By Jacqueline Holness
At age 23, Ogechi Oparah, a 2013 Princeton University graduate, has already established herself as a community leader, running for the Fayette County Board of Education in 2014. “The average age of the school board at the time I was running was 62, and the school board serves 20,000 students under the age of 18. There is something to be said for that gap,” says Oparah, who is the Woodruff Arts Center’s Fayette County coordinator. “Education has changed in a lot of ways, and I felt that since I’ve been through the Fayette County school system rather recently, I could serve.” While she did not win the election, her civic involvement led to other opportunities as she was named Fayette County Democratic Women’s group president and Fayette County Democratic Committee’s executive chair.
Her involvement in the Fayette County Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professionals Group led to her being selected to join the Atlanta Regional Commission Millennial Advisory Board, comprised of 135 metro Atlanta Millennials, ages 18 to 35 as of 2015, and will help the ARC develop its regional plan. The plan will focus on world class infrastructure, innovation economy and healthy, livable communities through 2040. In addition to Oparah’s age, her civic engagement and commitment to education are on par with the ARC’s research on Millennials which is compiled in its New Voices report. According to the report, in which some Pew Research Center data is cited, Millennials are the “most politically progressive age group in modern history.” Additionally, the report indicates that Millennials are more educated than previous generations and are interested in quality education. And because of their sheer numbers, Millennials — also known as Generation Y — are being sought to help shape everything from regional planning to consumer goods and beyond. According to the Pew Research Center, the generational group is expected to grow to 75.3 million, outnumbering Baby Boomers’ projected 74.9 million.
According to Brant Aden, 1 in 4 metro Atlantans are in the Millennial generation. Also, 1.3 million Millennials live in metro Atlanta edging out the 1.2 million Baby Boomers who live in the same region. Aden, an ARC board member, is one the co-leaders of the ARC Millennial Advisory Board. The advisory board engaged with local experts and took part in roundtable discussions at its first meeting in March 2015. Following the meeting, advisory board members were encouraged to have dinner parties with friends to discuss the three key areas, and their conversations will be monitored through various social media platforms. The board will have its second meeting in June 2015, and a final meeting in the fall, Aden says. “It’s imperative that the ARC and the region begin to engage this generation and make sure that they are involved in the planning process as it relates to transit, pedestrian access, convenience,” says Aden. “And I think the region is going to see a lot of progress as the Millennial generation is engaged in public policy and decision making.”
In addition to regional infrastructure, Millennial executives also have a unique opportunity to shape corporations. “Coca-Cola Millennial Voices is a kick starter for change and refreshing ideas at the company, serving as an advisory group, pilot project incubator and think tank for the Company,” says Paul Blackmon, a Coca-Cola North America senior manager, who led his company’s global Millennial Voices initiative and also serves on the ARC’s Millennial Advisory Board. “It is organized through a network of grassroots hubs, which are formed and led by young Coca-Cola employees around the world.”
The metro Atlanta non-profit sector is also undergoing a Millennial makeover, according to Candice L. Dixon, United Way of Greater Atlanta’s Women’s Initiatives’ director. Although United Way has great brand recognition among Baby Boomers, it has had to tailor its approach to engage Millennials and encourage them to invest in the organization’s work, says Dixon, who is a part of the latter generation. “They look at volunteering not only as a way to address challenges that are happening in the community but also [to] gain professional experience.” United Way has activities that appeal to Generation Y such as the Young Professional Leaders of Atlanta group which enables members to connect with a broader network of their peers and potentially mentors in their chosen fields through volunteer experiences, leadership luncheons featuring C-Suite executives and service socials also known as “Happy Hour With a Purpose.”
However, for all of the excitement that Millennials have generated, Carolyn Baird, IBM Institute for Business Value global research leader, says that some beliefs about Millennials are myths, according to an IBM study about Millennials released earlier this year. For example, one myth that the study “Myths, Exaggerations and Uncomfortable Truths” addresses is that they are digital addicts and prefer virtual activity, but according to the study, “Millennials prefer face-to-face contact when learning new skills at work.” Still, “only 4 percent of respondents claim their organization has no issues implementing new technologies,” one of the “uncomfortable truths” identified in the study. IBM Millennials designed IBM Verse, a new e-mail tool that appeals to Millennials and others. “We are making sure that our own Millennials are well-integrated into teams to help build out new products and services,” says Baird. “We’ve been doing this for a while even before the study, but when we saw the results of the study we knew we were on the right track.”
Whatever positive or negative characters are attributed to Millennials, Aden says, no matter what, Millennials are not to be ignored. “Millennials will set the pace for the next 30 to 40 years and quite honestly, what they want and what they ask for, they are going to get.” AT