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Unboxing Helena, a new non-profit aimed at giving the under-25 set a seat at the “Ted Talks” table

TechCrunch TechCrunch 19/04/2016 Jonathan Shieber

There’s been a lot of speculation around the startup non-profit, Helena.

Simply put, it doesn’t deserve all the sound and fury that’s been drummed up about it online. While it doesn’t exactly signify nothing, there’s not much that it does signify in its first weeks of existence.

Operating somewhere at the intersection of a think-tank and a mission-driven non-profit, the whole thrust of Helena is to bring together successful people across a range of demographics while privileging the one number that the organization’s founder, Henry Elkus, thinks truly matters — that 50% of the world’s population is under the age of 25.

Elkus wants this under-25 set to have a seat at the policy table that’s proportional to their demographic weight, and he thinks that his organization, Helena, is a means of getting them there.

Let’s be clear, Helena is a very slick 501(c)(3) non-profit launched by the well-connected son of a private equity investor that wants to bridge the generational divide between young successful people and old successful people to tackle global issues.

What makes Helena different from most non-profits launched by the well-meaning wealthy (because I’m not sure pedigree is the issue), is that it has adopted the tools of the startup marketing machine to engage its audience of potential donors.

That, and it has some serious firepower when it comes to the list of bold-faced names that the group says is involved in getting its mission off the ground.

In addition to celebrities like Selena Gomez, Chloë Moretz, Deepak Chopra, and political movers like retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal, there’re some more familiar tech-world names including: Vitalik Buterin, the creator of the Ethereum blockchain; Nick D’Aloisio, the founder of Summly; and Divya Nag, the founder of StartX Med and a member of Apple’s special projects group.

“The main focus right now is that we’re going to be getting these people in the same room,” says Helena vice president Sam Feinburg. Then the group of 30 will determine what issues it wants to address and how it wants to address them.

So Helena basically wants to introduce smart, talented people of varying ages to other smart, talented people (some of whom with a massive social media following) to discuss the issues of the day and come up with potential solutions.

“We want to be careful to choose something that we can really have a tangible impact on when it’s time,” says Feinburg.

He laid out five ways in which Helena hopes to make a difference: the first is simply in serving as a connector among successful people in different industries; the second is by using the social media reach of certain members to call attention to the work that other members are already doing; the third is by using that social media reach (I’m looking at you Gomez, Moretz, and Chopra) to call attention to other organizations that are doing good work; the fourth is working directly with non-governmental organizations and corporate partners and finally, the group will look to work directly on issues that it identifies.

“We’re bringing things that other organizations don’t have,” says Feinburg. “In terms of reaching people under 25.”

So there you have it, gentle reader, all there is that’s fit to print about Helena. Is it a textbook example of noblesse oblige? Almost definitely. Is its launch strategy in the current anti-bourgeois environment a mistake? Oh my yes.

But, is it as tasteless and misguided as another project named Helena from another scion of a successful father? Nope. And are its (stated) intentions, which are simply to get to work solving the problems that the younger generations on the planet will inherit from us “olds” problematic? Not at all.

“This is what’s important now and what’s worth writing about now,” says Elkus. “There are existential global issues that lie in our future and it’s going to take the people under the age of 25 who are most affected by them to solve them.”

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