Improving the community through the ripple effect


WASHINGTON, April 3, 2014 —Robert Kennedy once said, “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.”

In the 21st Century, that belief could be most associated with TED talks, the nonprofit organization established in 1984 by Richard Saul Wurman.

The TED and TEDx events have become a powerful global community that has the ability to spread ideas faster than a wildfire. Take for example Salman Khan, founder of the Khan Foundation. The Khan Foundation has an incredible goal – to provide top-notch education for every child in the world for free. Prior to his speech at TED, Khan’s website had 6.9 million students. After, 140 million students participate in the courses. That is what we would call a ripple effect.

A ripple effect earned its name from the action of throwing a stone or rock into a pond, which creates a series of ripples. Those ripples could then set off a series of events. For example, the ripples could scare off a duck or a school of fish. This seemingly unimportant act has now changed the course pond, if only temporarily.

Jacob Kounin coined the term during his research in classwork management. In 1958, Kounin published his article “The Ripple Effect in Discipline.” The study focused on how the children who were not disciplined by their teacher reacted to disciplinary actions against students surrounding them. In 1970, Kounin published his studies in the book Discipline and Group Management in Classrooms, which argued that to prevent distractions in the classroom, a teacher must prevent a ripple before it becomes a tidal wave.

Ever since Kounin published his research, the ripple effect has been intertwined with education and the classroom, and not just limited to discipline or management. Think about the student who eats a balanced diet, gets enough sleep and is physically active compared to the student who is hungry, tired and not physically active. Those ripples can affect their performance in the classroom, which can then affect the school, state and nation. This explains why schools provide food for every student prior to standardized tests. Those results can determine funding for the district and the state and if a student is hungry, they won’t concentrate.

The ripple effect that schools have can also extend into the community. In New York City, for example, it was found that test scores, public high school graduation rates and the numbers of students enrolling in college can all impact a neighborhood. Between 2006 and 2012, Robert Shapiro and Kevin Hassett examined those factors and the results were astounding.

For example, when there were higher graduation rates, some 41,000 students earned a diploma. This meant that these graduates would earn $8.9 billion more over their lifetimes than those without diplomas. This in turn improved the community because the property value of the entire city also increased to an estimated $37 billion over the six years of the study.

However, the ripple effect also has a long history outside of the classroom. In fact, it’s commonly explored by those in the fields of sociology and economics.

Recall Rosa Parks. Here was a seamstress who refused to give up her seat at the front of the bus for a white man. This unheard act of defiance was the pebble that set off a series of ripples that would change the social fabric in the United States. The Social Rights movement resulted in this simple act, which in turn would end segregation.

As for economics, think about the impact of producing biofuel. A cattle farmer who feeds his livestock corn will subsequently have to raise his price on the sale of beef because of the increased cost of corn. This small ripple will then force the butcher and grocery store to raise their beef prices, too.

Regardless of whether it involves education, civil rights, economy, technology or the environment, the ripple effect has as ongoing effect on us all. Because of its importance, the upcoming TEDx Charleston has selected the ripple effect as its topic of discussion.

The event will take place on April 8 in Charleston, South Carolina, and will feature a number of incredible speakers, including Ben Navarro. Mr. Navarro is the founder and CEO of South Carolina-based Sherman Financial Group. In 2008, Sherman opened the doors to its Meeting Street Academy in Charleston, which provides a college-prep education to the under-resourced students in the Palmetto State. Four years later, MSA opened up its Spartanburg location with the mission to increase the graduation rate of students in the state.

Other philanthropic ventures for Sherman include everything from medical research to the performing arts.

People like Ben Navarro are illustrating that one small change can have a positive effect for the community, which is why you should attend this once-in-a-lifetime event if you have the opportunity.

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