Nonprofit Network Blog

Building Community, Building Empathy

Wednesday, August 28, 2019 12:30 PM | Regina Pinney (Administrator)

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Regina Pinney

Executive Director

I came across a great blog post awhile back about global issues and potential solutions. The content was fascinating, but the title had me hooked before I even began reading: Empathy: The Missing Link to Solving the World’s Most Pressing Problems.

As community builders and problem solvers, I believe empathy is our most important skill. 

Empathy is the link between self and others, because it is how we as individuals understand what others are experiencing as if we are feeling it ourselves.  At its simplest, empathy is awareness of the feelings and emotions of other people. And empathy is keystone in the human-centered design concept. 

Human-centered design is a creative approach to problem solving. It’s a process that starts with learning directly from the people you want to serve and designing a solution as you immerse yourself in their lives. That’s what Bridges Out of Poverty helps you do—it enables you to develop solutions to help people get out of poverty by understanding 1) the world from their eyes, and 2) the lessons they have learned about living in this world.

There is already so much data that counts the number of people who live in poverty, are unemployed, need food, need shelter— but data can only tell a small portion of the story. Bridges Out of Poverty provides a larger perspective and shares another side of the story to build that critical empathy between decision-makers and the communities they serve.

Nonprofits exist to accomplish community change.  To do this, we need to influence behavior and we need to change the way that minds work. But how do we influence behavior and thought processes? Nonprofits collect all sorts of metrics that illustrate issues, problems, and solutions—but it is not enough to communicate in numbers.  We need to communicate with humans by gathering stories.  Testimonies are essential in our work to address social problems because testimonies embody the data that we collect. They also help to build empathy.

Let’s break this down the process of building empathy:  

Currently, Nonprofit Network is conducting a series of focus groups with people who live in extreme poverty. The stories we gathered in these groups, on the behalf of a local community service, have the potential to make a measurable impact on the community agencies work. Decision-makers are using these testimonials and experiences to identify different training needs, improved methods of communication, and innovative solutions.

The issues in our communities are complex and thus require complex, multi-faceted solutions. It is when we build empathy and a better understanding of those whom we serve that we can begin to fully address the issues at hand. The first step is simply to listen.

What are you doing to capture stories of the people you serve?

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