Like many other mid-sized cities, London is dealing with a difference in generational attitudes — value distinctions that affect everything from public transportation to employment, locally grown food, neighbourhoods and politics.

To date, the friction generated among demographic groups is largely unresolved and that reality partly explains why so many citizens feel frustrated at our collective dysfunction. Neither our politics nor our civil society has succeeded in creating a shared vision.

Research increasingly shows how millennials (those born between 1980 and 1995) approach community life differently than the generations that preceded them.

A recent Deloitte survey found millennials believe businesses should focus more on people than profits, are politically independent and distrustful of partisanship, and are far more inclined to use public transit than automobiles.

We are also learning the millennial generation is setting its own course when it comes to giving back to their communities.

They prefer to commit themselves to the community in individual ways rather than through institutions such as service clubs, houses of faith, political parties and even the food bank, where volunteerism has traditionally been nurtured.

The millennials’ approach affects their buying choices and is forcing businesses and organizations to shape their services more toward this generation’s personal values.

London’s Pillar Nonprofit Network is sensing this shift in city life and is exploring methods of integrating these values into the larger community.

It’s a challenge suitable to Pillar’s mandate — that of strengthening non-profits, social enterprises and social innovation, and creating meaningful connections among non-profits, businesses and governments. The mandate forms a broad umbrella under which millennials can find a level of comfort and direction.

As Pillar executive director Michelle Baldwin puts it:

“Mid-sized cities have a unique opportunity for interconnectedness. Pillar believes in the value of mobilizing our millennials, and all generations, to a shared vision and building bridges among the three pillars — nonprofit, business and government — to collectively solve our most wicked problems.

“Being inclusive of all ages, cultures, abilities and backgrounds will be paramount to maximize the talents of all to build an engaged, inclusive and vibrant London”

Social good runs deep in how the millennial generation views citizenship and that is beginning to affect our traditional understanding of how volunteerism can be done.

Subtly, yet inevitably, a paradigm shift is moving from volunteerism through larger institutions to individual social responsibility — and it’s in the process of transforming London.

Many millennials no longer wish to just sign up to an organization to help out; they want to be part of the change they are striving for.

The Change the World youth program hosted by Pillar has adapted its six-week volunteer campaign to a full-year program designed to encourage youth to engage with non-profits and social enterprises on a long-term basis and be change agents. It assists young citizens to view volunteerism as more than just a stepping stone, but a meaningful way to explore their social values and the effect on community engagement.

Such traits among millennials are hardly universal, but they do form a significant trend, driven by the penchant for change that is so much a part of modern life.

There’s a fluid distinction between volunteering as part of a collective aiming to make a difference and making a personal social investment to be the difference yourself and better the community in the process. London can only benefit if those practising each approach respect one another’s contribution.

Accomplished properly, it could help bring about the generational collaboration that London needs for the next decades — the collaboration that has escaped us for too long.


Read this post in its original London Free Press format here