Mary Gordon

Ashoka Fellow
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Fellow Since 2002


This profile was prepared when Mary Gordon was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Mary's Roots of Empathy is an innovative, classroom-based parenting program that reduces childhood levels of aggression by counteracting the physical, psychological, and neurological effects of parental violence and neglect.

Scientists have proven that abuse during a child's formative years affects the formation of the brain and has a lifetime impact on a child's learning, behavior, and health. However, child development research indicates that teaching children to be compassionate and caring–and how to recognize and manage their own emotions at an early age–can mitigate the impact of violence. Mary's program grasps that potential for recovery from the effects of childhood trauma and is able to reduce the frequency of aggressive, antisocial behavior.

Roots of Empathy makes emotional literacy–the ability to recognize and understand each others' emotions–a core school subject. It brings a living example of the loving relationship between parent and child into the classroom. Targeted to children's varying levels of emotional development, Roots of Empathy provides young people with strategies to effectively recognize and respond to the emotions of others.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person


 Empathy has emerged as a critical 21st century skill as countries around the world are desperately seeking ways to reduce violence and foster inclusion. Mary Gordon created Roots of Empathy in 1996 to answer this call. Her mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. Her vision is to change the world, child by child. In the short term, Mary's program raises levels of empathy, resulting in more respectful and caring relationships, and reduces aggression, including bullying. In the long term, it builds the capacity of the next generation for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting. Mary Gordon has successfully developed her evidence and school-based programs in ten countries on three continents, reaching close to a million children worldwide. She continues to expand her programs internationally, reaching children in rural, urban and indigenous communities, and she has the support of governments, foundations and corporations who value her programs. Mary is an Ashoka Globalizer and speaks internationally on the topics of empathy, child wellbeing and resilience, child protection and violence reduction. She has consulted on policy with governments and international NGOs such as the World Health Organization

More For You