social entrepreneurship programs like those listed in this Hitachi Foundation chart.
One wonders if these budding entrepreneurs, acting in a coordinated fashion and in concert with other types of activists and social sector organizations, could influence change on a mass scale?
Regardless, the fact is that social enterprise is growing and a new generation of entrepreneur activists along with it.
Slactivists they are not.