To bring companies closer to young people and to enable this proximity to drive enhanced brand innovation capacity — in essence, this is the ambition of the Millennials Lab, created in the Rio 2015 edition of Sustainable Brands, and which is now preparing to scale up, reaching other states in Brazil in 2019.
Everything began in 2014, when my son André — aged 17 at the time — attended Sustainable Brands Rio and shared his comments with me. He enjoyed the younger, more informal and disruptive speakers and found those who employed a corporate discourse an incredible drag. It was at this moment that I perceived the distance that exists between youth and companies — not only in communication but, above all, in their ways of operating.
It is important not to be simplistic or naive when talking about the younger generations, be it Millennials, or Generation Z or Y. Let’s avoid the panacea of believing that the young can provide solutions for everything; it is not fair to place this burden on them. But they will be the ones who will implement the solutions that mankind needs so badly. Of key importance, young people enable a connection with the zeitgeist which we, mostly well-educated white executives aged over 40, tend to lose a little more each day if we do not connect with the younger generations.
At the first Millennials Lab at SB Rio 2015, a group of 24 young people working with social innovation initiatives in Rio de Janeiro attended the conference and took the stage at the end to read out a manifesto. What they said in this first Millennials Manifesto may be summarized as follows:
“...We discovered that, behind the companies that you represent, there are people — people aware of their responsibilities and roles; as well as motivated to change the course of history and build a better, fairer and healthier world, for you, for us and for the coming generations.
By connecting with these companies, represented at this conference by you, we have come to feel closer. And based on this interaction, we have understood the purposes each organization intends to assume in the society in which we live.
And the main result of this connection is that we have been able to feel that you are aware and are seeking to engage in building better companies that have a clearer and fairer vision of SUSTAINABILITY.
Here, we have managed to believe in you as people. But we have not yet been able to believe in the companies that you are representing.”
In the three years since SB Rio 2015, the UN launched the Sustainable Development Goals, and our conference moved to São Paulo to expand its reach. It was decided last week at Sustainable Brands São Paulo 2018 that it was time to revisit that first public declaration made by the millennial representatives.
This time, the proceedings were facilitated by two organizations also made up of young people: Engajamundo and Flowmakers, both dedicated to shaping young leaders and professionals prepared to promote transformation in organizations. Connected with the global sustainability agenda, the MLab 2018 Manifesto recontextualized the importance of the participation of young people, who today number 1.8 billion people worldwide — with 51.4 million Brazilians aged between 15 and 29 representing a quarter of the country’s population. Their manifesto launched the following provocative challenge:
... “It is time to put an end to the schism between activism and institutions. We want activist organizations — companies that empathetically build values and principles for the well-being of society without being limited to political reactivity.
We are approaching the end of the event. Do you think it has been successful? We young people think it has — but there is always a ‘but’.
SB cannot just be a space for exchanging knowledge, it needs to be transformed into a space for collective construction, for real connection — a space for action that goes beyond the walls of this pavilion.
To do this, we need diversity in the debate. This means including more young people in the discussion. We are willing to collaborate with companies. We would like you to reflect upon just how far you are truly willing and available to collaborate with young people.”