For This Generation, Vocations of Service
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
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.
Through the Internet's immediacy and intimacy, Millennials have grown up absorbing crises such as African genocide and are now facing the Wall Street collapse. Evidence abounds of their interest in public-oriented careers.
UCLA's national poll of college freshmen has found that Millennials are starting in some ways to resemble baby boomers in their level of interest in helping others during their young adult years. For instance, about 70 percent of incoming freshmen in 2007 said it's "essential or very important" to help others in difficulty, the highest that figure has been in 36 years. From the mid-1980s to the early 2000s, the percentage fluctuated from 59 to about 67 percent.
A survey last year by the financial firm Deloitte & Touche found that two-thirds of those ages 18 to 26 prefer jobs that permit them to contribute to a nonprofit group.
In recent years, more than 30 business schools, including those at Georgetown and Harvard universities, have launched social entrepreneurship programs. The number of law schools that support pro bono programs or require students to work in them rose to 145 this year, from 100 in 2001, according to an American Bar Association survey.
Pamela Hartigan, co-author of the new book "The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World," said today's young idealists differ from their predecessors.
"In the 1960s and 1970s, politics was the way we thought of changing the world. But young people today. . . believe that change is going to be brought about by business and market discipline," Hartigan said. "And so they seek to set up enterprises, not to pad their pockets, but to transform what is broken in our societies in a long-lasting way." She added that some get restless: "They are very impatient about not having a job that's meaningless."
Ashoka, an Arlington County-based organization that funds social start-ups, created a program in the mid-1990s for would-be entrepreneurs ages 12 to 20. Ashoka's Youth Venture has launched more than 2,000 projects worldwide, at least half of which are still active, including a new team of Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School students who plan to install energy-saving light bulbs in poor neighborhoods, funding the project with babysitting and tutoring money.
Andrea Chafetz, a designer whose hair accessories are sold at Neiman Marcus, and Marc Chafetz, a lawyer who once helped lead a venture capital firm, have allowed their son since college graduation in 2006 to live at their Chevy Chase home and work on love.fútbol, which was incorporated two years ago. They also raised their son on world travel, with treks into South America and East Africa. Drew Chafetz, who played soccer in college and once met the sport's legendary Pelé at Tysons Corner, often played with kids in remote villages.
Chafetz hatched the idea for love.fútbol in Morocco, on vacation during college, where he saw children in the central part of the country kicking a soccer ball in a dangerous alley. After graduation, he and a friend named Alfredo Axtmayer launched the project in Guatemala, where they had a well-connected friend. Chafetz said his well-off upbringing has spurred him on: So far, love.fútbol has helped build three fields, at a cost of $5,000 each in raw materials, in three rural communities. Chafetz and his team provide guidance and seed money, but each town volunteers labor to construct the fields. He hopes the model can be replicated in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
The venture has been supported largely by friends and members of District Sports, a recreational adult sports league; grants from organizations such as the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation; and fundraisers at bars in Washington, Boston and New York. Marc Chafetz said he believes in his son's idea.
"Frankly, a lot of our friends are donors to love.fútbol," he said. "They knew Drew personally and think very highly of him. The only tension at home is that he would like to live somewhere else. We would like him to achieve that desire."
Diego Arzú, a consultant with the Organization of American States and son of former Guatemalan president Alvaro Arzú, said he hopes to persuade corporations in that country to help fund love.fútbol. "Soccer is the most important sport in Guatemala, and love.fútbol is a good way to stimulate important changes in local communities, especially in education," he said.
Chafetz hopes to earn a living someday off his passion, but waiting for that moment is not easy, especially as a single man in his 20s living at home while many friends are raking it in.
"I have friends making $250,000," Chafetz said. "With time, you don't identify with them anymore."
Now, Chafetz and his staff of 15 (mostly young professionals and college students found through networking, most of whom work for free) are looking for the next recipient communities of their fields. The most recent project was built in December.
So he is busy, working in the living room, or at an Adams Morgan coffeehouse, strategizing with others on staff, or reaching out to the Inter-American Development Bank or OAS. Some days, Harvard Business School students consult him on ideas such as how to partner with Nike or Adidas.
One day last month, Chafetz put on his headset, dialed up his Skype to a contact in the Guatemalan government and started asking in rough Spanish about potential field locations and what the official thinks about the situation for children there. "¿Cómo es Atitlán? ¿Santiago? ¿Qué piensas exactamente de la situación con los niños?"