February 24, 2015
On Friday morning I had the pleasure of attending a breakfast panel where the focus was service and technology. More specifically, the aim was to open a discussion about how to leverage technology to create interest and opportunities in promoting a year of service among young people. It was hosted by The Case Foundation in partnership with 1776, The National Conference on Citizenship, and The Aspen Institute/Franklin Project. The discussion featured talks by General Stanley McChrystal, former commander of Joint Special Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as leaders in several service organizations. There was also a Q&A panel with several influencers in the DC technology, entrepreneurship, and service spaces. Opening and closing remarks were delivered by Jean Case.
General McChrystal was the first to speak and focused on the importance of citizenship. He stressed that “if you don’t fix citizenship, you can’t fix anything later.” He defined citizenship as a responsibility to other people in your country. There are many ways to fulfill this responsibility, he said, but if there is no sense of citizenship, it is hard to get people to care. He gave an example from his military background, admitting that most people don’t join the military because they feel a responsibility to serve their country. Most people join because it sounds interesting, for an adventure, or for some incentive like paid education. However, once a person goes through an academy, or basic training, the sense of responsibility emerges and often that’s what influences peoples’ continued service for many years.
The next two talks were given by LaShauntya Moore, the Youth Program Coordinator at Earth Conservation Corps and Shirley Sagawa, the Chief Certification Officer at the National Conference on Citizenship. LaShauntya told a moving story of being a high school dropout and single mother of two by the age of 20 and needing a way to take care of her kids. Validating what McChrystal had said, she was drawn to the Earth Conservation Corps not because she cared about cleaning the Anacostia River (near which she had lived her entire life), or about the environment at all, but because of the stipend and GED program they offered.
Shirley Sagawa impressed the importance of technology in making service opportunities available to young people. She gave the example of how the National Conference on Citizenship has made it a priority to make their website, and mobile site accessible, appealing, and easy to use. The new site they are launching with The Franklin Project to promote the Service Year, has young people in mind. Its goal is to open young people to other opportunities for service besides Americorps, Teach for America, and The Peace Corps. Many of these well known service organizations do not have enough available positions to place all applicants, hence the need for other organizations, startups included, to develop new servie positions.
The Q&A panel tackled questions such as, how can nonprofits work together with startups for service related causes? And, how can startups and entrepreneurs who focus on social good leverage technology to make service opportunities more accessible? 1776’s Brandon Pollak gave an example of a San Francisco based startup called HandUp that allows people to donate directly to a homeless person, rather than donating to an organization. Pollak used this startup as an example of how successfully technology can be used when it comes to helping others.
To say this breakfast was inspiring would be an understatement. People tend to think of service to communities and our country as a government issue, or a non-profit issue. However, it’s really an everyone issue. I cannot predict whether the Service Year will become a common expectation of young people in this country, but what I can predict is that innovative minds will continue to improve our world, and the use of technology to promote helping others will become more and more powerful, until it is eventually commonplace.
Image credit: Flickr/CityYear
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