+ SocialGood UK: Adjusting to the rise of the millennial

On Friday 27th March the UK’s digital media enthusiasts came together for +SocialGood UK, a conference on how digital media and technology can be used for social good. The set of panels and conversations focussed on how this can occur both in the UK and around the World.

The topic of +Socialgood is very broad and good on the organisers (Mashable, the United Nations Foundations and BT) for getting speakers on a wide variety of topics and aspects of social good creation. Sadly too little time was available for questions – luckily we have the Internet and #2030NOW to keep us connected!

I won’t do a full recap of what was being discussed. Here are just a few overarching thoughts the discussions and presentations provoked in me.

At the heart of +SocialGood UK were millennials, how organisations, companies and political powers will eventually adapt to their needs and demands and how this process will to a large extent be underpinned by the importance of authenticity.

Millennials are shaping how the Internet is being used, especially through their, sometimes excessive, use of social media. For example, Joanna Geary from Twitter talked about the research they had done into elected politicians’ use of Twitter, which showed that nearly 80% of them are actually on the social network. However, if politicians are on a network that doesn’t mean they are also using it well – similar to the CEO of a company who decides they should ‘do twitter’ without thinking much about how to engage with the twitter crowd – many of them millennials.

Rosie Warin from Global Tolerance presented some of their research on what they call the “values revolution” looking at how many people care more about the fact that their job is meaningful than their salary – 44%. As much as 36% said that they would work harder if their company benefitted society. Even though these statistics say more about how people would like to see themselves rather than how many people have actually chosen meaning over salary, the interesting part of this research is that for millennials the stats are higher, 50% and 53% respectively. A sign of the ‘values revolution’. In the coming years, companies will have to pay more attention as to how they are giving back to society. It will be more than simple ‘philanthropic box-ticking’ – it will be about being an authentic organisation for which social good is weaved into the organisational structure.

The same applies to products. The ethical dimension of a product has become an important factor in customer decision-making. Global Tolerance found that 31% of people would pay more for ethically sources products, this number goes up to 38% amongst millennials, even though their age may also mean that they have lower purchasing power. With the rise of the millennial, we can expect a further increase in the shift towards ethically sourced products we are already experiencing. On that note, there is an interesting video by philosopher Slavoj Zizek*, who talks about the feel-good effect of ethical sourcing and the capitalist system. I think the video makes it clear that being satisfied with the value revolution isn’t enough, especially when it’s unclear whether it is actually changing the way our products are produced or whether it is reinforcing an existing capitalist system.

When it comes to the needs of the younger generation, BT CEO Gavin Patterson gave quite an interesting keynote speech launching the extension of BT’s initiative to teach primary school students coding skills. Knowing little about the subject, I was under the impression that “young kids these days grow up speaking HTML and Python as second languages, rather than French and German”. Patterson emphasised how young people are tech consumers –but they aren’t all tech literate. You can’t deny that coding is hugely encouraged in the UK compared to other countries. The UK government has been a firm advocate of increasing tech literacy amongst young people. This however does not mean that enough is being done – a number of teachers don’t have the skills to teach tech literacy and not all students have access to classes that really help them understand and engage with the technology.

Belinda Parmar from Lady Geek also made the critical point of the digital divide between genders. A particular quote of hers was from a girl student in a secondary school who stated she would rather pick up rubbish for a job than work in technology. Although I feel that statement doesn’t give credit to the men and women working in rubbish collection – it also shows that technology still isn’t cool amongst young girls – despite the efforts the fashion industry has put into the ‘geek chic’. This is a problem. 17% of UK tech jobs are held by women and a mere 23% of degrees in engineering, manufacturing and construction were awarded to women between 2000 and 2011. So it’s great to see organisations like Belinda’s trying to polish the image of tech and working in tech for young girls and to women. It has to be noted however, that the women probably outweighed the men in the audience at +SocialGood UK.

All in all, +SocialGood UK was an interesting eclectic day – I definitely didn’t touch upon all the points that were discussed – but you can find out more about the #2030NOW conversation here and on Twitter.

* Special thanks to Chris for introducing me to Zizek!


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