In our book,First Globals: Understanding, Managing, and Unleashing the Potential of Our Millennial Generation, Joan Snyder Kuhl and I present a number of prescriptions for welcoming Millennials into the workforce. One of my favorites involves the creation of a First Globals Technology Corps, a practical and cost-efficient way of utilizing the special skills of this mobile and techno-savvy age cohort, while at the same time, allowing them to make a real difference in the world.
I (John) spent some time in North Africa in both the Autumn of 2011 and the Spring 2012 and was struck by the consistency of themes coming from opposite directions, but never quite connecting. My polling and focus groups among young supporters of the Arab Spring in Tunisia revealed their strong desire to become leaders in the New Tunisia. These were the first young people to defy an Arab dictator and peacefully drive him from office. But now, young Tunisians both in the country and in the diaspora want the fruit of their hard work. They want to serve in government, and they want to lead NGO efforts to build democracy, economic capacity, and modernize their economy. They want the best 21st century skills and their mantra was “technical support and training”. They told this to any and every American or European official (and pollster) they saw. It was a powerful reminder of a similar message I received from a poll of the Emirates-based Young Arab leaders which I conducted in August 2006 for Business for Diplomatic Action. Back then, my company surveyed over 200 members of this network of Arabs under 45 years of age – men and women, business and professional, on the make, mainly located in the GCC region but scattered across the Middle East North Africa region. Aside from family, we asked what was most important to them. Success in their profession and business was by far the top answer. What did they need to attain that success? They were clear: the best possible training, mentoring, internships, and hand-on work opportunities. And, from a list of developed countries were presented, where would they expect to get the best skill development? The response wasn’t even close – it was the United States, “the platinum standard”, according to one survey respondent. But then we asked who their number one hero in the Arab World was? There was a consensus: Hassan
Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, because he had just “stood up to the United States”?
What a disconnect – here they were applauding and wanting the best possible training, internships, and education from the United States yet, at the same time applauding a sworn enemy of the U.S. But I saw a clear opportunity for the US in so many ways. On one hand, we have a burgeoning leadership class in this huge region crying out for technical support and training. These are people who want to start businesses, create capacity for enhanced internal and external communications in their nations, and do good things. On the other hand, the United States has an army of twenty-somethings with the best available education, desirous to be mobile, passionate about changing the world, and unable to find decent enough jobs. While the US Department of State is fond of funding $100 million grants that employ overpriced consultants and private security forces, why not take a page from President John F. Kennedy’s Peace Corps and hire America’s First Globals at a much more reasonable stipend and place them in a situation where they meet with and learn together from their fellow Globals, provide the technical support, and build a bridge with another culture? This could and should move well beyond the Arab and Muslim worlds. I have raised this with highest levels of the State Department and they are “pursuing it”, which I actually believe. Zogby Polls over the years (conducted by both Zogby International and my brother’s Middle East-focused Zogby Research Services) show consistently that Arabs welcome American technical support in building infrastructure, technology capacity, health care, and education (especially if we let them develop their own democratic institutions). What an excellent way to address a number of issues altogether and for a much more affordable rate.