ILLUSTRATION: RYAN TODD
Three years ago, a City firm circulated an internal memo with advice on how to manage millennials – young people who came of age or entered the job market at the turn of the century. It defined them as spoilt, motivated by personal fulfilment, craving instant gratification and having a feeling of entitlement. Since then, tension between them and the older generation has only intensified, with baby boomers grumbling that millennials fail to understand the hardship they grew up with. ‘We worked longer than they will, even with an increase in pensionable age, and paid tax at a far higher rate,’ wrote Kay Clifton to The Daily Telegraph. ‘What this generation thinks essential, we considered luxury.’ This inter-generational feuding has gone on for so long that young people’s alleged selfishness has become a self-fulfilling prophecy in their elders’ eyes. However, compelling evidence shows that today’s City millennials defy the negative stereotype and are just as philanthropic and generous – if not more so. A report from UBS Group and PwC found that two decades of unprecedented wealth creation ($2.1trn) is about to result in the largest wealth transfer in history, accompanied by new models of giving and the emergence of millennials as a philanthropic force. It also found that even millennials who inherit wealth tend to be focused on ‘doing good by doing well’ and view business success as a way of benefiting society.
Sanjay Joshi, 34, recently launched a City start-up related to charitable giving. He formerly worked for Standard Life, then for a global credit-ratings agency and later for strategy consultants NMG. He says he began thinking philanthropically while at university: ‘I was talking to a friend about philosophy and I suggested we should try to do the best we can to ensure people are happy. My friend replied, “So, go get a good job and give away half your salary to people on the other side of the world.” He didn’t mean it, but I thought, “A-ha!”’ Joshi had always volunteered for charities and began giving away money when he entered the City: ‘My starting salary was the same as the average UK salary and I thought, as it goes up, I can live on this amount and give the rest away and still have all I need to be happy.’
Mandeep Soor, 35, was at Lehman Brothers and now works for Boston Consulting Group, where she leads on corporate social-responsibility efforts and has started a workplace giving scheme. Three years ago, she watched the moral philosopher Peter Singer’s TED talk about how to make a difference, which prompted her to become involved in the Effective Altruism movement co-founded by 29-year-old William MacAskill. ‘Why wouldn’t you, if you were among the relatively richest, do something for those who are least well-off?’ Soor asks. ‘I’m extremely privileged and fortunate, and feel that, through the movement, I’m seeing the best of what millennials can do – for example, computer programmers volunteering for hackathons [a collaborative sprint event with a charitable focus] to design the best software to support refugees or most effectively deliver aid.’ Soor recently attended an event at Unltd, an organisation that runs competitions to encourage social-enterprise ideas. ‘Almost all the winners were millennials,’ she says. ‘Young entrepreneurs are working on solutions to problems such as homelessness, female disempowerment, food waste and youth offending, using sustainable business models.’ She also attends a course run by Cause4 and supported by Close Brothers Asset Management on being a charity trustee. ‘It’s almost entirely full of millennial participants, paying to learn how to provide expertise for free,’ she says. Jonathan Fine is head of content projects at Finance Magnates, which produces unique data and executive events for segments of the financial-services industry. ‘Many older people have a bias against millennials and difficulty in understanding their world, so they stereotype them,’ he says. ‘But lots of clever ideas – like being able to donate the small-change element of your salary to charity – are possible via technology they’ve developed.’ ‘Millennials have more of an “us, us, us” attitude than the “me, me, me” one that defined the 80s and 90s,’ says Cheryl Chapman, director at City Philanthropy. ‘The notion of ownership – whether of cars or homes – is on the wane and the burgeoning sharing economy and gig culture is the millennials’ answer to those broken systems that benefit the few at the cost of the many.’ And her observations are not just anecdotal: ‘Our More o Give research showed that the younger the age group, the more that people wanted to give time and money to charity and the more concerned they were that the companies they worked for were socially responsible, too,’ she says.
Chapman sees three reasons for millennials’ concern for wider societal responsibility: ‘First, they are connected by social media, so they can create change together effectively. Second, they’ve witnessed devastating financial, environmental and manmade disasters both at home and abroad, so they can see the status quo isn’t working and new solutions need to be found.Third, they have witnessed an explosion in entrepreneurship and see that finding solutions to problems delivers wealth as well as social impact.’ Dr David Reinstein is a senior lecturer in economics at Exeter University Business School and conducts and publishes research on altruism. He is behind the Give if you Win movement, which is based on the idea that people will give more if asked to donate in advance of an expected bonus. ‘Give if you Win can help make the bonus culture socially acceptable: when bankers succeed, so will charities, so it’s win-win!’ Reinstein says. ‘Of those who’ve signed the Giving What We Can pledge, many are young and students.
The conventional wisdom is that, as people age, they become more involved in philanthropy and give to their church, university, kids’ school or community, but we’re seeing a shift. Older people are giving less to their church or university and are instead prompted to donate to their community by a wish to cement their reputation. Although younger people have yet to earn big money, they’re committing to give 10 per cent of their salary once their earnings rise.’ ‘Millennials now have the means, mindset and motivation to deliver great social change,’ concludes Chapman. ‘Look at Sonal Kadchha, who founded the only secondary school for girls in Kenya’s Maasai Mara, or Ed Wethered, who founded Raise Your Hands to democratise giving to small, charitable organisations, or Kawika Solidum, who heads up the BeyondMe network, whose 1,500 millennials support charities with pro-bono skills or donations. Millennials are definitely leading the way in a new era that aligns purpose and profit.’