Recruiting the next great generation

By Todd Cohen

Ripped apart by a culture of greed and blame, the U.S. has become its own worst enemy, and we need a commitment to public service to help make ourselves whole again.

After its struggle and sacrifice during the Great Depression, “the greatest generation” defeated the Axis powers in World War II and powered the post-war economic boom.

But despite our economic and military might, we have lost our way, trapped in a self-fulfilling cycle of fear, hate, intolerance, finger-pointing, self-absorption and a righteous and unearned sense of entitlement.

Despite the mess we are in, Tom Brokaw, the former NBC News anchor and author of “The Greatest Generation,” has hope that the U.S. can reclaim its greatness.

We have failed as a people since 9/11 and during the current economic crisis to make anywhere near the kinds of sacrifices the men and women in our military have made in fighting a series of wars in the Gulf, Brokaw told nearly 650 people Nov. 18 at the Shelton National Leadership Forum at N.C. State University.

“It’s time for the rest of us to re-enlist as citizens,” Brokaw said at the Forum, created by Gen. H. Hugh Shelton, a North Carolina native and N.C. State graduate who served as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Brokaw proposed that six public-service academies be created, possibly at land-grant universities such as Cornell and Colorado State.

The academies, the civil equivalent of our military academies, would offer three-year fellowships supported through public-private partnerships.

Enrollment in the fellowships, Brokaw said, might be modeled on service in the Israeli Defense Forces, where national military service is mandatory for all citizens over age 18.

So fellows would serve after completing high school and before enrolling in college, and fellowships would include or be followed by service abroad.

Graduates of the academies, like people mustering out of the Israeli Defense Forces, Brokaw said, would be more mature when they enrolled in college, having learned important life lessons and critical skills such as managing risk and serving on a team.

Graduates of the academies also would function as a kind of “diplomatic special forces,” he said, sharing the best values of our society and culture with people in other countries, while learning about their culture and sharing what they learn when they return home.

Brokaw said America is under siege, both at home from the divisiveness in our society and politics, and abroad from fiercely competitive economic powers like China.

That competition, he said, is the economic and cultural equivalent of war.

And a key way to wage that war is through public service and the kind of sacrifice and commitment “the greatest generation” made to make America whole again after the devastation of the Great Depression and World War II.

So ultimately, Brokaw said, we need leadership.

Brokaw characterized our need for leadership by quoting the demand, if not the plea, from one of his young granddaughters when she was alone with her sister in a cabin during a camping trip while he and his wife were outside the cabin sleeping under the stars: “We need an adult – now.”

2 responses

  1. This is interesting but doesn't seem to be a new idea. Without having read Tom Brokaw's book this sounds like a variation of the current PeaceCorp and AmeriCorps programs – with a shifted focus on high school grads vs. college grads. This is not a bad idea at all as I personally would love to see younger folks become more worldly and more civically engaged. I wonder also how this differs from President Obama's “volunteer corps” idea that was making headlines back in 2009 but has died off since then. What I do like about Brokaw's approach is leveraging public private partnerships to make this more feasible and sustainable. However, until this economic funk has passed I don't see this getting much attention in the media or with he American public. I hope when this does become a topic for discussion that the powers that be don't reinvent the wheel but instead look at the programs currently functioning today (with sunk costs covered) and see how those programs can be leveraged to meet the needs of these next generation civic engagement ideas.

  2. Recently, I left employment with a large non-profit organization that I was with for 14 years. I had a great passion for the mission, been promoted several times in a matter of years, and was good at what I did. The organization leadership had me positioned for ‘big things’, yet I chose to abandon my career path to take part-time employment with a small, unknown non-profit organization.

    Many would ask why I chose to make this drastic of a career move. The answer lies with the above-described ‘more with less’ philosophy that many non-profit’s espouse with their staff. The organization I worked for chose to cut, cut, cut – until nothing was left! The demand for quality outputs was greater than ever, the stress of making budgets meet and exceed the previous year’s projections was demanded despite of dwindling program revenues and charitable contributions and the amount of administrative tasks that hindered me from doing mission work was becoming unbearable.

    In recent years, I have often referred to the slogan ‘scarcity drives innovation’. Organizations need to be nimble, and smart enough to work effectively despite a sluggish economy – however, there must remain a ‘light’ within that darkness. An investment from managers and leaders to seek innovative solutions to problems is critical, as well as an ability to creatively form collaborations which will help leverage resources, ultimately benefitting the charitable mission of the organization.
    While the ability to work in ‘survival’ mode is a necessity in any profit or non-profit business, the constant state of working in such a thin margin is not good for the work climate, and, not good for business. Corporation and non-profit boards need to take a mindset of focusing on growth and development, rather than cutting and downsizing. While some of scaling back is certainly a reality in down economic times, too much can hinder an organization’s ability for growth and expansion.

    While funders need to be encouraged to look at capacity-building solutions to drive quality-centered results from non-profits, non-profit boards need to also have a stake in researching alternative streams of funding and operational resources that will enable their organization’s to work smarter and more strategic long-term. By focusing on long-term dividends rather than short-term problems, organizations can help drive collaborative strategies that will help protect their sustainability into the future.

    Development work is the responsibility of all members of the non-profit team, from the Board of Directors, to the Management Staff, right down to the program volunteers and part-time staff. Each member of that organization, coupled with the testimonials and advocacy of program participants, is a crucial element to ensure that the goals and mission of the organization is out and active in the community. Fundraising is often the end-result to the relationships cultivated in the community, and the impact the charity has within the given constituency. By making it a priority to work collaboratively to build capacity and infrastructure – organizations are helping shape their long-term viability. While funders and donors should help support these efforts, rather than taking a single-sided approach to outcomes, the advocacy for the importance of these efforts starts with non-profit staff educating the public on the holistic aspect of the organization mission.

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