As a Mexican immigrant and the son of a Holocaust survivor, KIND Healthy Snacks founder and CEO Daniel Lubetzky has always considered diversity, inclusion, and empathy to be vitally important character traits. His solution, which launched in October 2017, is called Empatico: It’s a free video-conferencing and digital learning platform, with interactive lesson plans designed to connect students around the globe, to build empathy between different people and different cultures. It’s the winner of the general excellence category in Fast Company‘s 2018 World Changing Ideas Awards.
The setup is basic: Teachers just need a computer with a camera and internet connection. The goal is for educators in different parts of the globe to log on, and complete the same activities at the same time. There are group exercises designed around learning more about your local weather or geography through some basic mapping, and how culture influences the way people interact with their environments. Each group of students can then connect with another classroom somewhere else, so that kids learn from other kids firsthand about what’s the same or different.
“If we are going to tackle the challenges that humanity is facing, whether that is climate change or dehumanization or totalitarianism or nuclear proliferation or resource scarcity, we need to recognize our shared responsibility,” says Lubetzky. That starts, he believes, with recognizing our shared humanity first.
Empatico is backed by a $20 million investment from KIND’s nonprofit arm, The KIND Foundation. While it originally launched to reach 8- to 10-year-olds, the program has since expanded to reach ages 7 through 11. More than 650 teachers in 47 states and more than 50 countries (from Azerbaijan to New Zealand) currently use the service, and nonprofit agencies–like Ashoka, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, and Teach For All–that are already working to improve learning conditions and educational access in many school districts have offered it to their members.
Lubetzky’s goal is to reach at least 1 million students by 2020. That means offering the service in other languages–a Spanish translation should roll out this April–and eventually overcoming language barriers through the addition of simultaneous translation, which Empatico has begun to explore. The service is also available to kids clubs and afterschool programs, which may boost participation in 2018.
Ultimately, the hope is to reach kids at a time when they’re impressionable, so that they grow up to be warm, caring, and perspective-seeking thinkers. “I like to describe Empatico as essentially taking the best of humanity and the best of technology to help expand the boundaries of the way kids learn,” says Empatico executive director George Khalaf. “In a way, Empatico makes the world bigger by breaking down barriers between different kinds of people so we can learn from each other, and in doing so become more kind and empathetic human beings.”