Last July, I spent a week with my family and about 100 teens working on service projects in underserved communities along the Texas border in Laredo. My son was the energizing force for our family’s involvement, and his enthusiasm for volunteer work put him in excellent company on this trip. I’ve never seen a group of young people work so hard and so conscientiously in service of others. The team spent five long days in sweltering triple-digit heat toiling away on projects that required hard labor from dawn to dusk. It was my privilege to lead a group of these young men and women, and the experience was personally transformational.
Granted, this group of Net Generation kids was an extraordinary sample, but their performance was no less inspirational for that fact. And, I suspect there are many more kids like these just waiting for the opportunity to do good work. The young people I worked with seemed to possess an intuitive sense that personal fulfillment is best created through authentic contribution.
On the long bus ride from south Texas back to Dallas I began thinking about how I might connect the productive energy of youth to another group of special people: Conscious Capitalists. Business leaders who embrace the ethos of Conscious Capitalism favor practices that promote cooperation and collaboration among all company stakeholders in service of superior performance, results and profit for all. Borrowing an analogy from biology, it’s a business philosophy that privileges the ecosystem over any individual organism. Far from Pollyannaish, it’s a model that delivers superior financial results, a fact well documented in books like, “Firms of Endearment: How World Class Companies Profit from Passion and Purpose.”
A few weeks after returning from Laredo, I attended a talk on Conscious Capitalism given by Whole Foods CEO John Mackey and The Container Store CEO Kip Tindell.
After lamenting the state of affairs on Wall Street and the media’s demonizing of business in general, Mackey made the following remark:
“Business schools aren’t teaching this stuff (Conscious Capitalism). If we want business as usual to change, then we need to take back the narrative on business and lead the way.”
That’s when it hit me. Generation Net is the group that needs to hear the story. They need exposure to the right kind of business before their maps are made and their character is cured. The only way to get that exposure is to provide work experiences inside the walls of companies like these. And that’s where the vision came into focus. Will Work 4 Good is a simple model that gives kids an opportunity to learn about conscious business practices, earn a little summer income, and contribute a week of volunteer time on a service project. Companies connect with young people in the communities they serve, share the right story about business, and can also engage alongside the kids in the service project.
It’s the sort of active engagement both students and companies need to shape the character of tomorrow’s leaders and change business as usual for the better.
Mike Sullivan is the Founder of Will Work 4 Good, president of LOOMIS, a Dallas-based advertising agency, and Education Chair for the North Texas Chapter of the Young President's Organization. He's married with two kids, two dogs, two cats, and a bird (in approximately that order).