PGB Connects Episode 16 – The Empathy Effect

PGB Connects Episode 16 – The Empathy Effect


Ellen began by sharing her own version of the empathy effect.  As a teacher, she used to bring Jakey into her classes. At first the students were nervous as they had never met anyone like him before. But then, they started asking questions. The more they asked, the more they were able to see Jakey through his blind eyes. The students’perceptions changed and they saw the person who happens to be in a wheelchair, not the wheelchair with the boy. 

That is what PGB is all about; seeing someone, feeling someone, understanding someone. That is called ‘Empathy’! It matters and we need so much more of it in our world. 

Our first guest tonight was Kim Smiley, who is known as the ‘Queen of Empathy’. Kim is a jewelry designer who is dedicated to marrying profit with purpose. She is an empathy activist and founder of the ‘Empathy Effect’ which reached 275,000 followers in 75 countries.  This June, Kim will be on a new reality show called the ‘Social Movement’, an Amazon Prime and Apple TV show about solving some of the world’s most pressing social problems. 

Kim’s passion shines through in all she does and she shared her own empathy story tonight. It all began while working in the non-profit sector.  For Kim, empathy was always most important. Helping vulnerable people, she always had a dream to become an artist, and to bridge her passions together. And so began ‘The Empathy Effect’.  

The Empathy Effect started out as a Facebook social experiment to see if empathy could be infectious.  For 365 days, Kim would provide a daily post, featuring a person who was transforming the world through empathy.  On just the 5th day of posting, one story resonated with others and went viral. It featured the story of a young doctor, who at the age of 32, was given only 18 months to live, yet beat the odds and survived.  Kim’s intent was to have the internet sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to him and share in all the empathy, that he, himself, had brought into the world for so many others. This story, of simply wishing a stranger Happy Birthday, began to be shared all over the world.

Through the response to this experience, Kim learned that, while we are all extremely unique, it is empathy really that unites us; all people, all cultures. By inviting others to become a part of this experience, the Empathy Effect became a global phenomenon.  Kim called it a “Confederacy of Dreamers”, where empathy is shown from all around the world. On the final day of the experiment, Kim launched the ‘Empathy Pledge’; to heal the world, through the practice of one act of kindness each day.

Kim summed up her journey by sharing a few more insights.  She stated that in 2013, the most popular word was ‘Selfie’. Today, we need to focus on the ‘Unselfie’. Shine the light on the kindness of others and the beauty that is around us, so it can illuminate us and spread. She said, that while a candle can illuminate a dark place, it also holds the power to give a spark to others and that power can grow exponentially.  It becomes infectious, just like goodness, kindness and empathy. We all need to be the torch bearers of this kindness!

Abby and Sarah were welcomed back for an encore musical performance. Tonight they performed one of their own compositions called, ‘On My Own’.  Its beautiful message highlighted how others are always around to support you. 

Erin Sade, our Shining Star, is the perfect example of the Empathy Effect.  Erin developed an enduring interest in activism in Grade 6, when her class participated in Project Give Back. She chose the ‘Yad Vashem Twinning Program’, in which Jewish youth learn about and dedicate their Bar/Bat Mitzvah to children who died in the Holocaust. At that time, no one at her school had even heard of the Holocaust.  Erin’s project got both herself and others thinking. It inspired Erin to engage young people in anti-bullying and anti-racism causes through Holocaust awareness.  This work led Erin to became an Ambassador for the Twinning Program. As Erin so aptly stated, “We need to learn from the past, to change the future.”

Erin was drawn to the concept that giving back was not something you did as a one time project, for her, it was a lifelong commitment.  Since then, Erin’s accolades have flourished. She has spoken and performed the violin at events such as the National Holocaust Remembrance Day Ceremony in Ottawa. For her work, she received the ‘Cantor Kraus Catalyst for Change Award’ from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; the first recipient of Project Give Back’s ‘Joey Award’honouring notable alumni/ae; and, most recently, the highest accolade a young person can receive for their social action or humanitarian work: ‘The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Award’. Her love for giving back led her to study medicine at the University of Central Lancashire where she has introduced the Catalyst for Change Award, to spotlight anti-racism, antisemitism and inclusion.  Erin said that everyone has the ability to make small changes which can lead to a big difference, and her story is a true testament to that premise.  

Lindsay at Kindness Corner gave an update on the learning kits that @One2GiveTo has been collecting and distributing , with over 700 kits currently being delivered! Next up, for the summer, the push is for bicycles. Inspired by a teacher in Malton, who encouraged her students to get outside, only to come to the sad realization that many of the students in this community don’t own bikes.  Lindsay’s plea is to get our community to help their community, by collecting bikes, helmets and locks.  Drop off will be at the Forest Hill Arena and more information will be posted on their Instagram. 

There is no doubt that the Empathy Effect is contagious. No vaccines needed here, let’s get out there and spread kindness to others, just like all our incredible guests have done so far.