The Millennial Kingdom, Pol Pot’s Legacy

The internet, email, social media, tablets and cell phones, according to traditionalists, are the tools causing the demise of healthy/personal/wholesome face-to-face interactions. However, for people separated by physical restraints like disability, geography, politics or finance those tools are lifelines that enable meaningful communication, not devices of doom.

The future of philanthropy has taken rooted in the farming villages of Sen Sok, Cambodia with the help of two things technology and the generation whose years parallel the age of the internet. Non-profit, Community First Initiatives (CFI) works from a philosophy that the villagers are partners, not charitable cases. And, that they have very similar desires and impatience as their Western counterparts, but with a more recently violent history to recover from.

Pol Pot outlawed music, poetry, religion, folklore and intellectualism. “Although the Khmer Rouge regime concentrated their purges on the urban, the educated and the wealthy (including business people), Cambodians of all regions and social backgrounds suffered greatly from starvation and indiscriminate executions,” according to the March 1992 Ethnographic Evaluation of the 1990 Decennial Census Report – Report #9.

CFI’s Executive Director, Pierre H. Mainguy added, that “over the course of a few years [approximately 1975-1979] nearly a third of the population vanished, either executed in the infamous Killing Fields or worked and starved to death in labor camps.” As a result, in 2012, the largest share of the Cambodian population was between the ages of 10-34, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s International Database. So the majority of adults in Cambodia are Millennials.

Millennials were defined as anyone ages 20-35, according to the 2012 Millennial Impact Report, but The Pew Research Center identified the group as those within the ages of 18-31, in 2012.

“This is the first group of Americans that was born with internet and computers at home (depending on socio-economic status) or that were exposed to it at school or at other venues from a very early age,” said Carlos B. Gonzalez, Associate Professor of Management at Cal Poly Pomona. “This makes them particularly adept at using technology and computers and to use them with no aversion or fear.”

Millennials in the U. S. are seen as having many advantages over other generations, according to Gonzalez. They are highly adaptive to rapidly changes technology and environments, and have high self esteem due to their parents’ desire to put them on a pedestal as princes/princesses or winners. Millennials also tend to “be more accepting of human differences than any other group of Americans,” Gonzalez added.

However, Gonzalez warns that there are also some disadvantages. Although, they reject labels, an advantage as the workforce grows more diverse, “they also have problems understanding why issues of gender or race are so important for older generations,” he said. Another disadvantage for the generation in the workforce “is that not everybody is a winner or a prince or princess. At work you have to earn the respect of your colleagues, some Millennials have problems adapting to this” and, Gonzalez added, “at work, this generation might have problems dealing with ‘boring’ activities needed to get a job done from beginning to end.”

The authors of the 2012 Millennial Impact Report hope the study help nonprofits and perhaps the population at large move beyond their current assumptions of the generation, and perhaps focus on ways to engage Millennials to contribute through donations, service and promotion. “I find that it is dangerous to over generalize this demographic. We have encountered many who are thoughtful, resourceful, open-minded, and even visionary community stewards,” wrote report contributor, Greg Johnson, Chairman and CEO, Damar Services. “Our challenge is to personalize the impact and engage them in ways that engender ownership and investment.”

Mainguy is himself a Millennial. Prior to 2007, he spent his days up in the towers of Downtown L.A. as a financial analyst. Then he met John Whaley, a philanthropist who was working with families who had no other choice, but to make a living by picking through the garbage in the Phnom Penh dump.

Accompanying Whaley on a trip to Cambodia, Mainguy met the families of the dump, witnessed extreme poverty and suffering, and learned of the experiences that shaped Whaley’s passions. “A child once explained to John [Whaley] that whenever he found a dead baby among the medical waste of local hospitals, he would dig a makeshift grave in the trash so that the caterpillars moving the garbage around would not run over it,” Mainguy said. “At that point, I knew there was no turning back.”

It is that kind of connection to something greater or experience outside the realm of daily life that makes a lasting impact, especially for Millennials. That impacting connection or experience is the bridge that Mainguy and his associates at CFI are building between Westerners and the Sen Sok villagers. By giving Western Millennials a reason care about and connect with their Cambodian counter parts that is how they plan to rebuild the farms and families into sustainable communities. And this would counteract the perceived disadvantages or negative tendencies of the generation.

“Millennials can be very idealistic and willing to work for social causes they believe in. It does not matter what it is, whether it is the environment, gay rights, women rights, global warming, etc., Millennials are willing to get out there and do the work,” Gonzalez said.

It is a vital lesson for the future of philanthropy as Millennials feel either bombarded with requests for donations of time and money or totally ignored and shut out because of the reputation of their young generation.

An entire generation of Cambodians accessing knowledge and technology with the potential for prosperity, tolerance, progress and longevity would be an obvious target for Pol Pot, while he was in power. He must be rolling over in his grave, because his actions created a country that is now mostly populated by such a generation. As Mainguy said, “Cambodia has become the Millennial Kingdom!”

Once the CFI philosophy is proved successful in Cambodia, Mainguy hopes he and other philanthropists can apply it all over again in non-profit efforts around the world.

“The world poor shall finally be empowered and treated as equals, and not as disadvantaged and disconnected individuals in need of a handout,” Mainguy said.

In a Q&A with Effie Magazine, Community First Initiatives (CFI), Executive Director, Pierre H. Mainguy breaks down the goals and philosophy of his organization,  the future of philanthropy and the Millennial Generation, as well as what Westerners need to know about Cambodia, past and present.

Click here to learn more from the Millennial Missionary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

%d bloggers like this: