Kim Smiley

When I was three years old, my parents embarked on a yearlong exodus across eight countries in Asia. Although I was only a little girl, this trip changed the trajectory of my life. Since the most formative age, I’ve felt like an outsider looking in, my heart inscribed with an unquenchable sense of social justice.

I grew up in a bohemian home in Montreal, with deep Jewish roots. My paternal grandmother, Rose, hosted the local synagogue in the basement of her home. While my maternal grandmother, also Rose, was a Woman of Valour to her core.

My family practiced Judaism to the beat of our own drum. “Live and let live” was our mantra. Education was paramount, so was a life lived with purpose. My parents raised us to use our gifts to uplift others. “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

After toying with a career in academia, I found my calling in the nonprofit world: first, at the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre and Museum; then at Habitat for Humanity Toronto. I ultimately landed in the cradle of the community: UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, where my role focused on enriching the lives of vulnerable populations. During my 13 years in philanthropy, I encountered countless people who, despite the pain and suffering that surrounds us, confirmed what my parents taught me to be true: the world is good.

Since leaving the charitable sector, I’ve founded a social enterprise that marries fashion, philanthropy and social justice, and launched a nonprofit to galvanize a global empathy revolution. Today, The Empathy Effect inspires over 270,000 people in 75 countries. But we are just beginning.

We live in a world that is hyper-connected technologically, but progressively disconnected emotionally, interpersonally and spiritually. The Empathy Effect is a wake up call to bridge the abyss that divides us. That is the imperative of community: a rallying cry for connection. An injunction to heal the fractures and inequalities that exist within us and between us.

There is so much darkness in the world. But instead of bemoaning the shadows, community is about harnessing the light. This is the legacy my husband and I want to leave for our children, Samuel and Maya. This is the legacy of The Empathy Effect. May we use the power of empathy to make the world more tender and illuminated. May we raise our children to measure their worth by how much they have been a blessing to others.