‘Positive disruption’: a method of public engagement

Beltane intern Maggie takes a slight look back at the TEDxUniversityofEdinburghChange live streaming event…

TEDxUniversityofEdinburghChange attendees - April 2012

TEDxUniversityofEdinburghChange attendees – April 2013

On the 3rd April 2013, TEDxUniversityofEdinburgh hosted a live streaming event around the entire 90-minute programme of TEDxChange 2013, a TEDx event organised by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The event left me with a sense of ownership over our responses to global issues surrounding health and development as well as the inspiration to positively disrupt our current models. The event’s theme of ‘positive disruption’ challenged head-on the significance of disruption, progress and our engagement with others. The TEDxChange 2013 talks delved into a myriad of topics from disruption from within the catholic church and urging investment in girls, to a lyrical look at social media, the irony of hungry farmers, a revolutionary approach to health education, and finally looping back to the transformative potential of technology for public engagement.

Interning with Beltane Public Engagement Network, I find myself constantly pondering the intersections between vastly different academic areas and the methods of public engagement to bridge this gap. I am reminded of the need to rethink our modes of action and reasons for inaction. TEDxChange 2013 maintains that disruption is not all negative and that the opportunity to change and exchange perspectives can (and will) result in positive, multi-stakeholder approaches to development. I am hopeful.

 “words have power; they can transform”

In her talk, Halimatou Hima revealed the power of ‘illimi’ — being the triad of knowledge, humility and purpose — to guide reactions to challenges. Rather than viewing global health and development issues as roadblocks, Halimatou understands these challenges as opening paths for new journeys and opportunities. She emphasises the value of social allies; people that are similarly passionate about driving positive disruption. For Halimatou, “words have power; they can transform”. Thus, when we think about communication, we should not imagine a static presentation with predictable cadence of speech. We can use media, storytelling, film, anything to transport our peers to a new domain of interaction that inspires passionate action.

As David Fasanya eloquently noted, while posting or tweeting about poverty will not eradicate poverty — just as posting about the yellowness of your teeth won’t make them white–,  “poverty is a plague that must be plunged into our conscience”. We must speak, interact, engage with each other before progress will occur. In this way, social media, blog posts, podcasts, and other creative engagement methods can place issues of global magnitude on an agenda that has weight and produces results.

“poverty is a plague that must be plunged into our conscience”

Salim Shekh and Sikha Patra serve as excellent examples of young individuals with the courage to revolutionise how we conceive of public engagement. Their grassroots advocacy efforts as ‘the Revolutionary Optimists’, mapping polio and educating on the fundamentality of childhood vaccines, has transformed India to a country that has been polio free for two years. Salim and Sikha’s work revolves around the idea that tremendous potential exists for change, but in order to harness this we must align ourselves around common causes and leave self-pity behind. Their activism is not about feeling bad for the children in the slums of Calcutta, but about empowering us all to share experiences of best practice.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Edinburgh, I have frequently felt that there are limited opportunities available to me to think differently, take action, and generate positive change. This self-pity is destructive. Rather than sitting back and waiting for our politicians, elders, or superiors to make the first move, we can engage. We can learn about our influence on social media. We can create workshops for peers. We can collaborate to generate new ideas and we can implement those innovative ideas! TEDxUniversityofEdinburghChange’s inspirational conversations have empowered me. As a Beltane Public Engagement Network intern, I am hopeful that I can fortify existing and create new cross-Edinburgh links which urge others to develop and reflect on skills for generating and sharing ideas. From there, we can all positively disrupt how we understand teaching and learning.