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Linda Manziaris, left, and her sister Susanna are young business women who are heavily involved in charity in Africa. Fourteen-year-old Linda operates an online jewellery business called Body Bijou and donates some of her profits to Susanna’s Girls Helping Girls organization. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)
Linda Manziaris, left, and her sister Susanna are young business women who are heavily involved in charity in Africa. Fourteen-year-old Linda operates an online jewellery business called Body Bijou and donates some of her profits to Susanna’s Girls Helping Girls organization. (Kevin Van Paassen For The Globe and Mail)

YOUTH MOVEMENT

Generation Z: The kids who’ll save the world? Add to ...

Linda Manziaris, 14, a jewellery entrepreneur from Toronto, gives half of her profit to charity. Ann Makosinski, 16, from Victoria, created a flashlight that is powered by the human hand. Shawn Mendes, 16, from Pickering, Ont., went from posting Vine videos online to international pop stardom. Hannah Alper, 11, an eco-blogger from Toronto, has addressed stadium-sized crowds across North America.

Kids these days.

These exceptional young Canadians are all part of the post-millennial generation. It’s a cohort of kids that doesn’t have a definitive name yet, but some have dubbed it Generation Z (as in, the generation after the large and influential Generation Y). These are the under-18s, kids growing up in an era of global economic turmoil and climate change. Despite their youth, the digitally sophisticated, socially conscious high achievers emerging from this group are causing some people to wonder: Is this the generation that will solve the world’s problems?

“I think our generation is really socially conscious, environmentally friendly and they are really global thinkers,” says Linda Manziaris, the 14-year-old social entrepreneur and founder of Body Bijou and this year’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Startup Canada Awards.

Linda donates 50 per cent of the profit from her online jewellery business to Girls Helping Girls, which was started by her 16-year-old sister, Susanna. So far, the not-for-profit has funded school building, teacher training and 20 scholarships for girls in South Africa, Kenya and Jamaica.

“[Our generation] sees a problem and they want to fix it, they aren’t leaving it for someone else to fix,” Linda says.

For the most part, Gen Z is made up of the offspring of Generation X, or the “baby bust” generation, the group born after the baby boomers, says David K. Foot, demographer and author of the seminal book on 20th century demographics, Boom Bust and Echo. This means Gen Z is smaller in number than the robust millennial, or “echo,” generation.

“Because they have been in much smaller classes in elementary school, they have already experienced the advantages of being in a smaller group,” says Foot. “When they apply to college or university, there’s going to be less competition within their group, and they are going to have a higher probability of getting into college or university if they want to.”

Gen Z kids are digital natives, and can’t remember a world without the Internet, smartphones and social media. They have technological skills that are totally intuitive and surpass those of their parents, says Don Tapscott, chief executive officer of Tapscott Group in Toronto. He says that instead of a generation gap, we now have a “generation lap,” where kids are lapping their parents on a digital track.

“This is the first time in history when children are an authority about something really important,” he says. “I was an authority about model trains when I was 11. And now you’ve got this 11 year old at the breakfast table who’s an authority on this mobile revolution that’s changing commerce, government, publishing, entertainment, every institution in society.”

In 2008, Tapscott published Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing Your World, based on a $4-million study of the millennials, encompassing 11,000 young people in 10 countries aged 11 through 30. Though he notes that there hasn’t yet been a major study on today’s under-18s yet, Tapscott says many of the characteristics of this younger group are the similar to the millennials, only intensified. Tapscott favours the term “Generation Mobile” rather than Gen Z, to reflect them being constantly connected, wherever they are.

“My generation, [the boomers], grew up watching 24 hours of TV per week. We were the passive recipients of TV,” Tapscott says. “[Gen Y] was the Net Generation, they came home from school and they would not turn on the TV, they would turn on their computer, reading, organizing, communicating. These kids you’re writing about, they don’t come home and turn anything on, because they are turned on all the time.”

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