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Civic Impact

Toronto "Empathy Toy" finds its way to universities and colleges worldwide

Empathy Toys at Cambridge University

When she founded Twenty One Toys back in 2012, Ilana Ben-Ari didn’t have post-secondary education institutions on her radar. The company’s first product, the Empathy Toy, is a blindfolded puzzle game originally designed with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind “to bridge the communication gap between visually impaired students and their sighted classmates.” Its knack for creating empathy between those playing together has given the Empathy Toy an appeal beyond the visually impaired, often in grade-school classrooms. But Ben-Ari quickly became surprised at where the calls were coming from.

“We had people from post-secondary institutions contacting us. We weren’t pitching to them, we weren’t marketing to them,” says Ben-Ari. “But we’ve found the toys are both being used by the students in their courses, but also by staff. I think Michael Cassidy [associate dean in the Faculty of Continuing and Professional Studies at Sheridan College] said it best: They’re moving from information to participation. I think they see the toys as an object that allows them to teach more based on experience.”

Starting with Sheridan College, where the Empathy Toy is used in five departments including Continuing Education and Business, Twenty One Toys has become involved with more than 30 post-secondary institutions, sometimes just selling the toy to the institution, but often offering training with it. “At Sheridan Continuing Education we’re excited to be partnering with Twenty One Toys to look at new ways of answering the question, ‘How do we teach 21st Century skills?’ says Cassidy. “We have trained several of staff admin and instructional team on their innovative Empathy Toy, and have begun the exciting journey of using its lessons to inform the redesign of our courses and programs. We are looking forward to continuing to incorporate their current and future toys into our program and working together to build the future classroom for lifelong and professional learning.”

Later this year, the Twenty One Toys team are flying to Hong Kong to train 50 MBA students on empathy and business at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Someone they had been working on their logistics told his former professor about the toy. “It’s important for us to explain our core values to these students very early on in the program so the impact they have in that day can continue on with their lives,” says Ben-Ari.

Writer: Paul Gallant
Source: Ilana Ben-Ari 
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