In a recent interview with Larry King, world-renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, argued that the biggest threat to humanity isn’t nuclear war or the rise of artificial intelligence, it’s human greed and stupidity:

“Humanity needs to collaborate and change our assumptions of wealth and possessions if it is to tackle challenges like climate change, disease, food production and overpopulation.”

These words are disconcerting to say the least and serve as a rather shocking and worrying indictment of the direction in which humanity may be currently headed. However, thankfully there is one generation who appear to not only share his concerns, but are actively trying to find a solution to a problem that, if ignored, could have catastrophic implications for us all.

Millennials & The Culture of Sharing

Success used to be defined by the house that you lived in, the car that you had on your driveway and the money that you had in your pocket. However, Millennials, having seen the financial achievements of the Baby Boomer generation, have realised that monetary success alone isn’t the answer. As this quote from Forbes demonstrates, “Money is important and they [Millennials] do enjoy making it, however, they long to be part of something bigger than themselves”, Generation Y recognise that there must be a more meaningful and purposeful motivator for success than wealth and possessions alone.

Indeed, the concept of ownership has changed dramatically over the last decade, with an increasing number of young people now choosing to take advantage of the internet’s ‘sharing economy’. This digital economy allows them to rent or borrow physical resources such as cars, electrical appliances and/or recreational goods, and frees them from the ‘burdens’ of ownership. Daniel Arthurson, founder and CEO of Xercion observes that, “Gone are the days of self-serving ownership — community sharing and mass enjoyment are the “now” trends.”

It is perhaps unsurprising then that Hawking, one of the world’s leading thinkers, should also choose to comment on people’s changing attitudes towards ownership in his recent interview:

“People are starting to question the value of pure wealth … is knowledge or experience more important than money? Can possessions stand in the way of fulfilment? Can we truly own anything, or are we just transient custodians?”

In longing to be part of something bigger than themselves, Generation Y are daring to ask the same questions – if money and possessions aren’t the key to happiness and fulfilment then what exactly is? It appears that by being more socially conscious and responsible than any generation that has gone before, Millennials may be one step closer to finding an answer to this question. They understand that if they wish to be the instigators of positive change, then this can only be achieved by holding themselves and others accountable. Ghandi once said that we ‘should be the change that we wish to see in the world’ – Generation Y are embracing this philosophy, and they are inspiring the innovators, leading thinkers and entrepreneurs of our time, as well as the next generation, to do the same.

Focusing on People as well as Profit

Perhaps it could be attributed to the wisdom of youth, but Millennials recognise that money is and can be used as a powerful force for good, and that it can be utilised to create real positive change in society. However, when businesses work with the singular objective of maximising their profit margins and fail to consider their social impact, the pursuit of money becomes blind and the highest of ideals can all-too-quickly descend into greed and avarice.

As the gap between rich and poor only seems to grow wider, the need to find an ‘antidote’ to the insidious nature of greed has never been greater. Generation Y understand that we must start taking a top-down approach to business, in order to create a world where the monetary success of a company will no longer be of benefit to the few rather than the many. Of course those at the top should be able to enjoy the fruits of their hard work and effort, but so too should the employees working within the company, the community in which it was founded and society as a whole.

In other words, big business should be expected to reinvest in the social infrastructure of the communities that made them, and to set up charitable initiatives that benefit the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our societies. Over time, this will create a ‘drip-down’ or ‘domino’ effect that will ultimately enable individuals and communities to thrive. Millennials don’t only expect, but they demand that this Utopian vision, which many dismiss as being the folly of youth and naivety, become a tangible reality.

Because while those belonging to the older generation may have little belief that our society can ever change, Generation Y refuse to compromise their ideals. They know that if we change our attitudes towards wealth, hold each other accountable and resolve to conduct business in an ethical and socially responsible way, then we can, and more importantly must, create a better and fairer world for everyone.