At Worldview, we’ve been working with Gen Z for almost a decade now and we’ve had the tremendous opportunity to see, interact and get to know Gen Z in India and around the world. The one thing that strikes us about this generation is that with the right support, they can solve the challenges we are facing in our world today. Here are a few observations that made us believe this.
A Generation that cares
Firstly and most importantly, this is a Generation that cares! Gen Z is possibly the first generation to have grown up with immediate and live access to information, visuals & views about any issue anywhere in the world thanks to the number of Internet enabled devices in each home. They don’t have to start reading newspapers or consciously start watching the news to get to know what is not right in the world. The social platforms that Gen Z spends its time on have enough content available about problems & issues in every part of the world. They don’t need to go out and find these issues; these issues chase them in various forms. Not just that, they grew up during periods of serious turmoil around the world with incidents such as 9/11 and the war following that, the rapid increase in environmental degradation and the now very visible results of that, the global recession, the anti-corruption movement in India are a few to name. This possibly resulted in them worrying about the state of the world more than any of the last couple of generations. The only generation that was exposed to this kind of turmoil around the world in the past 100 years was the one that lived through the two world wars and the period of the great depression, popularly referred to as the “Silent Generation”.
A study that we did in 2017 with Gen Z in India asked them what their biggest concern was at that time. Over 61% of the respondents chose ‘The State of the World’ as their biggest concern. This is a choice they made over more immediate concerns such as examinations, submissions, university applications, future career prospects etc. It is heartening to know that they care and they have a concern for the state of the world.
I know I can
Combined with this concern for the state of the world comes another characteristic of Gen Z that puts them well placed to grow into solvers– extremely high self-belief that can even come across as brash & over-confident. Gen Z believes that they have the power to have an impact on the state of the world and solve the problems that exist. The ability to get what they want at the press of a button has made Gen Z the most empowered generation in the world. Not just that, each time they log in to a social network, they read stories of people who were previously unheard of becoming overnight heroes and this only increases their belief that they too can be the next one. They feel powerful, they are confident and they believe that they can be heard.
Also, this is a generation that grew up “participating” and “contributing” to causes with a few clicks. Many years of doing this have made it habitual for them to take part in causes (even if their participation is limited to being Sofa Superstars). It is even uncool to not support causes. While the real impact of this convenient activism is debatable, it has definitely become second nature for Gen Z to take part in “solving” global issues.
Not just access and self-belief, our study showed that Gen Z also believes that citizens have to bring about a change in the society more than governments, corporates or even social impact organizations. Almost 40% of the respondents mentioned that ‘Citizens’ according to them are the ones who can have the most positive impact in tackling some of the issues we are facing today.
It is not to say that there are no negatives to this online activism or to the easy access to anything under the sun using technology. Of course, there are issues such as an increase in instant-gratification or possibly not understanding the actual depth and complexities of an issue, especially at a global level. It is however up to all of us to help them navigate those hurdles and to meaningfully use this optimism and self-belief to affect change!
Just ‘cool’ is not cool enough
Gen Z’s heroes. Gen Z’s heroes are not just good at the job they do but are also actively involved in solving challenges in the world. Elon Musk, Malala, Emma Watson, Kailash Satyarti, The Obama’s are few examples of icons that Gen Z identifies with. This is a generation that identifies with those who they see as making a positive impact on the world and those who they see as the ones solving the problems that they are facing. Gen Z may come across as lacking depth, the Kardashians may still be famous; but this same generation is also capable of rejecting heroes who they believe don’t fit into their worldview. It is impossible today for a brand that is appealing to Gen Z to not be socially aware, conscious and responsible. If you don’t use your position & power to voice your opinions for a good cause, you are not cool for Gen Z! This taste in choosing heroes is an indication of their innate need to make the world a better place.
Finally, Gen Z HAS the power to solve the challenges of the world, as they are still young. Humans I believe are born with an innate set of qualities & abilities that make us capable of solving simple and complex challenges — curiosity, the urge to discover, the wish to perfect, the need to order, need to maximise effort, the need to respond, ability to adapt etc. It is just that these inert abilities and skills and thereby the want and capacity to solve problems is lost or un-learned as we get older. There could be a bunch of reasons for this — increases in ‘realism’ as we get older, flawed education systems, peer-pressure, societal conditions are few of the many inter-connected & unrelated reasons. However, the oldest Gen Z’er is still young enough and they have the capacities to become problem solvers and hopefully, the ways of our world will not come in their way.
The next century or maybe even the next few centuries of humanity are dependent on how Generation Z lives, grows & achieves. It seems as if many issues in our world that we’ve discussed over the last few decades have reached their tipping point. On the other side, there are many technologies & innovations too on the brink of bringing about a bright new world. Which way the pendulum swings on each of these issues as well as technologies is dependent on how quickly and how efficiently we can use these advancements to solve the challenges. Gen Z is best poised to do this. Each of us from earlier generations has an opportunity to take part in this process of Gen Z becoming Solvers.
We at Worldview have made this our mission. We will be catalysts in Gen Z’s development into Gen S or a Generation of Solvers!