Though some political and cultural commentators bemoan what they see as reluctance within Generations X and Y to pick up the leadership chain that is each age’s responsibility, there is a group working diligently to accelerate the process of recruiting individuals to affect real change on crucial issues facing future generations.
Gen Next – with operations in Seattle, San Diego, Los Angeles, Orange County, and Arizona and roughly 150 members nationwide – is an invitation-only nonpartisan organization started in 2008. By focusing on the widescreen issues of education, economics, and global security, Gen Next serves a vital function for a select group of entrepreneurs who are compelled to understand, engage and get involved in the process of finding solutions to big picture problems.
In an interview last week in Seattle, Gen Next CEO Michael Davidson described to me his organization’s role as that of both an educator and a facilitator for its members.
“The busiest people are the people that you need engaged in these types of issues,” Davidson said. “They need to have an intellectual framework for their own success, whether it be how they’re going to raise their kids, how they influence their networks, how they run their companies… the way they lead.”
One way Gen Next helps provide that intellectual foundation is by creating exclusive programs with first-tier resources and information. (Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, CBS news correspondent Bob Schieffer, and former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld are among those who have presented to Gen Next members.)
“We did 100 programs last year and we expose the members to these ideas, people, and decision-makers in a way that expands their mind, their access and their view of how they can be influential,” Davidson said.
Maximizing the impact Gen Next can have requires finding a select type of individual, according to Davidson, one who has achieved a high measure of personal success (the $10,000 annual membership ante is its own evidence of that qualification), has an intellectually curious and forward-thinking nature, has a passionate spirit, and has a capacity to have fun (in Gen Next, the hard work put in toward big picture goals requires an esprit de corps).
A Gen Next member is one who, in the opinion of Davidson, will use the tools knowledge and understanding to forge pathways with their influence and create new solutions.
“You can’t just be an intellectual and sit on the sidelines,” Davidson said.
Gen Next regional director Chris Reigelsperger echoed the sentiment. “When you identify and take a remarkable person, give them the tools, the information and the network… they’re going to do some pretty incredible things,” Reigelsperger said.
Based on output from recent work of members globally and in Washington State, the Gen Next model for high-impact activism is functioning as intended.
Gen Next members were instrumental in the effort to reeducate Washington State voters about last year’s state income tax proposal and the negative effect such a tax would have on the state economy. The Defeat 1098 campaign drew heavily upon the talent pool represented within Gen Next’s Seattle membership.
Last month, Gen Next was involved in the Summit Against Violent Extremism in Dublin, Ireland, an event organized by Gen Next member and Google Ideas director Jared Cohen to begin solving the puzzle of how to unring the bell that is calling so many youth around the world to a life of violence. From The Washington Post:
Technology giant Google, having conquered the Internet and the world around it, is taking on a new challenge: violent extremism.
The company, through its eight-month-old think tank, Google Ideas, is paying for 80 former Muslim extremists, neo-Nazis, U.S. gang members and other former radicals to gather in Dublin this weekend to explore how technology can play a role in de-radicalization efforts around the globe.
The “formers,” as they have been dubbed by Google, will be surrounded by 120 thinkers, activists, philanthropists and business leaders. The goal is to dissect the question of what draws some people, especially young people, to extremist movements and why some of them leave.
At least in terms of binding ex-extremists to a common cause, the effort appears to have produced results. In the wake of the horrific attacks in Oslo, Norway that left 93 dead, “The Formers” issued a joint statement condemning the acts regardless of the ideological or political motivation of the assailant.
Gen Next is also following through to finance a project conceived at the Dublin summit, part of a broader effort with Home Box Office and Tribeca Films to produce a series of public services announcements weaving together the stories of former extremists. Gen Next members are also being enlisted in the digital strategy to complement the effort.
In Washington State’s near future, Gen Next is eyeing education as an area in which ambitious leadership is needed. Taking action to improve the situation for future generations is a consistent motivation for Gen Nexters.
Smartsheet.com founder Brent Frei, a Seattle member for the past year and a half, sees involvement in Gen Next as a way to fight for his childrens’ future in a way that maximizes leverage of his scarce spare time.
“I have four small children now,” Frei said in a telephone interview. “I desperately want them to grow up in a better world. It’s a pretty good world, but I want it to be better. To do that I need to be very proactive about making a positive difference.”
With so many options available for becoming engaged in solutions, Frei chose to accept the invitation to join Gen Next. “It was clear to me that Gen Next has a structure, but more importantly it has the right kind of people to amplify my influence,” Frei said.
Gen Next looks to add as many as 30 new individuals to it Seattle membership, and also has goals to grow in San Diego and Arizona before expanding into the rest of the United States.