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Changing the World, Child by Child

Roots of Empathy

location_on Toronto, Canada
Roots of Empathy is a Social and Emotional Education program which develops empathy, the antidote to violence, bullying, exclusion, racism and cruelty of all kinds. A tiny baby is a powerful teacher of emotional literacy, the affective side of empathy. Published research from three continents prove the impact of the program to increase emotional literacy and decrease aggression and bullying.
Mary Gordon, Founder and President, Roots of Empathy
"We cannot teach until we reach." Mary Gordon, Roots of Empathy Roots of Empathy helps students and teachers reach one another as emotional literacy develops in the classroom.

Mary Gordon, Founder and President, Roots of Empathy


HundrED shortlisted this innovation

HundrED has shortlisted this innovation to one of its innovation collections. The information on this page has been checked by HundrED.
Key figures

Innovation Overview

Target Group
1 000 000
2 852
Updated on June 21st, 2022
about the innovation

Why did you create this innovation?

Realizing that we live in an emotionally illiterate world with an inability to connect to ourselves and others, I wanted to break this cycle. Emotions are our first language, a universal language and the connective tissue of humankind. Recognizing emotional literacy as the affective side of empathy, I wanted to reduce conflict, hatred and alienation by supporting children's emotional fluency.

How does your innovation work in practice?

The Roots of Empathy (ROE) organization delivers two empathy based programs in multiple languages on 4 continents, Seeds of Empathy for 3-5 year old children and Roots of Empathy for 4-11 year old children. Independent research has proven ROE to reduce aggression including bullying and increase affective empathy. Children are coached to recognize and connect with the vulnerability and humanity of a baby who visits their classroom throughout the school year with their parent(s), along with a trained Instructor using a specialized proprietary curriculum available in print and electronically. Through the experiential learning children are coached to label the baby’s feelings and intentions, learning the affective aspect of empathy – emotion – and the cognitive aspect of empathy - perspective-taking. Emotional literacy develops as children begin to identify and label the baby’s feelings, reflect on and understand their own feelings, then bridge to understand the feelings of others.

How has it been spreading?

The Roots of Empathy organization has much to be proud of and to celebrate. When faced with changes in education caused by the global pandemic, we were able to provide our empathy based programs, Roots of Empathy and Seeds of Empathy to children in classrooms and childcare centres, virtually on screens. In response to the changing situation of education, we created the curriculum for the Roots of Empathy Recovery Program which was launched in 2020 and we were able to adapt our Seeds of Empathy program and welcomed our volunteer parents and babies into centres virtually.
Building on the success of our organizations ability to innovate and adapt we are excited to offer additional program options and a new hybrid Instructor Training to scale farther and faster, reaching more children.

If I want to try it, what should I do?

To reach new populations, Roots of Empathy works with communities and schools to introduce the program into a region. For more information, please contact Brenda McCormack, at


See this innovation in action

Roots of Empathy Research Symposium 2021
We reached over 4200 like-minded individuals from 52 countries coming from backgrounds in health, education, research, and aligned fields in a thought-provoking two-day symposium.Our virtual symposium not only brought together top North American neuroscientists and experts on wellbeing and empathy like Dr. Richard Davidson, Dr. Dan Siegel, Prof. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, and Dr. Bruce Perry, but we also dove into topics such as empathy in leadership, social justice, and had an across-border perspective on black fatherhood. To learn more, visit our Virtual Research Symposium 2021 page. 
Switzerland Roots of Empathy Research Study
Swiss study of Roots of Empathy, Bern University - Animated video of findingsCLICK HERE to read the article on the Bern University longnitudinal study of Roots of Empathy. 
The Babies Teaching Kindness in Class - BBC News
BBC News - “The baby tackling bullying at school” 4 mins - 24 Million views
NIVEA Human Touch Video Series - Mary Gordon
CLICK HERE to watch Roots of Empathy's Founder/President Mary Gordon speak about the importance of human touch and the roles human touch can play in our lives with Ralph Zimmerer, Vice President Global NIVEA Brand Identity & Capability. 
Mary Gordon: 2017 - Using Empathy to Reduce Aggression and Bullying | HundrED Innovation Summit
ROE Children's Wishes for 2021
Listen and see our children giving their wishes for 2021. Some are moving, some are funny and all are worth a watch! Enjoy their visions of the future. CLICK HERE to watch. 
Classroom teacher and students observe as the Roots of Empathy Instructor demonstrates  milestone development.
"Love Grows Brains"
Students follow all aspects of a baby’s development from two months to twelve months of age. They learn how “Love Grows Brains” and what babies need to develop into happy, fearless learners who know how to love and connect to others.
ROE doesn't just come to a classroom, it comes to the community!
Baby Celebration!At the end of every school year, we invite our volunteer parents, babies, Instructors, families to gather and thank them for sharing their love for their baby in the baby’s first precious year of life. This loving relationship between parent and baby is where empathy begins to grow. Students in Roots of Empathy remember their "Tiny Teachers" forever. We know that from meeting adults who had the program more than 2 decades ago.
Roots of Empathy father and Tiny Teacher
Fathers provide a model of positive male nurturance. There is no one right way to love but children understand when they are in the presence of love. Love is the first and best teacher.
The Power of Touch
At the beginning and end of each Family Visit, students sing to the baby and each student has an opportunity to connect with the baby by touch, by song and by looking into their eyes. Human touch is nurturing for both the baby and the students.
Roots of Empathy Annual Research Symposium
The annual Roots of Empathy Research Symposium brings together leading thinkers and researchers on children's social and emotional development. CLICK HERE here to learn more about our Research Symposia. 
The Children's Gallery
The Children’s Gallery is a space reserved to celebrate the voices of children. All children have a voice but many need encouragement to use it. We embrace many themes in our gallery using children’s art and their words. We are humbled by their insights, their empathy, and their hopeful generous spirits. CLICK HERE to check it out.


Achievements & Awards

September 2021
Roots of Empathy Hybrid Training Model Launched
September 2021
Conducted a preliminary artwork study to understand the impact of the Roots of Empathy Recovery program on the prevention of family violence
July 2021
Innovation page created on
June 2021
Since 2017, Roots of Empathy and Mary Gordon have been cited 651 times in scholarly articles from a wide range of disciplines from many sources in 59 countries.
June 2021
Introduction of Seeds of Empathy to Europe in Wales, UK
May 2021
Roots of Empathy Annual 2021 Virtual Research Symposium, Keynote Speaker, Dr. Richard Davidson, Neuroscientist & Founder of the Center for Healthy Minds
May 2021
Inaugural Roots of Empathy Social Justice Award 2021 - Honourable Justice Murray Sinclair
January 2021
Roots of Empathy 25th Anniversary
September 2020
2020 – 2021 Created, launched and evaluated our new Roots of Empathy Recovery program for four age groups.
September 2020
Piloted and evaluated Seeds of Empathy virtual program for childcare centres
August 2020
Produced 10 Videos on "Temperament" to support parents and educators.
June 2020
Reached our one millionth child
June 2020
Produced 12 "Parenting through COVID" videos for parents and teachers. Available in 19 languages.
February 2020
Mary Gordon, Founder/President awarded Order of Ontario, Canada - the founding birthplace of Roots of Empathy
November 2019
Honoured to be selected as a HundrED 2020 Innovator
September 2019
Launched Wellbeing in Education, a comprehensive, 5-module online course for educators to support student and teacher wellbeing
September 2019
Roots of Empathy is welcomed into schools in Notodden, Norway
September 2019
Roots of Empathy Curriculum now offered in 7 languages
May 2019
Roots of Empathy 2019 Annual Research Symposium Keynote Speaker, Susan Greenfield, PhD, Oxford University
April 2019
Mary Gordon, Founder/President received Honourary doctorate - National University of Ireland, Galway
March 2019
Roots of Empathy is welcomed into schools in Korea
November 2018
Honoured to be selected for the second year as a Hundred 2019 Innovator
September 2018
Roots of Empathy received multi-year funding for knife violence prevention from the Youth Endowment Fund in the UK
May 2018
Annual Roots of Empathy 2018 Research Symposium Keynote Speaker, Andy Meltzoff, Neuroscientist, University of Washington's Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences
May 2018
Mary Gordon, Founder/President, the only social entrepreneur to receive the Canadian Governor General's Innovation (Science) Award
October 2017
Honoured to be selected as a HundrED 2018 Innovator
September 2017
Innovation page created on
April 2017
Annual Roots of Empathy 2017 Research Symposium Keynote Speaker, Dan Seigel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and executive director of the Mindsight Institute.
January 2017
Bern University in Switzerland found that the Roots of Empathy program reduces aggression, including bullying, and increases empathy and prosocial behaviour in children

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