For This Generation, Vocations of Service

For This Generation, Vocations of Service:
Recent College Grads Forgo Traditional Careers, Money to Start Nonprofits Focused on Outreach


By Ian Shapira
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 14, 2008; B01

Drew Chafetz, 25, a graduate of the private Maret School with a degree in economics from the University of Colorado, makes no money. He lives with his parents in Northwest Washington, sleeping in the same poster-filled basement room of his teenage years. For breaks, he moseys outside in his slippers and kicks around a soccer ball, pretending the garage is a goal.

But Chafetz, despite failure-to-launch appearances, is no slacker. He is actually on an alternative achievement track popular with his generation: social entrepreneurship. Using cheap Internet phone service and free coffee-shop wireless, Chafetz works full time on a project he founded called love.fútbol. The nonprofit organization helps build low-maintenance soccer fields in Guatemalan communities where children often have no place to play except garbage-strewn lots or hard-to-reach fields.

Social entrepreneurship, the movement in which people launch nonprofit or business ventures to address systemic problems in impoverished areas, emerged nearly three decades ago and is growing in appeal among young adults who want to help vulnerable people. Rather than working their way up at a government agency or large nonprofit, Chafetz and others in their 20s or early 30s are leveraging business partnerships, grants and donations for their own initiatives to do good in the world. There is even a magazine devoted to social causes, called Good, launched in 2006 by a 26-year-old and available at stores such as Whole Foods.

In recent years, young people have started Orphans Against AIDS, a group that provides educational funding in a half-dozen countries for those left orphaned by HIV/AIDS; the Genocide Intervention Network, which, among other lobbying activities, funds civilian protection initiatives in areas of ongoing atrocities; and AYUDA (American Youth Understanding Diabetes Abroad), which gives insulin to diabetes sufferers in Latin America.

It would be easy for Chafetz to enroll in graduate school or get a paying job, as many social entrepreneurs do. But he has chosen a less-predictable option that could easily fizzle. “This is my reality, that I could do something about this, now,” Chafetz said. “Guilt is a big piece of it. . . . I’m sitting at my desk. I’ve got my laptop on, the AC is on, and I’m reading Nicholas Kristof’s [New York Times] column about Sudan and watching his video where he’s saying . . . ‘Look at what’s happening here.’ That has deep impact.”

Every generation has its altruists. But many Millennials, born in the late 1970s or early ’80s, are displaying a notable urgency to make social change, even as their peers seek high salaries through traditional paths of law and business.