Roots of Empathy

I came out of my meeting with Dan feeling humbled, pensive, physically sated, but most of all excited.  I had some questions I needed to answer, three gigantic ones in particular:

1.  What was my mission?

2.  What did I want my outcomes to be?

3.  How was I going to assess these outcomes?

In thinking about my own vision, I began to research the visions of other social enterprises that I found interesting.  I remember reading about a program in David Bornstein and Susan Davis’ book, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know called Roots of Empathy.  From the home page of their website:

“At the heart of the program are classroom visits by an infant and parent. Through guided observations of this loving relationship, children learn to identify and reflect on their own thoughts and feelings and those of others (empathy).  Independent evaluations consistently show children who receive Roots of Empathy experience dramatic and lasting effects in terms of increased positive social behaviour (sharing, helping and including) and decreased aggression.”

That sounded so cool to me.

What was their mission?  What did they want their outcomes to be?  How did they assess these outcomes?

Mission: “To build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.”


– “To foster the development of empathy”

– “To develop emotional literacy”

– “To reduce levels of bullying, aggression and violence, and promote children’s pro-social behaviors”

– “To increase knowledge of human development, learning, and infant safety”

– “To prepare students for responsible citizenship and responsive parenting”

And to assess their success?

Their main goals of evaluation “have been to assess any changes in social behaviour of ROE children. Two types of behavior were measured:

Pro-social behaviour is considered as any behaviour that aims
to help another person (sharing, including, cooperating).
Aggression is considered to be behaviour that is intended to
cause emotional or physical pain or harm.”

“Early evaluations of the program’s effectiveness are based on the selection of two groups of children: from classrooms participating in ROE and comparison classrooms not participating. These two groups, are matched with respect to grade, gender, and race/ethnicity composition. Over the
course of the school year, comparisons of changes in students behaviors between the two groups are recorded.

There have also been two randomized controlled studies (RCT) of the program. An RCT randomly assigns a certain number of classrooms to participate in the program rather than being selected. This is the gold standard in research as it ensures thatboth known and unknown confounding factors are evenly distributed between the groups.”

Pretty cool.


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