Geo-Economics and Politics

Millennials are starting to get more involved in government, and the impact will be huge

Burning Man - an aerial view

Burning Man - a city of 75,000 people in the barren Nevada desert - is a great example of young people participating in civic society and governance Image: Kyle Harmon, Wikimedia Commons

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This article is part of: World Economic Forum Annual Meeting

What do Burning Man, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, and entrepreneurship have in common?

They are a few examples of how millennials are pushing innovation and getting involved in government. Around 30% of the world's population is under the age of 30, yet young people don’t really have a voice in government leadership. Stereotypically, they aren’t supposed to care about government or even have a positive view of it at all, and therefore aren’t represented.

As someone born between the years of 1980-2000, I’m a millennial myself. I have begun to notice this exciting movement among my demographic; we are making changes, and forming new systems and expectations of government.

New forms of government

Burning Man is an event that only exists for two weeks each year. It occupies barren desert in Nevada where there are absolutely no structures or people, then grows to a population of over 75,000.

Burning Man is a great example of young people successfully participating in society and the government of a city. The “Burner” community has thrived, and the gathering has exploded in popularity.

While Burning Man began almost 20 years ago, most of the explosive growth has occurred within the last 10 years and among those aged 33-34 (Reno Gazette Journal). Attendees are strongly encouraged to become familiar with Burning Man’s 10 Principles, which include “radical self-reliance”, “communal effort”, and “leave no trace”. These principles are obviously important in a desert with no resources such as water and electricity, but Burners don’t just follow these recommendations for sheer survival. They also use them as a guide to create a more fulfilling experience of belonging, purpose and self-discovery at the event, as well as in what they call the “default”, or day-to-day, world.

Larry Harvey, cofounder of Burning Man, has a theory about why the event is a success: “…[Burners’] abilities and gifts should and must be shared with others, and merge with the world— and the world will answer to that.” And the world has answered. There were over 50 official local Burn events around the world that further extend the commitment of Burning Man’s 10 principles.

Organization within government

On a local level, the US cities of Houston, Grand Rapids, Philadelphia and Omaha have been early movers in the creation of millennial boards and commissions. This means more young people are aware of these volunteer roles they can fill in their town in order to learn, understand and inform their city councils, mayors, and other departments. Some boards and commissions also work to promote other open positions within the city, making sure to not only to think of diversity in terms of gender and race, but in terms of age, experience and perspective. This builds a more accurate and up-to-date demographic representation in government that creates a new pipeline of people ready to lead.


Companies like Betches Sup (“You Heard It Here Second”) and The Skimm (“Makes it Easier To Live Smarter”) both focus on sharing political news created and shared in a way that’s easier to digest, oftentimes making it more entertaining and relatable. They deliver customized messages that are delivered and produced by millennials, which is important in capturing and keeping the attention of young people.

For example, Skimm founders have shared a beer with Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the issues that resound with Skimm fans: “NAFTA, the gender pay gap, climate change, President Trump and socks.”


Technology has also proven to be this generation’s way to change government. Millennial founders and CEOs of companies like Uber, Facebook and scooter sharing company Bird have pushed the boundaries of government through innovation. The City of San Francisco is currently having to shape city laws around Bird scooters and their safety. The United States Congress had to work to understand how Facebook operates and its massive influence. The European Union needed to decide how to officially classify Uber (as a taxi service or a digital company) in order to start creating and applying laws. Various levels of authority around the world are creating new policies in response to disruptive young entrepreneurs.

Have you read?

Running, winning, inspiring

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes, a 29-year-old from New York City, recently unseated 56-year-old 10-term politician and incumbent Joe Crowley, making her the youngest person to serve in the United States Congress. Vogue magazine wrote: “If Trump is the last gasp of baby boomers, Ocasio-Cortez is the first emphatic cry of the millennial.” Ocasio-Cortez has inspired a new wave of young people to believe that they too can run for office, and possibly win.


Ocasio-Cortes doesn’t just rely on the standard news and policy sites to share her work in government. She actively posts to a combined viewership of millions of followers, largely from the millennial demographic, via Instagram, Twitter and more. She produces a steady stream of video and picture “stories” to share her journey each day. It’s an eye-opening experience to have witnessed her progress from humble beginnings on the campaign trail to the floor of Congress. Ocasio-Cortes will continue to be a major influence to younger generations who value relevant, instantaneous and authentic exchanges on the internet.

Big picture

Government is something that eventually adapts with the times. I look forward to discovering news ways millennials can engage and impact government. And for those apprehensive about change, I’ll leave you with a positive note shared by the World Economic Forum about a survey from my fellow Global Shapers: that if millennials are happy, the world will prosper.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Geo-Economics and PoliticsYouth PerspectivesGlobal Cooperation
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