Member of Wolfpack honored by White House

Chelsea Gardner | Staff Writer

Anita Brown-Graham, Director of the Institute for Emerging Issues at N.C. State University wakes up in the morning and creates opportunities for other people to do extraordinary thinA recent White House honoree for the “Champions of Change: Civic Hacking and Open Government” award, Brown-Graham said she understands that her typical day may not be like everyone else’s.

For instance, last Friday, she spoke to a group of resolute CEOs from across the Triangle who spent the night sleeping in a makeshift tent in front of the Durham Performing Arts Center as a way to bring attention to, and raise money for, people in poverty in North Carolina. She then hosted a Google Hangout in an effort to collaborate and communicate with experts across the nation discussing manufacturing practices. She is currently continuing her tireless efforts to organize for the upcoming “statewide conversation,” better known as the Emerging Issues Forum, in February.

“Each year we pick an issue, usually in May, which we think the entire state of North Carolina has to pay attention to,” Brown-Graham said. “Usually it’s an economic issue,” It might be something like what’s happening in healthcare innovations or what the needs are for physical infrastructure improving our roads, our bridges, our ports, our schools in North Carolina. But ultimately the lens is always how do we make the state of North Carolina more competitive, more prosperous and a better place for its people to work, live and play.”

Brown-Graham and 14 other Champions were recognized on July 23, 2013 for their commitment to service and innovation in their communities. “The best part of it is the affirmation that comes from the recognition that my colleagues are proud of the work we have done together,” she said.

Brown-Graham received the award partly because of the work the Institute for Emerging Issues did on the Emerging Issues Commons in the James B. Hunt Library at N.C. State University in March.

“That’s our effort to use technology to allow people to do the kind of work that they do in meetings at any time of day in ways that they self-direct,” Brown-Graham said. “So for every time that you walk through the Commons, there could be hundreds of people on the Web at that moment. Even if nobody is sitting in the physical space they are connecting with each other on the issues that they want to work on in their communities. For me, in the same way that technology is transforming how we learn and do research on college campuses, by allowing for much more collaboration, I’m excited that it is also transforming the way we do [community] service on a university campus.”

The Champions of Change Award is given to “ordinary Americans … doing extraordinary things in their communities to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”

But Brown-Graham said she does not think that she has accomplished anything close to extraordinary.

“I get inspired by the notion that if you can create spaces where people can come together and collaborate around things they are passionate about, that they really can change the world,” Brown-Graham said.

“The coolest part of it all, to tell you the truth, was being with the other people who were also receiving the award,” she said. “All of the very inspirational work happening in a range of different ways causes you to say ‘Wow, I’m just happy to really be in this room with these people and have the chance to learn about what they’re doing and to make connections and to be able to pick up the phone and call them later.’”

Since January of 2007, Brown-Graham has been at the forefront of the Emerging Issues Forum by bringing together constituents around the issue, often by facilitating meetings. She also works on the follow-up to make sure that North Carolina has measurable success as a result of that work.

“It’s a very unique model of bringing together all the brain-trust of a university, but not in an expert model sort of way,” Brown-Graham said. “The experts are the people who live in communities and work in organizations on these issues, and our job is to create a place where people can come together, be clear about what the issues are and then decide how they want to respond to it.”

Brown-Graham said she is proud to be affiliated with N.C. State and is motivated to continue to extend the university’s historical traditions, values and missions through her work.

“For me, it’s less about the moment we had in [receiving the award in] D.C. than it is about what it means to continue to connect with folks who can help inspire the work that I might do in the years to come,” she says.