My experience of attending the Nexus Global Youth Summit at the United Nations in New York is analogous with the story of the movement itself in that it all happened very quickly – and “movement” is definitely the right word because we are talking about an idea that has a breathless momentum.
Less than a month before arriving in New York my only engagement with Nexus had been reading blogs about last years Global Summit and this years European Summit held in London. I understood that Nexus was a network of 1000+ mostly young people from around the world, many of them in possession of or in line to inherit wealth, who share an interest in advancing human progress through philanthropy and social investment. Though I felt that this sounded like a progressive idea in principle I, an admitted cynic, worried that the reality would be not much more than a social exchange for the young and privileged and a feeding frenzy for philanthropy advisers.
Having been introduced electronically by a colleague to Jonah Wittkamper, the tireless co-founders of Nexus, we shared a short exchange about the Future World Giving project, a CAF initiative that I lead on that aims to assess what governments need to do to improve the conditions for giving and take advantage of a growing global middle class. Exactly a month later I was addressing a group of influential philanthropists, advisors, activists and officials at the UN as part of a panel presenting at a Task Force on creating a Global Campaigns for Philanthropy.
That is Nexus in a nutshell – the seemingly naive belief of young people that they can achieve remarkable things, followed by the swift realisation of those implausibly lofty aspirations. Starting from nothing more than an idea in 2011 Nexus has grown to be a truly significant global movement in philanthropy with plans to establish new regional networks in the Middle East and Africa in 2014.
Attending sessions at the Global Summit in New York I was struck by the radical fervour for advancing humanity amongst attendees. Rather than being a cosy gathering of glib benefactors, Nexus is at the cutting edge of philanthropy. To the typical Nexus member it is no longer acceptable to see wealth generation and philanthropy as separate endeavours. Indeed, boundary pushing ideas such as philanthro-capitalism and impact investing felt like the new norm at Nexus and weighty subjects like attitudes to risk in philanthropy were tackled head on.
If there has been a criticism of Nexus up until now it is that whilst it provides an excellent space for networking and the sharing of ideas, it has so far missed the opportunity to use the platform is has created to influence decision makers at the highest levels. However, I get a clear sense that that is changing. Indeed, I was invited to Nexus to help frame a discourse on what members should be pushing for from governments in a global campaign on embedding a culture of philanthropy.
Perhaps it is inevitable that a movement that develops as quickly and organically as Nexus will seem a little chaotic, but in a way that is part of its strength. In the absence of stifling structure and formal process the most compelling ideas can rapidly gain traction without bureaucratic constraint. I really hope that Nexus retains its openness.
The Nexus Global Youth Summit feels like a movement that has found its time and I, and CAF will certainly continue to participate going forward.