Small Steps, Big Wins: Turning Millennial Optimism into Positive Impact

*This post was previously published on Net Impact Blog.

By Greg Ligon

On an average day, here’s what I see as a flip through the news on my phone:

2012 Hottest Year on Record…Until 2013
One in Six Global Citizens Lack Safe Drinking Water
Natural Disasters Plague Cities from New York to New Delhi

My generation certainly didn’t create these problems, but we will have to try to solve them. But I keep hearing that Millennials are too entitled and apathetic to make an impact. I couldn’t disagree more.

That’s why I’ve been spending my time here at Net Impact developing the Small Steps, Big Wins Campus Challenge, an experimental campus competition that will change the way students look at these seemingly overwhelming problems.

It’s easy to be cynical and take the path of least resistance, assuming change is impossible.

But my generation is anything but cynical – we’re optimistic about our potential and eager to make a difference. Small Steps, Big Wins is designed to leverage this optimism by partnering with forward-thinking organizations to give students discrete, approachable opportunities to make a big impact.

How does it work?

People are fundamentally resistant to change, argue Chip and Dan Heath in Switch, but there are ways to make positive behavior easier and more likely. One method: shrink the change. It’s easier for people to take a small step, like washing the dishes, than a large step, like cleaning the whole apartment. But once they take that small step and reap the rewards, they’re more likely to continue and expand on that initial behavior.

We’ve already been blown away by the excitement and energy exhibited on campuses across the world. More than 1,100 students are taking actions like riding their bikes instead of driving, getting a dose of inspiration from a Ted Talk, and volunteering with a local nonprofit. They are competing against each other for prizes big and small. The competition feeds the program’s growth, expanding the impact of each small step, and building a generation of leaders excited to take on some of the world’s biggest challenges.

One day we’ll load up our news reader and see these headlines:

Scientists Forecast Global Temperatures Will Soon Decline
New Business Models Lift Millions Out of Poverty
Safe Water is Available Across the World

Join us in taking small steps for big change

Do you work for a company, nonprofit, or social enterprise interested in engaging a generation of young leaders who want to make a difference? The Small Steps, Big Wins challenge is currently accepting partners and sponsors. Please email me for more information.

Are you a student interested in bringing the Small Steps, Big Wins challenge to your campus? Become a Campus Director.

Together, we can help a generation of new leaders take small steps…eventually, we hope, committing to careers that make a difference in the world.


*This post is written by Greg Ligon, the Campus Programs Manager at Net Impact. Net Impact is the leading nonprofit that empowers a new generation to work within and beyond business for a sustainable future. Please visit

Net Impact 2010 will be hosted by the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. Stay tuned for coverage!

Leave a Reply