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(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
(Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

Don Tapscott

Rebooting the world: a job for the new generation Add to ...

The good news, graduates, is that you are finishing school in a country with a strong economy, consistently rated one of the best in the world to live in. But the bad news is that the world my generation is passing on to you is broken.

Youth unemployment everywhere is high and many refer to the "jobless recovery" - an oxymoron if ever there was one. The global economy and financial services industry, governments, health care, the media and our institutions for solving global problems like the UN are all struggling. Our energy and transportation systems are spewing enough carbon to threaten our biosphere.

Leaders of institutions everywhere have lost trust. A sovereign debt crisis threatens to bring down countries like Greece and Spain, and with them the currency and economy of Europe. In your lifetime, China and India will surpass the United States in GDP.

The world is too unequal, unstable and unsustainable. At this year's annual World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, former U.S. president Bill Clinton gave evidence that if we have reduced carbon emissions by 80 per cent in the year 2050, it will still take 1,000 years for the world to cool down. And during this period, bad things are likely to happen - such as 1.5 billion people losing more than half their water supply.

Your generation will need to turn this situation around - to reboot the world - and each of you will have a role to play. You will need to advocate change in your workplace, community, country and in the causes you join. And you will need to teach your children well.

I am enormously hopeful about the future. The reason? You.

Your generation has unprecedented power, intelligence and tools. I've studied it for the last 15 years and I am very optimistic you are up to the challenge.

You are the biggest generation ever. There are more of you than there are baby boomers, and in demographics, size matters.

You are also the smartest generation ever, as evidenced by all-time-high test scores and extraordinary university graduation rates. Some have said you are the narcissistic Generation Me obsessed with YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. But facts don't support this assertion. You care. Youth volunteering in high school and university is higher than ever.

As a generation, you have strong values. You believe in fairness, justice, freedom and protecting our biosphere. More than other generation, you favour diversity. You view racist and sexist behaviour as both weird and unacceptable.

You are also the first generation to come of age surrounded by digital technologies. This gives you a global orientation, unprecedented access to knowledge and a collaborative spirit. Rather than just watching TV, as my generation did, you have grown up digital, interacting, searching, authenticating, remembering, collaborating, composing your thoughts, organizing information. Rather than being the passive recipients of media, you are a generation of initiators.

You can use Web-based tools to make the world more prosperous, just and sustainable. A good thing, because this is a time of old versus new, atrophy versus renewal, stagnation versus renaissance.

In your first job, you will care more about opportunities to learn, do interesting things and have fulfilling work and relationships than about how much money you make. You can be the generation to put the Dilbert cartoons out of business.

If you become a teacher, you won't be buried in a single school - you will be able to collaborate with peers across the country. Your students will have access to virtually all recorded knowledge and expertise and they'll want you to curate a custom learning experience for them.

As a business manager, you'll be working in corporate architectures dramatically different from those of the 20th century - ones that emphasize teamwork rather than hierarchy. If you become an executive, you will lead in the rethinking of the purpose of the corporation - beyond shareholder profit to creating value for all its stakeholders.

You are also the first generation of global citizens. With the flick of a switch, you can join 100 million others on activist networks like Facebook Causes. You have already shown your power and determination, raising support for Haitian people, protesting oppression in Iran and speaking out against censorship in China.

If the financial system meltdown shows us anything, it is that we live in a tightly woven world. In an age where everything and everyone is linked through networks of glass and air, no business, organization, government agency, country or society is an island. And one thing is for sure - no organization can succeed in a world that is failing.

Fixing the mess my generation has created will be challenging, exhilarating and sometimes agonizing. But the stakes are high.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther called the printing press "God's highest act of grace." With today's communications revolution, your generation has been bestowed with a second great act of grace. You have a historic occasion to rebuild business and the world. Because each of you can participate in this new renaissance, it is surely an amazing time to graduate and to be alive.

I hope you will have the wisdom and the will to seize the time.

From a convocation address given to students at McMaster University in Hamilton last week. Don Tapscott is author of Macrowikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World (with Anthony D. Williams).

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