The Game Has Changed: The Empathy Keystone

For the past six weeks, our team and our SIX Summer School Vancouver 2014 partners – Social Innovation Exchange and BC Partners for Social Impact – have been sifting through, sorting and curating the wealth of content captured during the summit. The breadth and richness of the knowledge exchange at SIX is undoubtedly enough to write a book on the State of Social Innovation in 2014. Amidst this richness, however, is exquisite simplicity; for a field dedicated to working in complexity, two ‘simple’ (even primordial) practices surfaced again and again as essential for leveraging that complexity: collaboration and empathy.

Of course, engaging in collaboration or practicing empathy is neither simple nor easy; they have been the purview of faith and philosophical teachings for 1,000s of years and the centrepiece of kindergarten teachings, workshops, trainings, retreats, literature, and research in the past century. Moreover, they are interlinked actions: collaboration is a process enabled by empathy. Given this precondition of empathy for collaboration, the collective wisdom of the SIX Summer School pointed to empathy as a keystone of social innovation.

As this became increasingly clear in curating the learnings from SIX, further connections began to unfold, linking these emergent insights from an international network of social innovators more broadly to the global community of social change practice. Close on the heels of SIX, the SiG June IASI event — in partnership with Ashoka Canada and MaRS Discovery District — was In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the founder and CEO of Ashoka; the dialogue was moderated by MaRS CEO Ilse Treurnicht. A champion and pioneer of social entrepreneurship, Drayton’s current message and mission is that the movement of the 21st century must be to nurture, teach and train empathy — especially in children.

Between the SIX Summer School, In Conversation with Bill Drayton, the ongoing work of both the SIX and Ashoka networks, and many more initiatives, it is clear that a mix of cross-pollination, simultaneous discovery, and knowledge exchange is nourishing a common valuation of empathy as the bedrock of the 21st century. A powerful mindset shift is underway.

In Conversation with Bill Drayton

For Drayton, the shift will be towards empathy-based ethics, replacing the current ethics ‘rulebook’ with a constellation of principles rooted in empathy (such as compassion, hospitality, initiative, intuition, contribution, and empowerment). Why? Because the rigidity of our current rulebook — and the rules themselves — apply less and less in an exponentially changing world. We are dragging the values, mindsets, and legal/financial structures of a Fordist, pre-digital, pre-networked system into the global, interconnected, interdependent and omnidirectional relationships of the present. The game has changed. Empathy is essential to understanding this new world and our humanity in it.

“Every child must master empathy-based ethics because the rules are changing; the less they apply the less learning them has positive impact” — Bill Drayton 

Arguably, empathy and collaboration have always mattered to the integrity of a society, but the argument now is that empathy is the essential skill to thrive socially, ecologically and economically in the present day. In a world defined by exponential rates of change across all systems, Drayton’s position is that everyone can and must be a changemaker, because change is the new game; it is not a question of whether we should nurture an ‘everyone is a changemaker world,’ it is imperative that we do so. Enabling and empowering this new norm of empathic agency is what Drayton calls a ‘teams of teams’ model; a model of collaborative co-leadership by and within teams.

A teams of teams model was similarly championed at the SIX Summer School as participants discussed the power and possibility of Public and Social Innovation Labs (PSI Labs), community-led development, co-production, co-working spaces, nested innovation hubs, cross-sector networks, and ecosystem building. The common call is that the operational norms of our relationships — working, personal, institutional, civic, and community — are shifting, and must shift, toward the principles of collaboration; a practical and mindset shift that is not only an essential driver of positive systems change, but is a form of transformative systems change itself.

“If everyone is a changemaker, there’s no way a problem can outrun a solution” — Bill Drayton

There is a convergence happening as both social entrepreneurs — which Drayton describes as entrepreneurs with big pattern-change ideas for the good of all — and communities establish a new precedent: the wellbeing of all supports the sustainable wealth of all. At the same time, system pressures are driving commerce, institutions and innovation in the same direction.  “All the evidence shows companies committed to values internally, do better financially,” says Drayton. An ethical and ecological imperative for empathy is now also an economic imperative.

“This is the most thrilling moment in human history, we are leaving an unequal, unfair world” — Bill Drayton
Practicing Empathy: Active Listening Exercise

This simple sounding exercise can be deeply challenging.  It takes one step:

(1) When listening to another person, turn off your inner monologue; silence the inner voice in your head that is reflecting, judging, observing, cataloguing, analyzing and preparing what to say next. Quiet that voice. Listen completely to the other person.

Try this with one person. Then another. Then another. Do you recall his or her name? Are you hearing more, and remembering more, about what that person is saying? Feeling?


In conversation with Bill Drayton from Social Innovation Generation on Vimeo

Further Resources:

Start empathy


Bill Drayton sees a world where ‘everyone is a changemaker’ — Christian Science Monitor

Leading With Authenticity — 2014 Skoll World Forum

Taking Stock: a reformer’s outlook on the rise of social innovation

SFor as long as I can remember, I have been committed to social reform. I’ve always aspired to address root causes behind fundamental social problems. During my 35 year career in health, social policy and service work in Ontario, I chose to influence public policy from outside of government and the formal political process. I have been involved in reform initiatives ranging from broad based grassroots coalition building, to targeted interventions undertaken by so-called elites.

Early Inklings

Starting in 2000, I became involved in the Toronto City Summit Alliance, now CivicAction, initiated and led for many years by the late David Pecaut. In this environment, I came to appreciate the power of social innovation, though the term was not used much then. The work however, of convening stakeholders from across a broad range of sectors – business, labour, government and across age, race and culture, to try to solve specific social and environmental problems was foundational for social innovation today.

Leaps and bounds

Flash forward 13 years, after several years as a hospital executive, I find myself now as Executive in Residence at Ashoka Canada, immersed in the world of social innovation. In my first three months at Ashoka, I am struck by three trends:

  1. Moving into the Limelight
    The extent to which social innovation has come into the mainstream is impressive. Centres of Social Innovation at educational institutions have developed to meet the growing demand from students. Community-based incubators are supporting fledgling social entrepreneurs. The private sector is investing in social innovation and social media is accelerating this already rapid pace of development.
  2. Boundary Blurring
    Boundaries between sectors are beginning to break down. Different stakeholders are now more comfortable working together. The private sector identifies as part of civil society, and social innovators at the grassroots level engage in entrepreneurial activity as part of their social reform agenda.
  3. Igniting Young Changemakers
    There is an explosion of youth engagement in the social innovation space. The field attracts young social reformers; millennials with a strong sense of social justice, a healthy skepticism about the current way we address social problems, and an appetite for risk-taking. Ashoka’s Everyone a Changemaker vision and similar movements are empowering young people to pursue careers in social impact.


Where to?

I’m seeing some exciting developments and now the administrator in me wants to see more discipline emerge in this new frontier.

There is no shortage of good ideas in the world. The difficult task is in identifying the best ideas and growing them so that they may become the new norm. There is a striking lack of awareness about what social policies, strategies and initiatives currently exist, and could possibly be built upon. Perhaps this is natural in the early years of a movement, but it will become more important to map the terrain as more activity develops in the social innovation space.

With increased currency and influence comes increased responsibility. In this case the responsibility is to identify best practices in social innovation within the space itself but also to point the way to the future evolution of effective social reform.  It is time for social innovators and thought leaders to take stock of this remarkable emerging phenomenon. In both learning from each other, and acting on best practices, we can deepen the immersion in mainstream culture. And in doing all of this, keep innovation at the centre.

Innovations in Elder Care

Last week upon my return from holidays, I did a pechakucha (a presentation format where 20 slides are shown for 20 seconds each; total of 6 minutes 40 seconds) about innovations in elder care. The slides are viewable below with the accompanying explanation. (Note: a version of this post also appears on Think Thrice)

In 20 years, Canadians aged 65 years and older will account for roughly one quarter of our population. But our elder care system is already strained and looking more and more like an assembly line, with our loved ones being commodified.

These issues are close to my heart because for the last six years of my father’s life, we navigated the healthcare and elder care system together. We experienced a system that is more about keeping people alive than about quality of that life. Particularly in nursing homes, I witnessed very upsetting losses of dignity. I have since learned of exciting and inspiring approaches to elder care from around the world that we need here in Canada. I will share three.

This first model comes from Denmark’s Fredericia Municipality and got started because of a pair of socks. Imagine I’m an elderly woman and I’m having trouble putting on my control socks. Instead of a caretaker coming to my home twice a day to put them on and take them off, under this new model…

… a personal trainer would come to my home and work with me to get stronger on a 6-8 week program so that I can manage my socks myself. There are immediate cost savings (8 wks vs. twice daily forever) and preventative cost savings to the health system since I am healthier in general.

Most importantly, from the citizen perspective, I can walk up the stairs with more ease, play with my grandchildren, and am more comfortable in my own body. I feel empowered by the system, not at the mercy of it.  A big part of the model are sessions like the one pictured here where professionals come together to co-create the senior’s rehabilitation plan with the senior.

They ask a very simple question… “What would you like to be able to do again?”, focusing on bringing back the ability to function in a self reliant way. The public service is treated as an intervention rather than a long term relationship with the citizen.

The model is gaining popularity in other municipalities in Denmark. According to MindLab, it is rumored that two thirds of Danish municipalities are using some form of the Fredericia model. The previous director of care in Fredericia has stated that the model provides an efficiency dividend of around 15% annually. This is all while increasing citizen satisfaction and quality of life!

The next model is from Japan, where the nursing home system had long been two tiered: either low quality of care or extremely costly and thus out of reach for most. Also, nursing homes were less culturally accepted because it was thought to be honorable to take care of ones parents into their old age, despite the strain this may have on career paths and personal lives.

The Shinkoukai model addresses quality of care and affordability in three unique ways: it has a social impact element by employing marginalized citizens (including homeless, disabled and non-Japanese Asians), it ensure high quality care by gaining third party certification (the ISO-9001, a quality rating used by restaurants and hotels), and minimizes costs by purchasing unused buildings (farmhouse, university dorm, office buildings) and converting them into nursing homes.

The founder of the model, Masue Kitayama, has been working on elder care challenges for over 40 years and has become one of Ashoka Japan’s first two fellows. She is credited for catalyzing change to senior life insurance policy laws, that initially only insured incapacitated seniors, but now also covers seniors who require less care. You can also check nurse insurance liability where you will find multiple insurance option.

Masue’s impact can be seen manifested in the growth in number of care homes across Japan: from 2500 in 1985 to 7300 in 2009. She just opened this intensive care unit, picture here, a couple weeks ago.

This last model is a different approach to rest homes; it is a cohousing model for seniors started by a group of aging feminist activists in the Paris suburb of Montreuil. These women had fought for their rights their whole lives  and were not interested in living by someone else’s rules or schedule as they got older.

The idea is simple: Rather than moving into a seniors home, the women would live together in a large house and take care of one another. No professional staff, like nurses or cooks. They would be free to live as they chose.

This model was created by Therese Clerc, who, in her 60s, began thinking hard about how she wanted to live in her old age. To learn more about her options, she began visiting seniors homes and talking with residents about their experiences.

Appalled by what she learned, she rounded up a group of friends and began lobbying French politicians to fund what became the baba yaga’s house. It took 13 years, but the women eventually convinced funders to construct a six million dollar six-story women’s only seniors home. The women moved in October 2012.

All of this inspired Montrealer Janet Torge to start tinkering with the baba yaga model to see how it could be replicated in Canada. Based on the same co-housing principles of living together without professional staff, Janet’s radical rest home concept is about getting together with a group of friends to find a place to live. Once you’ve moved in, you declare yourselves a radical rest home.

She is envisioning a Radical Resthome Association, which is currently a work in progress, to help with setting things up, figuring out resources and connecting with the broader rest home network. There is another group called Baba Housing in Canada that was inspired by the Montreuil babas, which have ambassadors in many cities across the country.

These models give us a glimpse of what is possible. But, as artist activist Ai Wei Wei put it:

“the world is not changing if you don’t shoulder the burden of responsibility”.

In other words, it’s up to us. What would it take to implement these models in Canada? How can we shift our elder care to models that emphasize thriving not just surviving? How can we design systems that empower seniors to be self-reliant and make their own decisions? I guess, South Florida Home Health Care is an improved version.

I didn’t have time to mention these other aging and elder care initiatives but they are also great. You can list your service here:

  • The Amazings: Classes, courses and wisdom from elders with amazing life experience
  • Fureai Kippu: “Caring Relationship Tickets” are based on the time bank concept; allow people to help seniors in their community and earn credits transferable to other cities
  • Tyze: online tool that helps people care for others
  • Merevale House, UK20: small-scale domestic living where people are seen to be living and working together, sharing their community and daily life
  • Carebanks, Timebanks: helps seniors age-in-community irrespective their economic situation
  • Visiting Nurse Service: high-quality health care in the home and the community
  • Lotte House: nursing home where 23 men and women live like a family
  • Aging Studio, HDL: The Studio set out to articulate a new understanding of the ageing population
  • Age Unlimited, NESTA: program developing and trialling new services for 50-60 year olds to continue contributing to society
  • Weavers, InWithFor: Helping people balance caring with the rest of life
  • AgeLab MIT: innovation lab that designs, develops and deploys innovations focused on aging
  • Southwark Circle, Participle: membership-based service supporting +50 year olds to lead the lives they want to lead.

If you’re inspired and want to do something about this topic, let’s talk! Or, you can reach me via email or twitter. Also, I will be adding to the page as I go.

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