Tommy Tobin

Tommy is a recent graduate of Stanford University, where he earned the Deans’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and led the Stanford Project on Hunger to provide 100,000 meals for his community.

Empathy & Change

Submitted by Tommy Tobin & Geoff Finger, Ashoka Spring Associates

What are the primary traits of Changemakers?  Innovation, certainly.  A restless devotion to systemic change is integral.  But more elementally, what underlies both of these developed values?  When one looks deeper into personal development, what emerges as the essential asset for Changemakers?  Empathy.

According to Ashoka founder Bill Drayton, our future ability to achieve mass social change hinges on empathy.  Empathy creates Changemakers.

The Everyone a Changemaker world vision is based on a new paradigm: no longer will the world  run on the generational transfer of knowledge and rules. As we transition into a world where everyone can be a player, provide input, and create value, we must foster empathy. Empathy is of utmost importance to early education, and thus, our shared future.

Several Ashoka fellows work with varying techniques to integrate empathy into their communities.  Ashoka Fellow Mary Gordon’s organization, Roots of Empathy, promotes emotional literacy by engaging children with situations that ask them to understand the feelings and needs of other individuals.  Over 700 of more than 2,500 Ashoka Fellows work with young people with the overarching intent to foster empathy. Through building playgrounds, theatrical exercises, innovative communication tactics, to teaching body language, empathy building has emerged as a central mission for Ashoka Fellows, especially in the education sector.

Drayton foresees that the critical questions for success in the coming years will be: “How many of  your citizens are Changemakers? What is their skill level?” By failing to cultivate empathy in youth, we are missing enormous opportunities that will help advance us towards an Everyone a Changemaker world.

Unfortunately, estimates suggest:

  • 30% of the world’s children don’t receive the necessary empathy training to contribute successfully to society; and
  • 25% of US youth are afraid to ask adults for help.

How do we move forward?  How do we create the potential for the Everyone a Changemaker World?  From the very beginning, with the most elemental of human skills, empathy.

Colleges & universities can nurture empathy and empower students with the Changemaking skills they need to become future social entrepreneurs. These institutions can create pathways for personal and professional development and promote cross-disciplinary opportunities for skill-building in teamwork, leadership, and empathy.

About Tommy Tobin

Tommy is a recent graduate of Stanford University, where he earned the Deans’ Award for Academic Accomplishment and led the Stanford Project on Hunger to provide 100,000 meals for his community. He is currently a Spring Associate with the Ashoka U team.

About Geoff Finger

Geoff Finger is a graduate of Reed College, completed a Watson Fellowship on community arts programs around the world, and most recently worked as company manager for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. He is currently working as a Coporate Strategy Associate at Ashoka.