Activate Empathy and Join the Movement to Teach What Matters

Empathy: em·pa·thy [em-puh-thee]

It’s a beautiful word, derived from the suffix -em (meaning “to make into, to put into, to get into”) and -pathy  (meaning “suffering”).

What I consider especially beautiful about this word is that, unlike “sympathy” (which translates literally to “with” + “suffering”), “empathy” is more internally focused, and action-oriented. It describes the transposition of the suffering, emotion, feeling, or experience of another person into oneself – and how it manifests itself through ones behavior toward others.

Here at Ashoka, we believe that empathy is central to our ability to imagine (and create) better communities, societies, organizations, companies, and institutions. We believe that empathy is a skill. We believe that empathy is a muscle we all have. And most importantly, we believe that, like all muscles, empathy is strengthened by use and exercise.   

To this end, Ashoka Changemakers is launching a global competition titled: Activating Empathy: Transforming Schools to Teach What Matters.

We are challenging teachers, principals, parents, students, and other innovators to rethink our approach to school culture and curricula. We want your ideas–projects, programs, or new learning experiences–for advancing empathy in education.

More than $45,000 in cash and in-kind prizes will be awarded to the best ideas, programs, and learning models that ensure children master empathy in the educational system, enabling them to be effective citizens, leaders, and trailblazers.

“The world simply can’t afford to have empathy dismissed as a ‘soft skill,’ instead of being recognized as foundational to the social, teamwork, and leadership skills required for success in a rapidly changing world,” said Danielle Goldstone, director of Ashoka’s Empathy Initiative. “We look forward to finding new ideas from teachers, administrators, parents, students, and innovators from across the world.”

As a part of the prize-package, Mattel is offering $25,000 in prizes for three ideas that enhance empathy through play. will also offer $30,000 of Townsend Press Prizes for the top five solutions by a U.S. public-school teacher, student, or administrator that advance the mastery of empathy in a way that addresses bullying.

Entries can be submitted until March 30th, 2012 at

Follow the initiative (and join us) on Twitter: #startempathy