A few months ago, there was an interesting news story on National Public Radio (NPR)  about the experience of “first globals,”  a generation of 20 to 30 year old public service oriented Americans that are increasingly living, studying, and working abroad. John Zogby, an American political pollster, was credited in this news piece as having chronicled this trend in his book, The Way We'll Be: The Zogby Report on the Transformation of the American Dream . In Zogby’s description of first globals, a term he coined, he described this generation on NPR by stating:"Two out of three of them have passports. They are well-traveled; technologically they have networks that include people all over the world. They have a desire to be nimble, to go anywhere and to be anywhere. They also have a desire to change their world and feel like they're in a position to do that."
This phenomenon has a lot of promise in the area of development, where the combination of shared experience, youth networks, and strategic engagement has the potential to address some of the most complex global challenges.
This sense of globalism and altruism among American youth may not surprise many, but what I found most striking was the potential scale of this engagement and the shifting perspectives among this generation. As pointed out in the news piece, this phenomenon goes beyond the children of the wealthy and educated to reach a whole new socioeconomic group, and this has important implications for the potential reach of this network. But, most importantly, through their diverse experiences, first globals have gained new perspectives that are challenging some of the more traditional notions of the world. When describing this, Frankling Gilliam , Dean of UCLA’s School of Public Affairs was quoted on NPR as saying, “It is a sea change in orientation. They understand this idea of a shared fate, or a linked fate. That somehow, what happens to somebody in Mumbai may have an effect on me in West Los Angeles." In my view, it is this type of shared experience among youth that creates a collective sense of possibilities.
It will certainly take more than an army of well-meaning youth from any part of the world to create meaningful change. If you look at the global challenges confronting this group alone, they can seem pretty insurmountable. Take the issue of unemployment – a problem shared by youth in both the developed and developing world. To tackle these tough issues, sustained networks of organized youth that share values, combine ideas, and mobilize their efforts have the potential to offer innovative solutions.
In creating solutions, as in any attempt at a breakthrough, it is the mosaic of experiences that generates new possibilities. As stated by the late Steve Jobs , “A lot of people in our industry haven't had very diverse experiences. So they don't have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one's understanding of the human experience, the better design we will have.”
Photo Credit: shioshvili  on Flickr