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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Empathy: The Best Antidote for Messiah Complex 09-29

Empathy: The Best Antidote for Messiah Complex

In this post, Ken Moriyama, an MPP student at the University of Oxford, reports from the Skoll World Forum.

Photo via Pioneers Post
At a workshop called “Framework Change: Re-Examining Your Personal Theory of Change  ,” Bill Drayton, Henry De Sio and Beverly Schwartz from Ashoka presented a practical theory of change to enable individuals to think big—beyond key performance indicators—and design systemic innovations.
Before we got into the actual exercises to learn this concept, the delegates spent some time fleshing out the context and importance of a systemic theory of change. Schwartz, Ashoka’s vice president of global marketing, emphasized the need to shift our mind-set from:

  • Transactional thinking to transformative thinking;
  • Business as usual to business as unusual;
  • Repetition to revolution.
De Sio, a member of Ashoka’s leadership group, and Drayton, Ashoka’s CEO and founder, summarized the context as follows:
  • The world is changing rapidly and we need to confront this fact;
  • We need a new way of organizing ourselves to meet the challenges of today’s fast-changing world;
  • We should embrace these challenges as an opportunity to innovate and approach social issues.
In addition, they stressed that because our global village is growing more complex and competitive by the day, our ability to adapt to this environment will be vital in the future for every individual living on our planet.
Through interactive exercises, the participants learned that there are three steps that one should take to become a leader who helps and inspires others to be changemakers:
  • Self-permission, i.e. overcome your fear of failure and permit yourself to speak up about an issue that you care about;
  • New pathways, i.e. think of new ways to tackle the issue;
  • No walls, i.e. bring down the walls of preconceptions and enable institutions to reframe the issue across different disciplines to bring about real, lasting changes.
So what does this all mean and which skill do we need to develop to make it happen? According to Ashoka, empathy is the foundational skill that every individual has to relentlessly cultivate, if he or she hopes to drive impact beyond the sectoral level—direct service or pattern change—and achieve framework change at a global scale.
Four years ago, I turned down an offer from a hedge fund in Hong Kong to “change the world” by starting a fair-trade company in Nepal. My friends and family members thought I had gone mad and, in hindsight, they were quite right. I had good intentions, but was completely misguided and, worst of all, ridden by a Messiah complex. Naturally, things did not go as I had planned. Only when I developed empathy for my local employees, thanks to numerous stomach conditions, nasty bed bug bites, and asthma from indoor air pollution (from cook-stove smoke), did I begin to make some progress at work. Empathy helped me become a more effective founder and CIO.
What I realized is that to change the world, we have to engage the world’s creative sons and daughters—there are billions—to work dynamically in a team of teams. It has dawned on me that I’m not a superman after all and that those powerless poor people who needed my help are actually my powerful allies, each capable of creating change that I can only dream of in their local communities.

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