A Fine Blog posts on the gap between nonprofit volunteerism and governmental public service among the “millenial” generation. The post notes that nonprofit-based volunteerism and service face issues of both scale and scope when it comes to addressing the big problems.
One of the best points:
Private voluntary efforts can pick and choose the issues and populations with which to work. Organizations like Volunteers of America choose to work in very distressed communities with people who have significant, sometimes overwhelming, problems. Most groups don’t – and that is their choice, they are private efforts and can choose where and with whom to work. Through public policy, government is supposed to serve all people and communities. (If you want a refresher of how important this concept was to the Founding Fathers, take a peek at the Federalist papers, you will be taken aback, I think, by their passion over this particular issue.) We know that it often doesn’t, but, this is what government is intended to do, and what idealist young people can press it to do better, to help those least able to help themselves by directing resources to large public problems.
I posted this response as a comment:
Great post and important discussion. I think the problem you’ve identified is a real one, but I’m optimistic. I graduated from school a few years ago and since then have been designing undergrad focused global service and social entrepreneurship programs. I think the common denominator with young people today is a desire for real impact. Whether that impact comes from the nonprofit, for profit, or government sector seems to matter a little bit less than if there is real impact or not.
Young people start with volunteerism because its something they can do now. There ARE big youth advocacy movements (particularly around Darfur) but a lot of young people (rightly) question just how effective they are. That said, the sort of sector agnosticism I mentioned above means that as people graduate and begin to survey their options, they’re looking across the spectrum of opportunities to make a life that has an impact on problem solving.
If public service expands to include meaningful government work, I do think people will join. Barack’s national service plan/tuition credits are something that I think will find major traction with people. At the end of the day though, us millennial are idealistic but we’re not fuzzy idealists and pure altruism, charitable sentiments, and fine rhetoric won’t engage us the way opportunities to make a real difference will.
Thanks for posting and keep up the great writing!
What do others think?