How Gen Z Is Preparing to Tackle Global Challenges

Babson Summer Study

With modern-day connectivity, Gen Z got the whole tree of knowledge, not just the apple.

These bright minds have big feelings—as they should—about big problems like income inequality, racial injustice, and climate action. They place strong value on authenticity and pay close attention to how businesses speak about and take action on social values. But, how can that values-driven passion get channeled into sustainable, positive social impact?

Gen Z isn’t waiting for their turn to drive change.

This generation of young people is standing up for their beliefs, speaking out against injustice, and harnessing their creativity to claim the future they want, reports Globespan.

These findings ring true for the Babson Youth Impact Lab, where one-third of the 2019 Summer Study high school student cohort opted in to earn a digital badge in social innovation.

UN Global Goals as a Universal Framework for Change

The Babson Youth Impact Lab designed the Social Innovation Badge to further develop the mindset of a solution creator for positively impacting their community.

Using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) as a common language, students selected one or more goals that reflect their personal moral values for a better society. This helps students create a sense of purpose behind their actions.

During the badging process, high school students were asked to reflect on ways these global problems affect them personally.

Some students, like Ela Gokcigdem, already are creating social impact at home, “I (opted into the) Social Innovation Badge to learn how to implement my environmental honor society idea into my community. I’m starting an environmental honor society that I plan on branching out to three different high schools in Virginia. Earning a Social Innovation Badge gave me the information I needed to get going.”

The Social Innovation Badge was designed to map to core career readiness competencies, so students walk away with transferable career skills.

An Entrepreneurial Mindset for Building Resilience

As Gen Zers step into adulthood in today’s digital age, they are “experiencing both boundless creative possibilities as well as near epidemic levels of anxiety and stress.”

So what are the character-building qualities that can fortify Gen Zers as they navigate an uncertain future? Many of the soft skills practiced throughout the process of building an entrepreneurial mindset have been shown in studies to help youth to build resilience. They:

  • Connect their core values to UN SDGs to inspire purpose behind action
  • Build confidence by identifying and reflecting on personal strengths
  • Practice empathy through understanding the true needs of people and communities
  • Sharpen creative problem solving skills through design thinking
  • Reframe failure into entrepreneurial learning opportunities

Mireille Ngamije from Kigali, Rwanda, found it most inspirational to hear directly from local entrepreneurs about what passions motivated them to build their businesses. “It helped me to understand that’s it not all about how much you have or how big your venture is, but how big of an impact you can have on society.”

How Gen Z Can Make Social Impact Now

Critical problem-solving and design-thinking skills create impact when they are followed by action.

When completing their Social Innovation Badge, each student walks away with concrete next steps. These steps can be large or small, and start by encouraging students to identify and engage their personal networks.

Andrea Torres, a rising high school senior in Mexico, has big plans for her new entrepreneurial mindset: “When I return to Mexico, I hope to start changing things and influencing the decisions being made in the government. I’m aiming for fair, noble, and equal treatment for all citizens.”

Not every student who passes through the Babson Youth Impact Lab will become an entrepreneur, but every student will leave equipped with a resilient entrepreneurial mindset.

By connecting the dots between passion, purpose, and action, high school students can build an overall awareness of what it means to be a true agent of change in their communities and the world.

After all, there can be no greater social impact than raising a new generation of leaders who place diversity, equity, and inclusion at the center.

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