How Millennials Are Leading the Fourth Industrial Revolution

This article was authored by Noa Gafni, CEO of Impact Squared, and published on The World Economic Forum Blog. We are publishing here as a resource to generate debate around a key topic influencing global innovation.


The Fourth Industrial Revolution will leverage technology to bring about a more inclusive world. What’s unique about this industrial revolution is the focus on progress for the sake of social good. This focus is evident in the rise of social enterprises, the ratification of the Sustainable Development Goals, and unique partnerships that shift systems through “conscious movements”. Millennials are at the forefront of this new industrial revolution.

Millennials are concerned about the state of the world. In the 2015 Global Shapers Annual Survey, over half the millennials surveyed named social and economic inequality as the top issue affecting the world today. Climate change, access to education and youth unemployment were also highlighted as serious issues that must be addressed on a local and global level.

Millennials quickly realized that protesting was not effective in driving sustainable change. And they turned to the institutions they initially fought against, deciding to work within the system to move them forward.

The same survey also highlighted millennials’ low level of trust in institutions – from federal and local governments to corporations. Even not-for-profit enterprises were trusted by less than half of the millennials surveyed.

It is clear that these institutions, from the perspective of the millennial generation, will need to adapt. And, after the financial crisis of 2008, when signs of the Fourth Industrial Revolution were beginning to surface, millennials tried to change institutions by fighting against the system. Images of protesters flooded the media. But millennials quickly realized that protesting was not effective in driving sustainable change. And they turned to the institutions they initially fought against, deciding to work within the system to move them forward.

In essence, millennials have worked with institutions to create a new type of social movement – conscious movements. Conscious movements adapt the enthusiasm and organizing principles of traditional social movements. They funnel the energy of the millennial generation and the gravitas of established institutions to bring about positive social change.

Conscious movements recognize the importance of both online and in-person meetings.

From the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum to Lean In, conscious movements create a powerful combination that brings together old and new power, online and offline interactions and global reach with local impact.

Old and new power

Many people talk about “new power”, which is more open and participatory than “old power”, which is closed and hierarchical. It seems like these two types of power are completely incompatible. But conscious movements manage this tension and turn it into an opportunity. The Global Shapers Community, part of the World Economic Forum, brings together young people with CEOs and world leaders. Shapers take part in cross-mentorship schemes where they learn from world leaders, and these leaders, in turn, learn from the Global Shapers. The millennial perspective is so important to include that a Global Shaper was recently named a co-chair of the 2016 Annual Meeting at Davos.

Connecting on and offline

Conscious movements recognize the importance of both online and in-person meetings. In a world that emphasizes online interactions over in-person gatherings, conscious movements flip this logic on its head. Lean In is a conscious movement launched by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. Lean In encourages women to further their careers by launching Lean In Circles – in-person gatherings where women discuss their professional challenges, seek advice and share resources. Lean In’s website provides women with the tools to create meetings, access expert videos (for professional development during meetings) and interact with other circles nearby. But the focus remains on building trust through small, in-person meetings.

Bridging global and local

Even though the world is more global than ever before, most of our daily contact still takes place locally. Of all the telephone calling minutes in the world last year, only 2% were cross-border calls and the average person consumes just 1-2% of their news on foreign sites.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is providing a new approach to the world’s biggest problems, and conscious movements play a key role.

Conscious movements make the most of both the global and the local. +SocialGood unites changemakers around the power of innovation and technology to make the world a better place. Globally connected influencers work with +SocialGood to share ideas of what’s working in global development and adapt it to their local communities. When the Social Good Summit took place in New York during United Nations General Assembly week, over 100 local meetups took place around the world, from the Philippines to Rwanda.

As someone who has not only participated but also helped nurture several of these conscious movements, I have seen the benefits to organizations, millennials and the world at large.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is providing a new approach to the world’s biggest problems, and conscious movements play a key role. Who is more invested in creating a better world than the millennial generation? And who is better placed to connect, scale and leverage the enthusiasm of millennials than established institutions? Conscious movements will become a crucial type of partnership as the Fourth Industrial Revolution changes systems and creates a more inclusive world.

Author: Noa Gafni