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Inspiring the Next Generation to Leave North Texas Better Than They Found It

At Most Generous Next Generation, young community leaders explore why they’re committed to community impact work—and why the next generation should be too.

April 6, 2023

April 4 marked one of our most inspiring events of the year, when dedicated change-seekers who are committed to our mission of improving access to education, income and health gather to explore the role of community engagement in their lives and in the lives of the next generation. Most Generation Next Generation was presented by PwC, supported by Vistra and hosted by the United Way Women of Tocqueville and Emerging Leaders.

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we believe that creating lasting change requires all of us, working together. That’s why we engage younger generations in our mission to improve access to education, income and health, whether through volunteer projects, advocacy or our Giving Societies.

At this year’s Most Generous Next Generation event, our panelists discussed their role in community impact work, what sparked their passion for giving back to the community and how young North Texans can begin their journey of service.

Our speakers included:

  • Harsh Agarwal, managing director and family office strategist at Bank of America Private Bank
  • Ashley Sharp, executive director of Dwell with Dignity and a United Way March Tocqueville Fellow
  • Michael Thomas, executive director of My Possibilities (an alumnus of the United Way Social Innovation Accelerator) and a member of the Social Innovation Committee

The panel was moderated by Vanessa Salinas Beckstrom, CPA, CFE, CFF, investigations and forensics partner at PwC.

View the full event below, or read on for highlights from the Q&A:


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Vanessa Salinas Beckstrom: Michael, you’ve mentioned that being a leader can come with challenges. Talk to us about that and how you ensure you’re holding your own in key conversations and decisions when you’ve encountered those challenges.

Michael Thomas: I’ve been the executive director at My Possibilities now for 13 years. And I will say that when you’re in your 20s and early 30s, it’s challenging to gain the respect necessary to really make decisions or challenge decisions. There’s an element of being bold and just doing it over and over again until the people in the room finally nod and say, “Yeah, this guy isn’t terrible.”

The interesting challenge now is, 13 years ago I was the young person on staff, and now I’ve got a bunch of Gen Z, fresh out of college. My challenge today is ensuring that my staff who are baby boomers, Gen X, millennials, Gen Z and incoming Alpha are all jibing in the same culture. That’s tough.

Beckstrom: Ashley, what inspired you to give back and focus on the community?

Ashley Sharp: I began my career in the arts, and there came a point where I couldn’t watch someone pay $5 million for a piece of art and then complain about their seating at a fancy dinner and then do nothing for the people who are asking for money on the streets. That was a huge eye-opener for me. On my son’s second birthday, I woke up to a text message from my now ex-husband, and it said he had been arrested for his fifth DUI….After seeing that things were not going to change, I packed up my child in the middle of the night, I put my clothes in trash bags and I left.

I have a master’s degree, I had a good job—but I was homeless. I was literally living in my car. It can happen to anybody at any time. And Dwell with Dignity came along at the perfect moment. I don’t just empathize with our families; I am our families. We know what it’s like to not have a safe place of your own, and I don’t want that for any family in Dallas. The work that we do isn’t just important; it’s my life.

Beckstrom: As you’ve grown in your career, how do you balance all the demands that confront you and ensure that you stay centered on your mission of community engagement?

Harsh Agarwal: It’s hard. A good friend recently told me there are three stages of life: learning, earning and returning. You spend the first third of your life going to school and college, get a job and work until you retire, and then you start giving back. My dad was in that mode. He was a very successful executive in India. But he didn’t get a chance to get to the returning phase. So for me and my brother, we have a responsibility, what I call the burden of our family wealth, to be stewards of this capital. And when I heard about the “learning, earning, returning,” I thought, “That’s BS.” Why can’t we learn throughout our lives, why can’t you earn throughout your life and why can’t you return throughout your life?

Beckstrom: What actions are you looking to take to continue to drive impact on a bigger scale, and what advice do you give to those in the room that want to do the same and bring along others in their generation?

Short: I think the biggest thing for us as a nonprofit is that we don’t actually operate on a traditional philanthropic funding model. We operate on earned revenue. Sixty-five percent of the money that comes to Dwell with Dignity is through our thrift store, Thrift Studio. By buying a building, we’re able to increase our impact, because now something that used to be a four-week pop-up is going to be generating revenue throughout the year. Thinking of things from an entrepreneurial and innovative mindset is going to be the big thing for nonprofits as we look to scale. The old fundraising models have to go away. We need to be taking bold action.

I also think our generations are going to be able to engage in new ways. We always say that we want your time, your talents and your treasures. There are so many talents out there; don’t think that you just have to give your money. There are so many ways to get your hands dirty. I invite everyone to find something that you’re passionate about, something that speaks to your soul and go all in.

Agarwal: I actually disagree that we can’t all give back. It could be $5, $10. The money is important to the nonprofit, but to you, just giving a small amount will bring you more joy. The act of giving is more powerful than anything. So I say, automate it, just like your 401(k) contribution.

Thomas: The last couple years have really pulled momentum away from the nonprofit sector. It’s beginning to move now, and the organizations that are going to make the biggest impact in Dallas and the surrounding communities are the ones with the biggest vision and the boldest plan to go do it. My thought there is, look for the organizations that are talking big—who say, for example, we want to get rid of homelessness in Dallas—that’s the org that you should be getting into. My hope, in the next 10 years or so, as you all are getting into the philanthropic world, wherever you find your passion, dig in and stay committed. Philanthropy doesn’t change overnight, so find what you care about and commit to becoming a key part of the organization’s growth.

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