What the Ernest C. Manning Innovation Award has meant to me, and to Roots of Empathy



Tonight I’ve been asked to speak at the Ernest C Manning Innovation Awards dinner in Toronto – to celebrate this year’s award recipients and to reflect on what the award has meant to me.

The award has had a profound effect, on me, and on the Roots of Empathy organization.

Since receiving the award in 2011, Roots of Empathy has experienced unparalleled growth within Canada and has grown across England, Wales, Republic of Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Costa Rica and in five additional US states.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation was the first to include a social innovation like Roots of Empathy as part of the traditional recipients of innovation awards which have been clustered around science and technology. This has lifted the entire field of social innovation and we have been riding that wave ever since.

It’s amazing to see that social innovation and the solutions it delivers are now recognized as a path to solving some of the world’s most intractable problems.  Our solutions need to tap into the core of our humanity if we’re to create a better life for our children and their families.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation has contributed to the recognition of social innovation as a solution. In fact, it was the Foundation that nominated me for the 2018 Governor General Innovation Awards which “recognize and celebrate outstanding Canadian individuals, teams and organizations whose exceptional and transformative work help shape our future and positively impact our quality of life.”

I was so honoured to have received the Governor General Award.  Through this, Roots of Empathy has been identified as an outstanding social innovation that is helping to build an inclusive, compassionate society.

Since the beginning of Roots of Empathy over 20 years, ago, our mission has been to build caring, peaceful, and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults. If we want to make an impact we need to build a civil society.  And that starts with empathy.


– Mary Gordon




October 24th, 2018

Finding Hope in a Crisis of Connection


Our vision here at Roots of Empathy is to change the world, child by child. It’s on our website and we talk about it all the time. We know it’s both ambitious, and frankly, a long-term goal, especially if we’re going child by child. But you know what? We firmly believe that the future lies with children, so we do the work. Sometimes that work means we forget to see the big picture, how we fit into a growing global recognition that things are not right and we urgently need to find ways to connect with each other.

David Brooks, the Opinion Columnist of the New York Times, has shared the big picture and it includes Roots of Empathy. He’s published a column called “Two Cheers for Feminism! What girls and women get right about empathy and connection.”  And he talks about Roots of Empathy.

His column focused on the new book “The Crisis of Connection” from the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity (PACH) for which Mary Gordon, our Founder/President was asked to write a chapter. The book, which came out this summer, examines the forces that have led to a crisis of connection and what the consequences are. The editors at PACH who commissioned the essays for the anthology asked Mary to write about Roots of Empathy as a solution to this crisis.

David writes, “the culture teaches girls not to talk and boys not to feel. Girls begin to say, ‘I don’t know.’ Boys say, ‘I don’t care.’  Then David goes on to write about our program as exactly that – a solution.

It was a great way to stand back and take a look at what we’ve accomplished so far and to remind ourselves that our program, in 12 countries, having reached almost one million children, is more than a program. It’s a movement. We help children understand how they feel and how others feel, to find their voice and to stand up for themselves and each other. Our Roots of Empathy children go out into the world of their school, their families, their communities and they connect. And from the research we’ve seen, the effects of our program linger and spread and spread and spread.

Sometimes you just need to stop and look up from what you’re doing and smile. And spread the hope. In our case, the hope rests in a little baby in an adorable “teacher” t-shirt, sitting on a green blanket and charming children into a deeper understanding of themselves and others. That is hope. That, friends, is empathy.


October 12th, 2018