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Ribbon HUNDRED 2021
Helping children develop the empathy they need to make friends, care for others, stand up to injustice.

Roots of Empathy

location_on Canada
Roots of Empathy is an evidence-based classroom program for primary school children that decreases aggression, including bullying, and increases prosocial behaviours such as caring, sharing and inclusion. At the heart of the program are a neighbourhood parent and baby who visit a classroom over the course of a school year. Using an age-appropriate curriculum, a certified Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches the students to observe the baby’s intentions and to label the baby’s feelings. Children learn that we share the same feelings and our feelings are at the core of our humanity.
Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy
In a truly civil society, every man, woman and child feels a sense of belonging.

Mary Gordon, Founder/President, Roots of Empathy


HundrED has selected this innovation to

HundrED 2021

HundrED 2020

HundrED 2019

HundrED 2018

Key figures

Innovation Overview

3 - 14
Age Group
1 000 000
10 705
Updated on July 23rd, 2021
about the innovation

What is Roots of Empathy?

2020-2021 will always live in our minds and hearts as a year of anxiety, stress, and loneliness. Our children are witnessing and experiencing events like the pandemic and a raised awareness of racial inequity we haven’t seen in our lifetimes. We are experiencing a decline of empathy and a crisis of connection. However, it is a time of reckoning. It is an opportunity for change. A chance to help our children create a more aware, more just, kinder world.

The organization delivers two empathy-based programs – Roots of Empathy for elementary school children aged 5 to 13 and Seeds of Empathy for 3 to 5-year-old children. Founded by global award-winning social entrepreneur, parenting expert, child advocate, and best-selling author Mary Gordon. Mary has been recognized in Canada and around the world for her innovation in the field of education and children's mental health, receiving awards and accolades at the provincial, national and international levels, including the Order of Newfoundland, the Order of Ontario, The Order of Canada, The Governor General’s Award for Innovation and the Queen's Silver & Diamond Jubilee Award. She was also a Canadian representative on the World Health Organization’s study of the Early Years as a Trajectory for Life-Long Health and Well-being and had the privilege of speaking at two WHO conferences, in Scotland at a conference of experts in violence prevention and in Luxembourg in the field of experts on Early Human Development. Read more about Mary's Presentations

In a world where our differences increasingly tend to alienate us from one another, there is a need to build empathy so we can find our shared humanity. We all ache to belong. When children are empathic, they include others because they understand what it feels like to be left out. We need to nurture empathy in our children so that they will build a caring, peaceful and civil society that is inclusive of all. 

Our 20+ years of research shows that children in Roots of Empathy learn to be more empathic, are less likely to be aggressive, to bully, or to hurt others. They are more likely to treat others with kindness and to be aware of including others. Children learn how to build healthy relationships when they are emotionally literate and have developed a sense of their own self-efficacy, which allows them to have the courage to stand up for themselves and others. Roots of Empathy increases levels of empathy and increases the connection between students and that connection ripples out to all the relationships in their lives.

At the heart of the program are a neighborhood parent and baby who visit a classroom over the course of a school year. Using an age-appropriate curriculum, a certified Roots of Empathy Instructor coaches the students to observe the baby’s intentions and to label the baby’s feelings. In this experiential learning, the baby is the “teacher” and a catalyst that the Instructor uses to help children identify and reflect on their own feelings and the feelings of others – empathy. Children learn that we share the same feelings and our feelings are at the core of our humanity.

Roots of Empathy delivers its program universally in the classroom without targeting specific children. Children, who through no fault of their own or their parents may not have had a secure attachment relationship, have another opportunity to develop empathy.

During the COVID-19 era, it is clear that children need Roots of Empathy more than ever. As schools re-open, we have adapted our program  to ensure that children can experience Roots of Empathy while keeping everyone safe – the baby, parent, Instructor, students, and classroom teacher. We adhere to the guidelines and recommendations of education and public health authorities in every region. We've also provided resources for parents during the pandemic to help them through some of the challenges of working and learning at home - we've subtitled them into 18 languages - including six Indigenous languages.

Our programs work on the principles of intrinsic pride and intrinsic motivation. Children are not manipulated by praise or rewards in the Roots of Empathy classroom, which acts as a participatory democracy. Children are encouraged to find their voice and use it.

Roots of Empathy’s curriculum activities also have links to classroom curricula. For example, students use math skills when they calculate and chart the baby’s weight and measurements. They use literature to help support and understand emotional literacy and perspective-taking.

Every classroom is a microcosm of society and children who are different are at risk of exclusion. In the Roots of Empathy program, children learn that our shared feelings unite us more than alienate us. In the Roots of Empathy classrooms, where no judgments are made, a climate of social inclusion and equity develops. Roots of Empathy classrooms contribute to the development of caring schools and change not only the child, but also the teacher, and can tip the culture of a whole school when at scale.

Empathy is the developmental mechanism that correlates most highly with altruistic behavior. It is the ability to take the perspective of the other and to feel with them. Empathy cannot be successfully taught through traditional instruction, but it can be caught experientially, changing the architecture of the brain. If we develop empathy in children, they will behave inclusively. They will challenge cruelty and injustice, creating more empathic classrooms where all children are included. The best way to change tomorrow is to work with the children of today, creating a change from within that lasts.


HundrED Academy Review

The concept is fascinating. So much data exists pointing to its clear impact, which is great to see. And the concept is clearly scalable in its massive reach.

- HundrED Academy Member

This is wonderful - it is bringing back something that would have been inherent to childhood and everyday life (family life). Highly impactful through relationships and watching a young child grow and develop. Just beautiful.

- HundrED Academy Member
Roots of Empathy is based on the idea that of taking the perspective of the other, to notice and appreciate our commonalities. Over 17 years of research has yielded consistent results, showing that Roots of Empathy students perceive a more inclusive and caring environment by the end of the program. Their motto"Changing the world, child by child" is apparent in their easily scaled approach.
Academy review results
High Impact
Low Scalability
High Impact
High Scalability
Low Impact
Low Scalability
Low Impact
High Scalability
Read more about our selection process

See this innovation in action

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. 
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. 
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. 
See what the Roots of Empathy Symposium is all about
The annual Roots of Empathy Research Symposium brings together leading thinkers and researchers on children's social and emotional development. CLICK HERE TO WATCH THE VIDEO.  
Swiss study of Roots of Empathy, Bern University - Animated video of findings
What Bern University found after studying Roots of Empathy....CLICK HERE to watch the animated video of the findings.
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 father and Tiny Teacher
All students enjoy the participation of fathers in their Roots of Empathy class. Fathers provide a model of positive male nurturing. There is no one right way to love but children understand when they are in the presence of love. Love is the best teacher.
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.
“The baby tackling bullying at school” 4 mins - 24 Million views
Mary Gordon: Using Innovations to Reduce Aggression and Bullying | HundrED Innovation Summit
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.
Classroom teacher and students observe as the Roots of Empathy Instructor demonstrates how the baby was able to visually track a toy and finally hold it for herself.


Achievements & Awards

September 2021
Seeds of Empathy Training Model
September 2021
Roots of Empathy Hybrid Training Model
May 2021
Social Justice Award 2021 - Hon. Justice Murray Sinclair
January 2021
Roots of Empathy 25th Anniversary
September 2020
Roots of Empathy Virtual Recovery Program
June 2020
Reached our one millionth child
February 2020
Order of Ontario
November 2019
Hundred 2020
April 2019
Honourary doctorate - National University of Ireland, Galway
November 2018
HundrED 2019
May 2018
Governor General's Innovation Award
September 2017
HundrED 2018
September 2017
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Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

Contact Roots of Empathy International Office
Contact us at to get more information on what is required to bring Roots of Empathy to your community/country.
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Determine which implementation models works best
Work with Roots of Empathy to discuss which implementation model is most appropriate for your location
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Determine which schools will host the program
Work with education authorities and school administrators to determine which schools will host the program. Identify best methods for recruiting volunteer Instructors and families (with a baby).
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Training and matching volunteers to classrooms
Once funding is secured and schools are selected, training of Instructors is arranged, matching of volunteer family with Instructor and classroom is arranged.
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Annual Program Evaluation
At the end of the program year, the classroom teacher, students, volunteer parent and Instructor complete an Annual Program Evaluation which is used to inform local adaptation and quality assurance.
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2021 Virtual Research Symposium
Our Research Symposium 2021 theme was Empathy and Well-being. 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. May 12-13, 2021 - Virtual
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