By Fran Simon | Tulane New Wave | firstname.lastname@example.org
October 19, 2015 11:00 AM
“Everything we do is student-driven…We build the organization based on who they are.”
Rabbi Yonah Schiller, Tulane Hillel
Empathy — the ability to recognize and respond to the feelings of another person — is the closest connection between two human beings. Empathy also is the place to start when undertaking an innovative enterprise, says Yonah Schiller, executive director and rabbi of Tulane Hillel.
Schiller is co-teaching a course at Tulane University called Introduction to Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship with Anna Monhartova, program director of Social Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship in the Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking. About half of the students in the class are first-year students. The students are from all majors, with many majoring in business or finance.
Schiller uses the Tulane Hillel model as a case study in the class. Each year, Hillel involves 200-plus students in its leadership incubator program. These leaders develop all of Hillel’s programming, with customized mentoring provided by the organization’s eight full-time staff, in addition to a dozen interns.
“Everything we do is student-driven,” Schiller says. “We try to align the institutional agenda with what the users feel most strongly about. We build the organization around them.”
At the end of last semester, Hillel surveyed 350 students about what mattered most. The No. 1 response was “atmosphere.”
“That’s an emotional response. You don’t often hear people talking about ‘atmosphere’ when thinking about community building. It is always surprising when we listen to what works for people.”
Empathy with those we interact with is good business, says Schiller, who earned his MBA from Tulane last May. Since he came to Tulane in 2008, Schiller has seen Hillel quadruple its user base. Increasingly, he is sharing Tulane Hillel’s success and model with others across the country.
When teaching innovation, Schiller starts with empathy, what he calls “meaningful listening.” Then, he teaches students how to use empathy to become co-creators and a “a friend of change.”
“For me, it’s intuitive.”