In a candid conversation with Inc., Lubetzky revealed that his father, a Holocaust survivor, had his first brush with death as a 10-year old. One day circa 1940, military forces raided the family's apartment complex in Lithuania, and the superintendent ordered that every Jewish family be slaughtered. He decided to spare Lubetzky's family--only because Lubetzky's grandfather had always treated him with respect. "Because my grandfather had treated the superintendent with dignity, this person rose up," Lubetzky tells me. "It's a very weird feeling to know that I'm alive because of someone like that."
Now, amid divisiveness in American politics, Lubetzky wants to teach the value of empathy--the very thing that once spared his family--to children across the world.
On Tuesday, the charitable arm of Lubetzky's snack empire, the Kind Foundation, announced a new initiative called Empatico. The program is designed to connect children from various cultures and socio-economic backgrounds, via a free live-chat tool. The foundation has designed specific lesson plans, including a two- to three-hour social studies course, where kids map out their schools and compare their worldview to that of their peers. All teachers need to access the program is a computer with a camera.
The aim is to cultivate leadership skills, in particular. The thinking is that the more empathetic children become, the more in tune they can be with the needs of their peers, allowing them to collaborate and find creative solutions to global problems.
The foundation, which is funded by corporate revenues and Lubetzky himself, has invested as much as $20 million in the effort. So far, about 100 teachers in 13 countries have signed up for the program. The goal is to reach more than one million students in 25 countries by the end of 2020. While Empatico is currently only available for students who can converse in English, there are plans to expand it to non-English speakers.
"The Kind Foundation was created to scale our social impact, and be able to deepen our focus on fostering empathy, and developing kinder communities," Lubetzky says of the organization's founding last year. Other initiatives have included Kind People, a campaign awarding $1.1 million to people trying to make a difference in their community, and the grant program Kind Causes.
But the idea for an empathy-related initiative was seeded long ago, well before Lubetzky launched Kind in 2004. While working on his first venture, which aimed to foster peace in the Middle East by selling food that Israelis and Palestinians had worked together to produce, Lubetzky realized that there was an opportunity to foster more cooperation. "Each community felt this fervent desire to be understood by the other side," he says.
But he sees Empatico as having particular resonance in 2017. "When I came up with this idea, I would have never imagined that it would be as critically important to the health of our own nation," he continues, referring to issues such as income inequality and discrimination in the U.S. "Any example of any political, civic, or religious leader that uses their platform to divide us, rather than unite us, is something that Empatico is going to oppose."
An earlier version of this article misstated the country where the Lubetzky family's apartment complex was located.