Why doesn’t Generation X join organisations committed to public service?
Across the world these ancient institutions are dying on the vine and we sit at home surfing the net or watching TV. Okay – perhaps that’s a little unfair – many of us are actually quite busy with both partners working long hours and loads of time spent running children to their next extra curricula activity. However, I wonder if these excuses are a little too convenient and a cover for something deeper going on?
I recently attended the leadership changing ceremony for Rotary in Sydney as a guest of the incoming District Governor. Yes, it was quite ceremonial – numerous speeches and the odd well placed ‘dad joke’ – but Tim Freedman of the Whitlams provided the entertainment. Surely that’s a sign of Rotary’s desire to be more relevant for younger generations? Rotary faces significant challenges in sustaining their membership – their numbers are static, but their average age is not at around the mid 50s to 60s. That worries them considerably, but it concerns me too because I know they’re not alone.
In Australia so many of our voluntary institutions have aging memberships. Think about the declining memberships of political parties, churches and other social service organisations like the Red Cross or your local Meals on Wheels service. To lose the benefits that these groups create for our communities would be a huge blow.
So what explains this apart from our busy lives that we so often talk about?
John Cleary from the ABC said the other day that we are no longer a nation of ‘joiners’. I think what he means is that younger generations don’t join others and form organisations to serve the community and foster friendships. After World War Two, our Grandparents formed thousands of small social, religious and sporting institutions, committed to reconstructing Australia after the horrors of the war and the threat it posed to their community. While many of the Boomers chose not to join, instead enjoying the fruits of the golden age in Australian history, enough stayed on to keep these groups going.
So what of my Generation? We all know that Generation X got busy getting themselves through their education and working hard to get a job during a recession but being ‘time poor’ only explains things in part. Fundamentally we just didn’t want to commit to these groups because we couldn’t relate to their values and ways of working. Despite this, many of us have a desire to stay connected to our community which is only partly salved by ‘communion’ at the gym or local cafe.
The solution is for us each is to bend a little. Community institutions need to change how they communicate and work, and Gen Xers need to suck it up and take some steps toward these groups despite the initial discomfort. We can’t keep waiting for the perfect organisation – they don’t exist. There’s too much at stake in the work of important institutions such as Rotary whose motto is ‘service above self’.
It’s time to step up.
Doug Taylor – CEO United Way Australia