The single most important skill that every person must have today is empathy, according to Bill Drayton. The Ashoka founder, widely accredited with coining the phrase “social entrepreneur” which he nearly named “public service entrepreneur” instead, visited Toronto last week and drew a large crowd to come hear him speak.
In 1980, Drayton founded Ashoka based on the idea that leverage was important for catapulting the citizen sector.
“What’s the most powerful force in the world? Of course it’s the big pattern change idea, but only if it’s in the hands of a really great entrepreneur. It’s that combination that drives history regardless of time or subject matter,” he said. “If we can find leading social entrepreneurs and help them get started, well that doesn’t cost so much.”
Drayton’s visit comes after Ryerson University became the first Ashoka Changemaker Campus in Canada last September. At last check, Canada is home to 53 of Ashoka’s 3,000 global Fellows. And the first selected female Canadian Ashoka Fellow is Mary Gordon, creator of a classroom program that Drayton speaks highly about called Roots of Empathy to help young children reduce aggression and foster empathy.
To explain why he strongly urges the development of empathy, especially through the education sector, Drayton begins with a little history lesson.
“From the end of the Roman Empire until 1700, which was 1,300 years roughly, there was no growth in average per capita income in the US,” said Drayton. “The emergence of the world we are now going into – ‘Everyone A Changemaker world‘ – really started around 1700 when business did something very radical. It said ‘You’ve got a better idea, and you make it work, we’re going to make you rich and happy and respected’, and that really was the beginning of the Everyone A Changemaker world. But it didn’t get out beyond business.”
“And then 1980 came and essentially we broke free all over the world,” added Drayton.
But, despite the growth since the 1700s, the system around which the world has organized itself for the last 120 years is no longer working today. The educational system, for instance, was designed to give people, whether barber or banker, a body of knowledge which they would then repeat, said Drayton. Or the way of organizing, such as in an assembly line or law firm, is where a few people choreograph everyone else.
“That’s why Google is doing better than certain institutions who will remain nameless. There are 3,000 plus small teams that are working as a fluid, open team of teams. They don’t define themselves by any product, they define themselves as an idea,” said Drayton.
Drayton believes that the world will become an Everyone A Changemaker world, meaning people will understand that they can contribute value in their own way, they will organize themselves in teams similar to Google, and each team member will have mastered empathy.
“A simple analogy is a basketball team. When you watch basketball the ball goes to this person. That person makes an instantaneous decision. They have to make a judgment. There’s no team leader telling them what to do. Every team member is trying to help every other team member be the best possible player they can for the game and for all games. That’s what every team is trying to do,” said Drayton.
And in this new way of organizing, empathy is more important than ever.
“Every child must master empathy-based ethics. Why? Because if you don’t have empathy-based ethics and you try to be a good person by diligently following the rules, the faster change goes the rules cover less and less and you’re going to hurt people and disrupt groups and if you hurt me I don’t want you in my life,” explained Drayton.
“So many children today are not being given the opportunity to master empathy-based ethics. How many principals know that their school is failing if they have one second grader who has not grasped empathy-based ethics? We have to change the framework of thinking so that people understand that the new game is we’ve got to make sure everyone can play, everyone can be a real contributor in this new world,” said Drayton.
Not everyone can be a social entrepreneur, says Drayton, who defines it as someone that changes pattern, but everyone must contribute as a changemaker.
“When everyone is a changemaker, there’s no way that the problems can outrun the solutions.”
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