Ashoka Changemakers Twitter Chat Discusses ‘Activating Empathy in Children’

This post is written by Vallabh Rao.

Ashoka Changemakers, the online community for social entrepreneurs and changemakers organized a Twitter based chat on ‘Activating Empathy’ on March 20, 2012. This online discussion was part of Ashoka Changemakers latest collaborative competition titled Activating Empathy: Transforming Schools to Teach What Matters. This competition seeks to spark greater collaboration among efforts such as those that encourage social and emotional development, address bullying in ways that advance understanding of others’ perspectives, promote community diversity and respect for differences, or champion children as real-world problem-solvers. The deadline for entering into the Activating Empathy competition is 30th March 2012.

Empathy is more than just awareness and concern. It is about cultural sensitivity and conflict resolution. It’s about the ability to communicate effectively and understand the motivations of others. Empathy is about standing up, not standing by, uncovering what’s below the surface through active listening and putting words into action. This is why Ashoka launched a global initiative to ensure that children master empathy, enabling them to be effective citizens, leaders and trailblazers.

The panelists for the session were:

Sonal Kapoor, Founder, Protsahan India Foundation, India. Protsahan India Foundation is a youth led & run organization working with street children [sexually abused, drug abused, at-risk] and marginalized women through Art & ICT. Their strategic focus areas are creative education and skill development.

Pankaj Dubey, Founder, Spriha, India. With an idea and motivation to utilise his education and experience in media and communication, Pankaj took up the cause of ‘Empathy Building’ in children irrespective of their social and economic background. He has designed and actualised India’s first travelling street film festival for children in slums and villages by the name of ‘Sadak Chhap Film Fest’ to reach out to the children with limited means.

Reggi Kayong Munggaran, Ashoka Fellow, Indonesia. Reggi Kayong Munggaran is organizing marginalized youth to serve as changemakers, spearheading the development of much-needed improvements in the physical and social infrastructures of the areas in which they reside.

Syinc, Singapore. Syinc is a nonprofit in Singapore that enables young people to act as agents of social change – in ways that are effective and creative. Through networking and capacity building, Syinc is creating a community of youth equipped with the skills necessary for driving social change.

Hammad Anwar, Rabtt, Pakistan. Rabbt which literally means ‘connection’ in Urdu, is a voluntary youth organization that aims to promote independent and critical thinking through educational camps, bringing together students and mentors from different classes of society in an environment free of judgement and control, introducing new fields of knowledge and broadening the scope of future possibilities for students.

The session began by defining and understanding what empathy means. The aim was to bring out diverse point of views to understand empathy in all its depth and manifestations. Panelists and participants shared their thoughts on what empathy meant to them. “Empathy is putting yourself in others’ shoes. You take someone else’s problems and make them your own”, said PA Nepal which is an organization that helps disadvantaged Nepali prisoners and their dependent children achieve a better future.

The session then focused on some of the steps that can be taken to cultivate and encourage empathy among children. Creativity,  social responsibility, creating a nurturing environment, awareness were some of the tools that our participants suggested to encourage empathy. Some innovative approaches like caring for animals, films, imagery and music were also brought forward. “By devicing innovative ways of inculcating empathy and by joining dots of peer, provider, parents, platform will encourage empathy”, added panelist Pankaj Dubey.

The conversation later moved on to some of the obstacles in cultivating empathy. Unsupportive parenting and learning practices, lack of role models, lack of awareness and discouragement of creativity were seen as some of the biggest obstacles in encouraging empathy among children. The role of online space & new technologies to cultivate empathy in children was the next topic of discussion. Connected classrooms, apps, games, chatroulettes for kids and social media can play a role in inculcating empathy among kids. “Why should we just have games like Farmville on Facebook? We should have games related to charity, helping others etc too!” said Pankaj Dubey on the role games could play in encouraging empathy.

The panelists and participants then discussed some of the successful examples of initiatives that encourage empathy among children – Magic Bus in India , Door Step School, Spriha and viral KONY video.

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