January 22nd, 2014
09:21 AM ET

Can business and government meet Millennials' expectations?

By Barry Salzberg, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Barry Salzberg is global CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. The views expressed are his own.

This week, some of the most influential figures in business, government and non-government organizations will meet at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland to discuss how to “Reshape the World.”

It’s an ambitious but prescient theme. A new survey of Millennials (born January 1983 onwards), conducted globally by Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, shows that many have lost faith in the ability of government and business to address the key challenges facing us all – economic security, youth unemployment, access to education, and the skills gap to name a few. The reputation of government is low; business is somewhat better regarded for at least doing what’s expected of it – creating prosperity and subsequently jobs. And yet, both groups could do more to address society’s greatest challenges.  Meanwhile, NGOs produce worthy ideas from tireless people, but without adequate resources or infrastructure, they often struggle to achieve their goals.

Against this backdrop, Millennials see an opportunity for both government and business to redefine how they tackle problems, and all over the world, this age group is demanding change. I agree with them. But what can business, government and NGOs do to drive that change?

I have three key ideas:

First, we must increase collaboration. No single sector or organization can solve these issues alone. And private and public sector collaboration works. Take the Coca-Cola/Dean Kamen clean water project. Recognizing the dire need to provide access to clean water for all, Coca Cola worked with engineer and Segway inventor Dean Kamen to develop the “Slingshot” water purification system then used its global network to distribute it.  We need to take a similar approach to tackling other big issues, like youth unemployment and resource scarcity, which in our survey Millennials all over the world identified as the most pressing. By connecting leadership across public and private sectors and borders, we can drive real change. Responsibility for society no longer falls solely on government. Business leaders offer a unique skill set, which when combined with those of the public sector and NGOs provide a powerful and innovative mix.

Last year, major corporations joined with foundations and leading scholars to work with the Social Progress Imperative (SPI) to create the Social Progress Index, which measures social progress data, country by country, on issues that matter like clean water, electricity, education and opportunity for all. And the Index has been adopted, with SPI working directly with government officials in Paraguay, for example, to incorporate it and its recommendations into their public policy agenda.  An updated Index will be launched this April that will measure social progress across 129 countries making up over 90 percent of the world’s population.

Second, actions must follow words. It’s not enough just saying the right things. The convening power of the World Economic Forum is a good place to start joining up discussion with action to affect real change.  In business, a deal begins with talk, but ends with a solution that works for both parties. We need to follow that example.

Organizations like the Clinton Global Initiative ask that its affiliates commit to action by developing a measurable plan for addressing a significant global challenge. A Billion+Change is a campaign that uses a pledge system to "mobilize billions of dollars of skills-based volunteer services." As the organization explains, "participants pledge to contribute their most valuable assets – their talent – to help change communities in which they live." Social entrepreneur Blake Mycoskie wanted to provide shoes to children who were barefoot. His company, TOMS, has integrated this principle into its business model with the “One for One” program, giving away one pair of shoes to a child in need for each pair sold. This mindset must become the norm in the coming years so that we can move from words to action to accelerate change for the better.

Third, we must “disrupt” the way we operate. If current approaches to problem solving aren’t working, it’s critical we challenge our thinking. I’d argue that even when our approach is working, we should continue to question how we make it better. At Deloitte, we launched the Deloitte Humanitarian Innovation Program, in an effort to rethink the traditional corporate social responsibility model and move beyond just financial contributions. This program lends private sector skills and technology to humanitarian organizations to co-develop innovative solutions for the problems they’re tackling. With tech startup AtrocityWatch the Deloitte U.S. member firm is developing a “big data” application that leverages social media and person-centered data globally to provide early warning of potential mass atrocities.

Also, with intergovernmental organization International Organization for Migration (IOM), Deloitte U.K.’s Switzerland office is developing a systems model to manage refugee migration. The goal is to scale both solutions broadly within the sector so that other humanitarian organizations can benefit from the results. Unilever is another great example. They turned tradition on its head by partnering with NGOs, banks and schools to market soap in local villages that led to a hand washing campaign helping address the critical issue of sanitation in India.

As the theme of this year’s World Economic Forum suggests, it really is time that we “Reshape the World.” To do so, business, government and NGOs must step out of their silos and work together – as connected leaders. Our survey suggests that Millennials, who’ll make up 75 percent of the global workforce by 2025, want to work for organizations that foster innovative thinking, develop their skills, and make a positive contribution to society. When we combine our expertise, we’ve a far greater chance of solving the challenges that society faces globally. And in the process, we might just restore the faith of Millennials – our new workforce and future leaders.

Davos is a good place to start.

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soundoff (4 Responses)
  1. chrissy

    Agree...youth employment needs to be a priority!

    January 22, 2014 at 11:05 am |
  2. chrissy

    They need to tackle the forced child labor issues in these countries! In fact....the FORCED labor camps (lik in N.K.) should be a priority as well.

    January 22, 2014 at 11:09 am |
    • Patrick

      I don't care for millenials. Aren't they like the mumps?

      January 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm |
  3. Patrick

    Millennials are lazy and dumb.

    January 22, 2014 at 2:57 pm |

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