I am writing this blog post on an airplane back from San Francisco, where I spent the weekend at the Thiel Summit surrounded by some of the brightest minds in our country, and very likely the world. Do you know what they all had in common? Not a single one of them was over the age of 20.
These ‘kids’ will be the next leaders of our country, becoming thought leaders in social change, technology, education, politics, and who knows what else. Thanks to their ability to envision what our future could look like and their dedication to making that vision a reality, I walk away energized and hopeful every time I have the opportunity to take part in the Thiel community. At the ripe age of 17, these ‘kids’ are changing our world with a skillset most adults don’t even possess.
And here’s the difference between you, me, and them: they have all the tools they need right now to make their dreams become a reality. Technology has given them a leg up at a young age that no other generation has had before. They’re taking chances at 17 years old that most would never consider – starting scalable companies, building education reform non-profits, skipping college to pursue a dream, trading in social hour to code their next app – the list of risks and sacrifices is endless.
I dream about what opportunities lie ahead for our country as Millennials begin to shape our future, and it’s because organizations like the Thiel Foundation have realized the value of empowering our youth.
Luckily in Chattanooga we, too, actively invest in young visionaries. Organizations such as Lamp Post Group and LAUNCH have developed programs to elevate next generation talent to start thinking big picture around entrepreneurship and technology. This weekend, I took four Chattanooga high school students with me to the Summit. Each of the four has been involved in curating monthly meet-ups for Chattanooga’s under 20 community in collaboration with the Thiel Foundation. The Chattanooga contingent fit right in with the rest of the Thiel community, because they too are thinking big picture about the world around them.
Mae Stuart, a recent graduate of C.S.A.S., has been active in politics since she was 15. At 17, she mobilized voters throughout Tennessee by managing social media campaigns and grass root efforts alongside some of the best in the business. It’s hard to believe that someone who isn’t even of legal age to vote yet has made such an impact on our state and city. To pursue this passion, Mae sacrificed her ‘free time’ working on a higher goal that aligns with her beliefs. But in exchange she found a group of tight-knit friends with similar values, just as happy to give up the typical teenage lifestyle to accomplish something bigger and beyond themselves.
Jill Klinex from Collegedale Academy is a global thinker in more ways than one-- both in thinking in terms of the big picture and in collaborating with people around the world. An entrepreneur since age fourteen, Jill has spent the last two summers participating in Harvard’s Media Lab program where some of the brightest young minds get to spend time on Harvard’s campus building out their entrepreneurial ideas.
Jill’s latest start up, an app for non-profit fundraising, was created in collaboration with a female programmer who is also just 17. Together, they are developing a product that has the ability to change the face of fundraising, despite living in different cities. Because of the technology tools available to Millennials, they are connecting faster and smarter with people all over the world – building a true global network.
Both Jill and Mae are making a significant impact on our world, from right here in Chattanooga. We, as a community, have the ability to increase the power and potential of the youth in our city. If we’re going to compete in this ever-changing global economy, we must recognize that our talent is our biggest asset. We are so lucky to have the gig, but it is only a tool to realizing our great asset – the talent of every Chattanoogan, at any age.
Think back to when you were a teenager. What dreams did you have for yourself? What dreams did you have for the world you lived in? What would you do if you were 17 again, and had the tools at your fingertips to make your dreams come true? Think about that, and then go encourage a Millennial you know to take a risk on changing the world.
Tiffanie is the Director of Operations at Lamp Post Group (LPG), as well as the founder of WayPaver, a talent innovation lab incubated inside of LPG. She hopes to prove that a mid-sized city, like Chattanooga, can attract and retain the best and brightest talent by placing them in great jobs and an awesome community.