Emory Report
April 14, 2008
Volume 60, Number 27


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April 14, 2008
Blogging for a better world

Karama Neal ‘00PhD is senior program associate for Emory’s FACES Alliance for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, and adjunct assistant professor of biology.

Even though blogs have been around in some form since 1983, I didn’t read one until September 2004. It was written by the editors of the American Journal of Bioethics, and I was studying for my master’s in Bioethics and Health Policy. The degree seemed a nice complement to the doctorate in genetics I had earned at Emory in 2000, but it was a certainly a change of direction.

I found the AJOB blog a handy way to keep up with current issues and events in bioethics — perfect for class discussions. A blog, short for “Web log,” is simply a Web page with dated entries that is easy to update. I’d just been reading the AJOB blog a short time when I realized that the blog format would be the perfect way to collect and disseminate practical solutions to the myriad of social problems my friends and I got so frustrated about.

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It seemed we always talked about the same things – the challenges facing public education and our health care system, the widening gap between poor and rich, lack of environmental justice, the broken criminal justice system, national, community, and domestic violence. My friends and I could spend hours talking about these and other societal problems. We often felt overwhelmed, wondering if there was anything anyone could do to make a difference.

On occasion one of us would offer a solution, a small way to create a positive change. These were the best conversations, because they gave us hope and led to action. For several Saturdays, for example, we gathered at MedShare International in Decatur and sorted medical supplies for shipment to low-resource clinics and hospitals around the world. I wondered what other steps I could take, and how I could spread the word about these opportunities to change our world for the better.

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A month after discovering that first blog, I launched “So What Can I Do — the public service weblog promoting ethics in action.” The first post asked WalMart to expand recycling facilities at their stores. The second offered suggestions for responding to the war and genocide in Darfur, Sudan. There are now hundreds of posts at http://sowhatcanido.blogspot.com covering everything from cord blood donation to cell phone donation, socially responsible investing to socially responsible jewelry, bioethics to biofuels. Many of the suggestions are free, fast or easy; others require a bit more effort. They all help us live as Mohandas Ghandi suggested: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

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When I first started “So What Can I Do” I wondered how long I could keep it up. I figured I’d run out of things to write about pretty quickly. Was I wrong! I find new ideas all the time. My friends share their thoughts and experiences with me, and I share them with my readers. The Citizen magazine from Hands On Atlanta is full of suggestions. NPR mentions bloggable items all the time.

I’ve been able to use many of the ideas in my own life. Writing about the constant need for blood led me to become a regular blood donor. A post about the benefits of composting convinced me to establish my own compost pile. And when I started working at Emory in 2005, I chose to ride MARTA and Cliff shuttles to work. I don’t claim to do all of the things I suggest on my blog, but I do what I can. No one can do everything, but we all can do something.

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Perhaps the best thing about a blog is that it can host reader comments. I am always humbled, honored and inspired to get comments or e-mails from readers who have used my suggestions to make a difference in their communities or in their own lives. Readers also make suggestions for new posts. The effort it takes to write “So What Can I Do” would be worth it if only for the difference it has made in my own life. The knowledge that it is positively impacting others is more than I ever expected.

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To my great pleasure, “So What Can I Do” has become a medium for change. It keeps me and my readers motivated and educated about effective ways to make a positive difference in our world. We face a lot of problems, but there are many more solutions. I’ll do my best to blog about them all.