What’s the Deal with Packard's $100,000 Empathy Grants?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share in the feelings and emotions of other people. According to Carol Larson, President and CEO of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, “Empathy is a unifying strength of leaders and organizations that work to make our communities strong and thriving. Empathy skills can be essential for problem solving and innovation.”

With these definitions in mind, the Packard Foundation joined forces with Ashoka Changemakers, the largest network of social entrepreneurs in the world, to search for initiatives that cultivate empathy in local communities. It’s an online competition called Building Vibrant Communities: Activating Empathy to Create Change, and the grantmaker is willing to put $500,000 towards empathetic pursuits (Read David and Lucile Packard Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

Ashoka’s empathy initiative was launched in 2011 through support from the Einhorn Family Charitable Trust and the Brin Wojcicki Foundation.

The Building Vibrant Communities initiative is heavily focused on San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties. Packard and Ashoka have specifically encouraged nonprofits from Salinas to apply. This encouragement comes after the Monterey County town heals from three fatal shootings involving police and subsequent riots.

According to an article in the Californian, only a few Salinas nonprofits have applied so far. Packard spokeswoman Melissa Daar Carvajal said that she wants to “encourage Salinas groups/people to think of innovative projects and enter (the contest), as well as to bring the topic of empathy to the forefront. Could the healing/challenging conversations with police be a starting ground to propose something bigger in Salinas?” One Salinas-area applicant is Restorative Justice Partners, which wants to use the grant money to create a Positive School Climate Leadership Team.

Four $100,000 prizes will be awarded to the top entries received, and up to two Idea Prizes of $50,000 will be awarded to early stage initiatives. To learn more about Packard’s empathy initiative or to apply, check out the Changemaker’s website. The deadline to apply has already passed and finalists will be announced on August 27th.

What's interesting to us is how the concept of empathy is getting more attention from funders these days. Back in May, we wrote about David Einhorn's funding in this area, which strikes us as unusual, important, and interesting. It's cool to see a big funder like Packard putting serious money on the table for such work and a credit to Einhorn that other funders are following his lead here. 

Ashoka's passion here is also notable, given their tendency to be on the cutting edge of things. 

"Empathy-based ethics are the essential foundation  for 21st century changemaking," Bill Drayton, CEO and Founder of Ashoka, said in a press release. "If we had to name a single, overarching success factor among our global network of social entrepreneurs, it would be the ability to put empathy into action."