What the Global Citizens Festival Can Teach Business About Millennials

Thinking Beyond Ourselves Can Make the World Better

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"When I'm drinking my Bonaparte shandy / Eating more than enough apple pies / Will I glance at my screen and see real human beings / Starve to death right in front of my eyes."

This, a verse from Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Nothing Rhymed," was part of an answer given to me during an Advertising Week panel by Richard Curtis, award-winning writer of "Four Weddings and a Funeral" and "Love Actually." The question I'd asked was what led him to become one of the world's leading advocates for poverty relief. Inspired by Bob Geldof's creation of Live Aid and Band Aid in the 1980s, Richard has used his platform and connections to launch Comic Relief, Red Nose Day and Project Everyone, which includes the Global Citizens Festival—all huge awareness-raising initiatives collectively fundraising more than $1 billion.

Popularizing and commercializing these issues, rather than keeping them in the world of government and nongovernment organizations, has become part of Richard's life work.

He is now promoting the 17 Sustainable Development Goals put forth by the United Nations—an ambitious effort to lessen the world's woes by 2030, ultimately achieving three things: ending extreme poverty; fighting inequality and injustice; and fixing climate change. The effort also aims to eliminate world hunger, ensure clean drinking water for everyone, reduce inequality and achieve gender equality to empower women and girls.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development, as the campaign is called, kicked off at the star-studded Global Citizens Festival in Central Park, which goes straight to the heart of the group Richard hopes to inspire most: millennials. Research suggests this generation is more confident and committed to making a difference in the world than the generations that came before.

As we agonize over how we attract the best talent to our respective industries, I can't help but believe we all have a greater ability than we realize to capture the imagination of this coveted generation, a target for employers and marketers alike, while simultaneously leveraging the power of our platforms to create positive change in the world.

A Global Tolerance study shows that, of people born between 1981 and 1996, 62% want to work for a company that makes a positive impact. Half prefer purposeful work to a high salary, and 53% would work harder if they were making a difference to others.

Making a difference to others could mean solving world hunger, but it could also simply mean thinking beyond ourselves to make the world a little bit better in whatever way we can.

In the past few years, we've seen companies take significant action to rectify business practices to reduce their impact on global resources. We can see this in the case of Unilever with its sustainable 2020 initiatives, or Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff's effort to make gender equality a reality by methodically going through all the company's salaries to ensure equal pay for equal work. These are only some of the wonderful programs that enable everything from clean drinking water to making us pause and think differently about the impact of our words.

But we can do more.

Ty Montague, co-founder of Co:Collective, in sharing the company's philosophy of Storydoing, told the story of Interface, which went on a mission to transform from a petroleum-intensive industrial carpet manufacturer into the world's first environmentally sustainable company, eliminating its negative environmental impact by 2020. This was somewhat unheard of in 1997, when CEO Ray Anderson suggested it, but today the industryleading company is nearing its goal.

As we head into 2016, let's all take time to consider the purpose of our own organizations, how the work we do can have a more significant impact on society and also look to better engage the young talent living within our walls.

Matt Britton, the author of "YouthNation," recently shared: "Every CEO hangs on the word of what Mark Zuckerberg has to say, but what about all the 24-year-olds that reside within their own companies?" We have leaders of all ages throughout our organizations who can be inspired and empowered to do so much more.

While the Global Goals seem incredibly ambitious to achieve in 15 years, it is not impossible. Bill Gates, upon receiving the Forbes 400 Lifetime Achievement Award for Philanthropy, said that the past 15 years have been "magical," calling them the greatest years in the history of human civilization. Consider that 12.7 million kids died before their fifth birthday of unnecessary causes in 1990; that has since been reduced to 6 million. While that took 25 years, with the infusion of technology, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that we can end similar travesties at a faster pace.

Technology aside, it is not beyond our own capacity. If we properly leverage the power of our people, our platforms and the incredible gift of storytelling that has always been so inherent to the ad industry, we can make 2016, as former Procter & Gamble exec Jim Stengel predicted, "the year of audacious purpose" and have a hand in making the Global Goals a reality.

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