Make way for our millennials!

Ukrainian student organizations from across Canada gathered in Winnipeg for the 2019 SUSK Congress from May 2 to 5, 2019 Photo: kaitlinvitt.com

Orest Soltykevych, Edmonton.

As our Ukrainian community in Canada develops and continues to undergo changes, many of our organizations find themselves challenged by various factors. In fact, in the past several months in Edmonton alone, our community has lost two long-standing community institutions: St John’s Institute (with its history going back to 1918) and the Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Canada (founded in 1972).

These losses serve as a wake-up call to all of us. And one of the most important ways our community organizations and institutions have any chance of continued success is through engagement of the younger generation – specifically, our millennials (those currently between 24-39 years old).

Today’s generation of Ukrainian millennials is the most educated cohort in the history of our Ukrainian Canadian community. And if we continue to disregard their potential involvement in our organizations, we are merely delaying the inevitable extinction of our organizations. We absolutely need their ideas, their intelligence, their networking skills and their perspectives for us to grow and flourish.

Yes, there are a number of instances where the president or chairperson in some of our organizations is relatively young, but that’s the exception rather than the rule. And youth involvement has to be more than just opportunities to serve as Masters of Ceremonies at Ukrainian functions or to receive scholarships.

In fact, it’s interesting to note that the average age of the leaders of the three major federal parties in Canada is 46. 46! And all three are younger than 50 years of age! What is the average age of the executive or board of many of our churches or choirs or organizations?

Through the decades, thousands of young people have completed their studies in the Ukrainian bilingual or community (ridna shkola) schools. They have developed an understanding and appreciation of our Ukrainian culture and traditions. It’s true that many have withdrawn from any level of participation in our community, but many have not. And those who are still “with us” need to be invited to work with us.

Involving millennials in the running of our organizations is mutually beneficial. The millennial gains experience in being on a board, which helps them in their professional and/or non-Ukrainian community involvement. And our organizations are made much more aware of the needs and interests of the upcoming generation.

It’s not easy convincing youth to be involved. Many of them are busy working on developing their careers and spending time with their young families. But many are ready to help.

We’ve often been frustrated by seemingly fruitless efforts in approaching young people to get involved. Surveys, beer & pizza nights, and open houses have been tried – often to no avail. And, unfortunately, some of us have given up.

This is difficult work, but we need to keep trying. However, before we work on a list of potential millennials to approach, we really need to be crystal-clear about the goals and objectives of our organization. “We’ve always done it this way” just doesn’t cut it anymore. We need to be able to look into the future to see what purpose our organization serves now and will serve for upcoming generations. And we have to realize that input from our youth is not only vital, but also welcomed and respected. In fact, many of us seasoned community members recall how we got involved only because an older person showed belief in us and sincerely wanted our involvement.

While our many activities are at a standstill because of the pandemic, now is a great opportunity to reflect on how our organizations will look like after the pandemic. We will then see that the more millennials we have on our boards and executives, the more energy and excitement our organization can experience. And we may even witness what the 19th century British statesman Benjamin Disraeli meant when he said that “almost everything that is great has been done by youth.”