Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Importance of Access

Last time, we talked about failure and how it can actually lead us to success; this week, we’re going to talk about one of the obstacles that often gets in our way: access.

I wrote that sentence, then stared at it for what felt like hours, trying to get from there to a cohesive and coherent summary of the bullet points I’d scribbled down when I conceived this entry in my head.

Apropos of my previous post, I failed miserably with this approach. I couldn’t access that sweet spot of my creativity that would translate the jumbled mass of thoughts in my head into something any human being – including me – could possibly comprehend. And then it dawned on me.

Creativity isn’t linear.

 Innovation, actions, progress, and success aren’t always linear either.

The theme of access at TEDxUNC followed a similar non-linear approach, but kept coming back to three main areas: logistics, opportunity, and information.

Our first speaker, Victoria Hale, talked about the evolution of non-profit pharmaceuticals. What struck me the most about her talk was the idea that often we find ourselves so wrapped up in discovering or inventing The Next Big Thing That Will Solve All the Problems Ever. This is not to say that vaccine trials in Malawi or breakthroughs in HIV prevention don’t deserve time and attention; they absolutely do. But, as Dr. Hale shared, sometimes it’s about other things that, on the surface, seem so simple, such as getting aspirin to remote villages. This mass-produced analgesic that we take for granted in our part of the world is a treasured and desired commodities in others.

This idea about the things we take for granted reached new heights when we heard from Shamila Kohestani. As a young girl in Afghanistan under the Taliban, she was beaten, house-bound, and denied access to education – even reading a book in her own home was considered punishable under the regime. After the fall of the Taliban, she began playing soccer, which became her and other women’s conduit of access to the wider world and to their own empowerment.

This very process of accessing the world has been fundamentally changed by the advent of the smartphone. Alan Murray talked to us about the idea of “Television 3.0” – with the explosion of smartphone technology, most anyone can become both a consumer and a reporter of news. Poetic Portraits of a Revolution was born of four individuals who ventured into the heart of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt to tell the stories of the people at its center.

Throughout the conference, the unifying thread weaving through these discussions of access was the enduring presence of hope. There is hope that we will be able to solve the logistical conundrums of funding and delivery of life-saving medicines to communities that need them. There is hope that those who are silenced, repressed, and voiceless will one day be able to speak their minds and determine their own destinies. There is hope that the access to information from around the globe will lead us to think more critically about the world around us and to ask the uncomfortable questions of “What if” and “If only” and “Why.”

With this hope, we are presented with a choice: what do we do? One of many quotable moments of the day came from Dr. Hale: “Humans cannot stand by when a loved one or even a stranger needs help. We act.”

That’s what we do.

Here at Carolina, we take our position as the nation’s first public university to heart in many ways. This legacy is the undercurrent of so much that we do here: public service, striving to be a part of the greater good, and providing a world-class education that is accessible, attainable, and affordable for as many students as possible. Through initiatives such as the Carolina Covenant and programs like the National College Advising Corps and C-STEP, we can take the concept of access and turn it into something tangible for thousands of students.

And so, I invite you to think about how you can act to empower yourself or empower others with this hope. Think about the resources and the partnerships that you can call upon to take action to make good things happen for yourselves and your communities. Whether you do this here at Carolina or anywhere else, harness your hope – you never know where it will lead you.

Melissa Kotačka
Assistant Director of Admissions
Follow and/or tweet at me: @makunc