The next generation of Americans and global citizens are sure to face challenges currently brooding across the world. So what is the current generation doing about it? Gen Next, an exclusive group of elite (and enlightened) executives across America are placing their bets on some issues likely to deflate or propel future leaders. In this interview, JustLuxe sits down with Michael Davidson, CEO of the future-focused non-profit organization.
JustLuxe: Gen Next is an organization for those "dedicated to learning about and becoming engaged with the most pressing challenges facing future generations." What are those pressing challenges?
Davidson: Each generation faces their own unique challenges. We want to be sure that (a) future generations don’t experience challenges we punted on, and (b) they are prepared to realize their full potential. Parents understand this in a personal and visceral way with their kids. Americans have historically understood this, and it’s part of what has made this nation great. But there are some alarming generational trends that suggest that tide could be slowing or reversing. For example, this generation is likely to be less educated than the generation prior. The US is sliding on educational, competitiveness, freedom, and other related ambitious indexes. In a globalized world, we are potentially less prepared.
Broadly, we group generational challenges in terms of economic opportunity, global security, and education—the bread and butter. More specifically, we include competitiveness, energy security, tax, trade, entitlement reform, high skilled immigration, education reform, countering violent extremism, and much more. Clearly, we’re interested in rolling up our sleeves to tackle as much as possible while being as strategic and impactful as possible; after all, time is short. We are fortunate that our Members, and people like them, have risen to that challenge.
JustLuxe: Gen Next is an exclusive organization with limited membership across a few national chapters. Why? And why is such a limited number of Member's part of your strategy for making an impact on the challenges you mentioned before?
Davidson: Organizations are created because of a need or a demand beyond the scope of one person’s abilities. History tells us that often a relatively small and organized group could literally change the world. Part of our mission is to find, select, develop, and fulfill the people who will help us make a difference for future generations.
As a practical matter, we can’t be everything to everyone and Gen Next is not for everyone. At a more strategic level, we have to be focused and our culture and members help self-police us. Not everyone is an example of the success of a free enterprise system. Not everyone is forward thinking and curious. And not everyone is fun. Those variables dramatically influence how effective we are in the pursuit of our mission.
And most importantly, we believe in the talent and resources of our members. They’re proven leaders in their own walk of life. Given the magnitude of challenges we face and that we must be focused, we need the best for us. In order to keep our Members engaged, we deliver a high level of service, access, and impact.
Diversity of talent and perspective also matters. We attract accomplished individuals who represent many walks of life. We have the Head of Google Ideas, the former U.S. Ambassador of War crime and Genocide, the swimwear industries leading house of fashion, manufacturers, technology innovators, and much more. Our Members, their passion and curiosity and vision for the future, are what make us impactful.
Like a business or a team, we are selective about our talent. We owe that to our Members, and we owe that to our mission. Each Member goes through a nomination, selection, and invitation process, and there is a minimum annual contribution of $10,000.
JustLuxe: Some of Gen Next's speakers are top government officials from both parties, as well as influential CEOs (such as of McDonalds and Fisker). What do speakers bring to the group and what's the impact, other than a discussion?
Davidson: Our programs could be viewed as thought provokers, conversation starters, educational resources, or project incubators. At a basic level, give our Members access to decision makers, thought leaders, and information like no one else can give. Few groups can claim to work through the biggest issues of today and tomorrow with Navy SEALs, C-Level executives at world-renowned multi-nationals, and the highest levels of political leadership.
Our programs tend to enrich the way our Members view an issue we present, so they’re better informed among peers. Information from programs adds to the way a Member thinks through one of their own passions, so they’re better decision makers. Programs also get a Member excited about a particular issue, and they discover a way to be impactful through a means they never thought imaginable.
Moreover, the Gen Next Foundation’s project with Google Ideas and the Institute of Strategic Dialogue on countering violent extremism; our work on energy security; and our work on high skilled immigration (to name only three) all had their start in a GN program.
JustLuxe: Gen Next is not a political group per say, but your organization supports "policies that promote entrepreneurship and company growth - especially in cutting-edge industries - and supports free trade; energy security and independence, etc." How do members support such goals?
Davidson: I mentioned a little bit of our work above. But, in addition to our membership organization, we work philanthropically through the Gen Next Foundation, and we work politically through the Gen Equity PACs of Gen Next. The former is a 501c3 that shares a similar mission to Gen Next in terms of generational opportunity and leverages a vast network to seed and scale innovative, bold, and systemic solutions to economic, education, or global security challenges. Incidentally, Members who wanted to be more philanthropically active and use their unique skill sets created the foundation. The fact that it was inspired by our Members’ passion, vision, and skill sets is pretty remarkable. Gen Equity PACs is a family of political committees that supports political leaders who demonstrate political courage, are forward thinkers, and prioritize our issues and share our values. Philanthropy and politics are two avenues to make a difference, so we’ve set ourselves up to leverage both.
Against Violent Extremism is one of our most recent philanthropic projects. Gen Next Foundation and GN Members are collaborating with Google Ideas and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in The Against Violent Extremism (AVE) Network, a unique and powerful new global force in the ongoing struggle to tackle violent extremism—Islamism, street gangs, right wing nationalism, and more. Former violent extremists and survivors of violent extremism are empowered to work together to counter extremist narratives and prevent the recruitment of ‘at-risk’ youth. But we don't just connect formers and survivors with each other; we connect them with private sector leaders who can accelerate the success of their efforts with practical resources and expertise. This is the first-ever online tool that is working towards creating systemic change leveraging technology to connect people working to keep us safer. You can visit the site here.
GN Members have started to take action.GN Member Micha Mikailian, using his eBoost team and resources, has made a generous in-kind donation of services designed to support formers and survivors as social entrepreneurs. GN Member Aaron Bare, after hearing about the need for social media integration and nonprofit start- up incubation, gathered his team at BuzzMouth and is also donating six figure in-kind support for a different former or survivor each quarter. GN Member Chris Relth, being the owner of an IT exec search firm, is developing a curriculum to help coach former gang members on getting back into the work force, developing interview skills, and resume building. Each of those Members will tell you that they never thought they’d be impactful or philanthropic in this way. And many other Members have stepped up to participate in this bold form of philanthropy.
JustLuxe: In terms of education, Gen Next's goals vast, ranging from prioritizing teacher effectiveness to closing the education gap between demographics. Again, how do your members support such national issues?
Davidson: The short answer is that we leverage our network, support political leaders who prioritize and lead on the issues, and we work with the Gen Next Foundation. The longer answer could be gleaned.
JustLuxe: With an organization so focused on the next generation, what's the plan for Gen Next in 2013, goal wise?
Davidson: Where to begin! We’re an ambitious bunch, but I’ll keep it simple. We plan to expand into New York City, Las Vegas, and other major metropolitan markets throughout the US. Currently we have full time operations in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Seattle, Scottsdale, and we have Members across the country. We obviously want to expand that footprint.
But, what does that mean? It means a lot of things but two basic ones are that we’ll have a network of individuals who don’t just want success; they want to make a difference, and they’re investing the time and resources to make themselves better educated and better leaders on these issues. There are organizations that are comprised of networks of individuals who are similar to our members on paper. Our Members are set apart by a shared purpose. We intend demonstrate that such a network can exist and will make a difference. For any individual who qualifies for Gen Next and wants to do and be better, we are the place to be.
On top of that, we want to improve the way GN has an impact and delivers an unparalleled experience for our Members in the context of our mission. Therefore, we must put on more great programs, engage our Members, and honor our mission with long-term thinking and leadership.