Today’s post in our Innovator Series features Josh Marcuse, founder of Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, a global network of thousands of emerging leaders in foreign policy in 70 countries across six continents. We asked him a few questions about his work.
What is the goal of YPFP and how does it seek to make a better world?
The goal of YPFP is to prepare the next generation of foreign policy leaders. Our generation – millennials — faces a world that is more interconnected and complex than ever before. This world holds out the promise of unprecedented opportunities for more people than ever before to enjoy lives of freedom, health, and prosperity; but the same time, it is a world fraught with terrifying and destabilizing threats that are exceedingly dangerous and unpredictable.
Coping with these twenty-first century challenges and capitalizing on these opportunities requires new ideas, new approaches, and new partnerships. Solutions to critical global challenges do not come from any single approach or ideology, nor can they be implemented by any single organization or nation. In every arena – security, health, energy, economics, and technology – our approach to foreign policy must be innovative, interdisciplinary, and international, built upon ever-increasing unity of effort among government, business, and civil society. This world requires a new kind of leader. If we follow the current path, I worry our generation will not be ready to provide that unique brand of entrepreneurial leadership. YPFP seeks to give young people the knowledge, skills, exposure, and relationship they will need to tackle these critical global challenges.
Fundamentally, providing this type of preparation is a form of education. We lay the foundation for collaboration by offering a diverse and unprecedented array of professional, educational, and social opportunities to our members that will prepare them to become the next generation of foreign policy leaders.
What motivated you to create this organization?
I was motivated to start YPFP by 9/11. I’m a New Yorker. The attack on the World Trade Center was very personal to me, I felt like my family and my way of life was being threatened. Moreover, it awakened me to increasing complexity of the world, its moral ambiguity, the many terrible hardships and injustices faced by people around the world, and the unique responsibility Americans have to share our wellbeing. There was a sense then that history was unfolding before our eyes. Of course, it absolutely was. And that also instilled a profound sense of service – a desire to mobilize – to be part of a cause greater than ourselves. I started YPFP as a way to find other young people who shared this passion and ambition. I focused on the security implications of 9/11, but I think that is only one facet of the heightened consciousness young people experienced as a result of the attack and the decade of war that followed it, and that continues today.
What challenges do you face and how do you try to overcome them?
We face so many challenges. First, there is the struggle to be relevant. Often we ask ourselves, how is what we are doing having an impact on our generation? How do we know? How can we be sure? How do we know if we’re having an impact on the world? Because we could not answer these questions, we shifted out strategy to from focusing on the generation to focusing on individuals. Now we don’t really ask as often, “what have we done for all millennials?” Instead we ask, “can I point to 100 millennials who have become better leaders as a result of our efforts?” The answer is yes. I think we can say that for 1,000 young leaders. But it’s very challenging to set the right strategy and to measure progress.
Second, we constantly struggle for resources. For years, we ran the whole organization on no budget at all. All volunteer labor. All supplies borrowed. When we held our first conference, even the pens and paper were donated. Today we have one employee and a few financial resources, but it’s 25% of what we need and 10% of what I want. Fundraising is hard. Scaling is very hard.
Third, it’s hard to get attention. I live in Washington, DC where there are so many opportunities for young professionals that you could spend all day every day in free events and networking happy hours. We are always competing for attention to prove that our message is unique, that our mission is important, and that our opportunities are valuable. We have a loyal following, but for those who don’t already know us, how do we reach more people? How do we get media coverage? How do we get our members to attend more events? We push for that every day, asking, “how do we make our product better? How do we make our purpose clearer?”
Wow. Thanks for sharing, Josh. We agree with you about the unique challenges that today’s generation faces and we hope to continue to push schools to do better at preparing the next generation of global leaders!