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Vicarious Experiences

Invite inspiring guest speakers and share movies and books through which learners can experience challenges the world faces and ways to contribute.


The Library

When I asked Claude Belleau from EstrieAide how do you spark learners to expose themselves to the world when they cannot afford “plane tickets”? His answer was short: “the library”—another way to make one live. Many other interviewees also shared the titles of books that had changed their lives: SiddharthaFreedom from the KnownThe Alchemist, and The Power of Now. By being intentional when sharing readings, you can change learners’ lives. The internet can also be a source of inspiration.

The Guest Speakers

In Japan, I attended a class taught by Kan Suzuki, an advisor to the minister of education and one of the most influential Japanese educational reformists. The class was about "ways of learning" and Suzuki had invited a famous kendo teacher to talk about experiential learning through mind and body. Suzuki simply sat in his chair, crossed his arms, and watched the Kendo expert do the work (he did get up to participate in a few demonstrations, delighting his students!). Throughout the class, the body language of the students showed how they were amazed by the kendo demonstration; they inched forward in their seats, and those in the back row stood up to see better. That is only one example, but I have often heard students say their favorite part of a class was the guest speakers.


Questions for Educators

  • What books, movies, guestspeakers would inspire learners to take action for a better world in your field?

  • Who are the changemakers that are applying theory to create real-life solutions?

  • Who would your learners want to meet?

Vicarious Experiences


Expose them to the world, let them see the inequalities and injustices, existing solutions and innovations. This can be through travel abroad or within their own communities.


A Plane Ticket

Claude Belleau had been a UN officer for 20 years before deciding to return to his hometown where he is now leading EstrieAide, a non-profit that refurbishes second-hand items to make them accessible to disadvantaged populations. When I asked him, “how do you spark one’s will to contribute to a better world?” He replied with no hesitation: “a plane ticket.” He had been transformed by a trip to France in his late teens, a trip that fed his desire to work internationally for the UN. According to Belleau, “when one discovers the world, one discovers themselves.”

An Experience Abroad

For Raiki Machida, it was a tour around the world teaching underprivileged youth to drum that sparked his will to contribute to a better world. He is now CEO of ImaginEx Japan which strives to help Japanese students develop a growth mindset and the soft skills required to succeed in the 21st century. In general, the most common answer to what “sparked” interviewees to contribute to a better world was an experience in which they had been exposed to the world—to the harsh realities, the power and privilege gap and/or environmental challenges.  

Community Based

There are limitations to giving out flight tickets, but simply sharing meaningful travel options for learners to consider could transform their lives. Also, there is not always a need for a plane ticket, just being exposed to the challenges one's own community faces can suffice to spark a desire to contribute to a better world. For instance, Ashoka Japan's Youth Venture program has been supporting youth who take actions with their intrinsic motivation that lead to create change in their community. Since 2011, Ashoka Japan has provided over 89 teams (over 350 young changemakers) with seed funding, reflection space, peer support and networking opportunities. They also organize events such as youth retreats to help aspiring changemakers receive feedback and develop themselves as well as their community projects.

Keep Exploring

  • Workaway.infoA Databaseof opportunities to travel and work abroad in exchange for food and board.

  • KnowmadsAn Alternative Business Schoolin the Netherlands for adults wanting to discover their spark.

  • Youth Initiative Program (YIP)A 1-Year Programin Sweden that exposes young adults to help them find their calling.

  • United World CollegesA Movement of Collegesaround the world that brings together high schoolers from different countries for peace and sustainability.

  • Where there be dragonsStudy Abroad Programsto expose students to wide array of experiences.





Give them the opportunity to serve others meaningfully and feel the reward of making a difference. This can be done by offering various volunteer opportunities or even encouraging them to help their peers. 

Aha Moment

That feeling of fulfillment that comes from serving others can also spark a desire to better the world. Julia Delafield, director at the Center for Executive Education at the U.N.-mandated UPEACE in Costa Rica, had her “aha moment” when she was pondering her work at Rainforest Alliance and realized her passion for serving others through social business—how she was inspired to empower people to tap into market systems to help make the world a better place. From then on, she became determined to build upon this into her work.


Educators can encourage students to connect with local mission-driven organizations or even integrate meaningful service into curricula. For instance, Aziz Choudry, a professor at McGill University, believes "the most valuable learning for social change happens through doing, and when people act and learn collectively."Therefore, he integrates a mandatory practicum in a community organization in some of his classes to spark student's interest for social change. When selecting placements, he is careful as not to impose burden on the organization and select opportunities in which his students will feel useful. He also offers follow up discussions in which students get to stand back and reflect upon their practice.  ​

The Spark

For Hiroshi Nemoto, a graduate student at Tokyo University, his spark came from joining Katariba, “a non-profit that promotes student motivation.” This then led him to join Teach for Japan where he further developed his will and curiosity to promote innovation. As a result, he now works at the Tokyo where he helps Japanese students develop their curiosity and innovative mindset.


Breath of Experiences

Canada World Youth, which offers youth transformative international learning experiences, gives volunteers the chance to work with mission-driven organizations working on a range of issueswomen's rights, sustainability, homelessness. In doing so, participants discover which field interests them the most.






Not every volunteering experience is created equally. Some schools require students to complete a certain number of volunteer hours. But if students are simply volunteering to “check the box,” they won't always find the experience meaningful. It is important for the experience to be related to students' interests and field of studies.

Questions for Educators:

  • What service opportunities would be the most interesting and meaningful for your learners?

  • What community organization could you reach out to?

  • How can you encourage your learners to partake in meaningful service?

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The Why

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Develop their intrinsic motivation by exploring their sense of purpose, reason for being, and drive to contribute to a better world.

The "Why"

Encourage learners to explore their “Why?” to help them build intrinsic motivation. This notion of the “Why?” came up over and over throughout my interviews. My first and most memorable moment was with Jean Bibeau, a professor at Université de Sherbrooke in Canada. The interview, scheduled for an hour, lasted 3 hours, and I walked away with a tear of joy in my eye. He questioned me: “Why do your wake up in the morning?” and “Why are you doing this research?” His questions helped me build clarity of motive. We also talked about how to ingrain the “Why?” within a curriculum.

Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose

The book Drive by Daniel H. Pink identifies three components to fostering learners' intrinsic motivation. The first is autonomy which is to give learners the freedom to chose what, how, and when they want to work. Depending on the situation, educators can give full autonomy, partial autonomy such as offering a list of projects to chose from, or give some freedom within assigned tasks. The second is mastery which stems from humans innate drive to improve. Educators can foster mastery by encouraging practice, exchanging constructive feedback, and by helping learners identify and focus their energy. The third is purpose which stems from the fact that people are more likely to do what they need to do if it will have an impact on other people’s lives or make them better at other things. To foster a sense of purpose, educators can give tasks that learners will find relevant in their own life. 

Finding Purpose

Patrick Cook-Deegan, founder and director of Project Wayfinder, also claims “we need to bring a sense of what I call ‘whyness’ back into education.” To do so, his team is developing a toolkit that high school teachers can use to help students explore their purpose. In the Greater Good Magazine, he suggests seven ways to help high schoolers find purpose:

  1. Prioritize internal motivation over external achievement

  2. Foster collaboration

  3. See teachers as mentors and coaches

  4. Take students out into the world

  5. Learning from failure

  6. Value students’ inner lives

  7. Start with the why



Note how I wrote "to explore" and not "to find" a "why." It is not about finding the great big "why" as an end goal, but about exploring little "whys" along the way to better understand one's motive and interests.

Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset

Help them realize they can learn whatever they need to whenever they need to 
and encourage them to seek improvement. This can be done by establishing a culture of constructive feedback and by intentionally praising.


Changemaker Mindset

According to Alex Budak in The Changemaker Mindset, “It’s all about having the right mindset, which enables and empowers one to accomplish great things. And this mindset is accessible to anyone and everyone.”  

Love for Learning

Carol Dweck, a lead researcher in the field of motivation, states that “in a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” If you can foster this love of learning, your learner can learn whatever they need, whenever they need. That might sound easier said than done, but there are concrete actions you can take to help foster a growth mindset. To learn more, see Carol Dweck's Ted Talk on the power of believing you can improve.

Setting a Culture of Feedback

Northern Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), one of the world’s largest outdoor education schools, has ingrained feedback throughout its organization. After each trip, participants give both written and spoken feedback to their instructors and to the organization; instructors also give feedback to participants and the organization. As a result, the instructors, the students, and the organization are constantly improving.​ Establishing such a culture of feedback and encouraging youth to give and seek constructive feedback are key in developing their growth mindset.

Praising for Growth Mindset

The way educators praise can also help foster growth mindsets. Instead of referring to the end goal, “you made a beautiful drawing,” praise the process, “wow, I’m impressed by the amount of time and effort you put into this painting.” This helps learners value the process and not only the end goal, helping them develop their growth mindset—a key to eternal self-improvement. To learn more, see this short video of a study on praise and mindset.


Encourage them to be curious, ask well-crafted questions, seek answers, and share their thoughts and ideas with others. This can be done through open-ended projects in which they can take ownership of their questions.


Student-led Projects

Sparking one’s curiosity can empower learners to expose themselves to the world and develop their growth mindset. Sometimes, that just means creating space for them to ask questions. In a Science & Society class at UWC ISAK Japan Summer School, students were challenged to come up with their own science problem and then create a solution. They were given the freedom to ask whatever questions they were curious about and were taught about the Design Thinking process (more on this later) to come up with a solution. As they were fulfilling their own curiosity, participants were highly motivated during the exercise. One group explored ways to reduce the cost of producing electric cars, another group made a website to raise environmental awareness, and a group prototyped how to make insulated walls out of recycled bottles.

The Art of Asking Questions

In Leading with Questions, Michael J. Marquardt suggests a series of questions for good leaders. Every learner should be familiar with these simple questions as they could unleash their growth mindset:

  1. What can we learn from this?

  2. How can I help?

  3. How can we do better next time?

  4. What would you do in my position?

  5. How can I improve my communication?

Keep Exploring

  • Listening guideA Scientific Paperabout asking genuine questions and actively listening to the answers.




Foster their ability to love, see the world from another's perspective, and strive for the betterment of society. This can be done through various empathy-building exercises.


Start Empathy Toolkit

Ashoka, “a global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs—individuals with innovative and practical ideas for solving social problems,” identified empathy as the foundation “to everyone’s ability to live successful, fulfilled lives as changemakers.” My oversimplified definition of empathy is the ability to put yourself in another’s shoes; see this short video, Brené Brown on Empathy, for a more complex explanation of empathy. Ashoka has published the Start Empathy Toolkit to help educators ingrain empathy in their curriculum from a young age. The toolkit offers advice on how to set up a class culture that foster empathy and gives concrete activity ideas that can be done to foster learners’ empathy. The pioneer of the toolkit, Mary Gordon, states, “Children cannot simply be told about behaviors like kindness and sharing; they must meaningfully experience them.”   

Empathy Mode

Empathy is at the core of Design Thinking,  a process developed at Stanford to help designers across disciplines develop products and experiences with an emphasis on the user. An Introduction to Design Thinking explains the “empathy mode” as your “effort to understand the way they do things and why, their physical and emotional needs, how they think about the world, and what is meaningful to them.” In the Design Thinking process, learners develop empathy by observing the user and engaging with them through formal and informal interactions such as interviews. Stanford’s bootcamp bootleg guide to design thinking offers a wide array of activities that can be used for learners to build empathy.  



Help them find balance in life, adopt healthy self-care practices, engage in exercise, eat healthily, and adopt a regular sleep schedule. Ensure they enjoy the steps of the changemaking process.


Change from Within

Amani Institute offers program to unlock participants' potential to build a career with social impact. One of the key takeaway for Sebastien Engelman, Alumnus of the program, was the question "How do you have to change yourself in order to make external change happen effectively?" Geraldine Hepp, Global Community Director and Leadership trainer at Amani Institute, explains that social innovation is not just about how to most effectively address a specific challenge but also about how YOU can most effectively create that change. During the program, participants are encouraged to explore and develop the habits and 'soft' skills needed to navigate the challenges they encounter as professionals in the social sector and to make the change they want to see happen. By deeply understanding what it takes to change on a personal level, they can then help their teams go through change processes and design better interventions.



As explained by Jonathan S. Kaplan, founder of Urban Mindfulness, “mindfulness allows us to recognize our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors as they arise without getting stuck in our usual, automatic reactions.” There are numerous ways to incorporate principles of mindfulness into teaching practices. For instance, at UWC ISAK Japan Summer School, leadership is defined as the practice of focusing on what’s important and most needed and taking action. To help participants grasp the concept, facilitators draw a parallel between the focus on breath exercised through meditation and the ability to focus on whatever is important. They explained that the ability to focus is something that can be trained. Participants also took part in a Mixed Media Mindfulness class, for which they made drawings, took pictures, and observed the surrounding environment as a way to train their ability to focus.


Mind & Body

Sparking learners desire to care and help others is great, but it is also important to support their holistic well-being. This might start with simply checking in with them, being empathetic, and being there to support their needs. It might include encouraging them to adopt healthy eating habits and ensuring that they have time and opportunities to move! This short video on exercise and the brain summarizes SPARK, a book that outlines the importance of exercise for the brain.

Questions for Educators

  • How can you support your learners in adopting healthy habits?

  • How can you create a holistic learning environment in which learners will be more prone to learning?

  • How can you ingrain movement in your teaching practices?


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Self Care

Guide learners to find their own contribution to the world.

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