Why Empathy

As the rate of change in the world accelerates, our traditional power structures are being transformed, opening the way for millions to participate in society in a way that they could not before. From the end of slavery and colonization, to the rise of democracy, the women's and civil rights movements, and the current technological revolution, which has unleashed ideas and initiatives from humans from every corner of the globe, we are witnessing the flattening of hierarchies and diffusion of power from the hands of a small elite to those of every individual across the globe. The door has opened to a future where every person can and must help tackle the increasing number of social challenges that are emerging every day.

A world of rapid change can be a complex landscape to navigate. In the past, we had hierarchies in our societies and institutions that—for better or worse—kept the world organized. Today we live in a more decentralized world. Everyone must have initiative, confidence and good decision-making skills, as there is often no one above them to tell them what to do. Everyone must be able to prioritize important information and actions in a world of information overflow and ambiguity. Everyone must be comfortable working in a team of teams environment through facilitative management styles. We already see the world’s leading companies clamoring for employees who have these leadership skills. To thrive in a world of rapid-change, to not be marginalized, to contribute constructively to solving problems, people need to learn to be changemakers.

In particular, as rules are in flux, as people move fluidly in and between formerly homogenous groups, cultures, and societies, and as power is shared by all, every person needs an ever higher level of empathetic skill in order to thrive. We need applied empathy—the ability to understand what other people are feeling and to act in response in a way that avoids harm and contributes to positive change. Over the last 30 years, we have witnessed both a growing recognition of empathy’s increasingly critical place in society, and a wave of innovation designed to unlock it.

Ashoka is committed to a world in which every individual has the opportunity to learn the skill of empathy and every institution, from school to corporation to country, integrates empathy as a core principle and practice. The most critical step in getting there is to ensure that every child masters empathy. Without this skill, he or she will hurt people and groups, will be marginalized, and will not be able to join with others to create beneficial change in the world.