For many people, the stresses and commitments of university doesn't leave much time for anything else. For me, this was no different. Having spent 5 years going through a co-op undergraduate program that forces you not only to focus on school work, but also on where you'll be spending your next 4 months interning hasn't really left a lot of time to reflect on the choices I've made, the experiences I've had, and what this means in the bigger picture.
Needless to say, it felt a bit weird to find myself this summer with close to 6 months off before starting my full-time job. Passing the half way point of my first summer holiday in 5 years, I can appreciate the importance of the (cliche) statement of one taking time to "find themselves". While a popular choice to do this is take time to travel Europe, or Southeast Asia, I decided that I would take time to look a little bit deeper into places that I loved and were familiar—to see if I could draw inspiration from the things what I wasn't mature enough to see 5 years ago sitting in a similar situation before university started.
Taking time to reconnect with old friends, family, appreciating local culture, and learning for the sake of learning has helped me to start piecing together what I—and probably others in my generation—value. A value that I think rings true amongst all of us is the genuine desire to "do good". Things like protecting the environment, integrating social values into business, treating everyone as a stakeholder and not just a shareholder, is intuitive to most young people today. More and more, conversation with friends change from "looking for the next big thing...to get rich", to "looking for purpose".
Though it's hard to pinpoint where this mindset comes from, I think it's something that comes from circumstance. My parents have always maintained that starting their working lives wasn't as complicated as it was today. For them it was very straightforward: get an education, find a job to stay at for 20-30 years, and earn enough to be comfortable. I imagine this was all only possible given that they grew up in a different time period.
Our generation faces a world where the rules have changed. While I'll never truly understand the Great Depression or the cultural revolutions of my parent's time—the events that serve as a backdrop for their generation—I know I'll remember the days from late-2008. This was the first time in my lifetime when the world stood still.
Those days not only brought to attention the cracks in our economic and political system, but also reminded us that value creation starts with balanced growth in the real and financial economy. While our generation wasn't the direct cause the issues affecting society today, we can't plead ignorance either. At the very least, we all must be informed of where we've come from, in order to have an opinion on where to go next.
When my parents said that life today was more complicated for us starting out, I think they've got it right. The world is more globally connected and the old paradigm of only optimizing for wealth is starting to see its limitations.
For us, those newly minted graduates, the economic, political, and natural environments we're inheriting won't allow us to operate under old definitions of value. People in general remember what is most familiar to us—and the events of the past 5 years serves as our generation's benchmark. We need to chart our careers following our intrinsic sense of purpose in order to create the type of value that society needs from us going forward.
Looking forward, I believe that the definition of "business as usual" is changing. The reason being that many of the previous generation's assumptions and boundary conditions are no longer valid.
Perhaps most important, the responsible development of solutions to the world's largest problems (e.g. energy, water, agriculture, climate change etc.) can't be solved using a siloed approach where policy, technology, and economic stakeholders all pursue separate paths. At the same time, when there is co-ordination between the three, it has to not be influenced by "special interests".
This is why I believe that platforms like Microryza have to exist. Microryza is a crowdfunding platform that enables researchers to raise money for a research project by looking to the "crowd". Creating access to larger funding markets is only one of the benefits of platforms like this. This platform also serves as a common ground to allow for the average person to directly and openly interact, contribute and get educated on scientific issues of interest with the perspective of the experts.
There is and has always been a gold mine of IP and knowledge tucked away at our academic institutions. It's time to open it up and provide a way for people to get informed—empowering the general public by giving them a chance to make a decision for themselves regarding what issues they want to support. This way, they don't rely entirely on government or corporations to make important decisions about our future, or keeping the promises that they make in the good times.
Rebooting our economy and getting out of the great recession starts with innovation and new ideas. "Growth" will happen if we co-ordinate around solving the complicated issues facing our generation and pursue change in an accepted reality where new assumptions and boundary conditions exist.