Ashoka: Empathy Without Borders: A conversation with Bernard Amadei

Ashoka: How do you understand empathy?


Bernard Amadei: Empathy is not a pill that’s taken so you care about others; there are prerequisites. We’re all born with it, but our educational system makes us forget it. It’s about creating a level of cultivation and culture that allows people to remember it. For us, once we start working in the developing world, we remember it–whether we sustain it is a different story.


What fuels empathy is the sense of belonging to a bigger community. It breaks your heart to see people like you hurting: women hurting because they don’t have access to water, kids hurting because they’re playing in sewage. The education system forces people to unlearn the empathy they’re born with. It’s a system based on always seeming strong, on contributing to the economy, on being number one. It’s about celebrating all of those superlative statements. Being number one is the rule of game, and how we relate to others is fundamentally dismissed.