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Gamer to global connecter, Ryan Modjeski

Ryan Modjeski, Executive Director of Empatico, joins Purposely Podcast to share his leadership journey.

Californian Ryan Modjeski heads up a non-profit that helps children connect and make friends with their peers globally. Described as an online pen-pal service for primary/K-9 aged children Empatico helps them experience other cultures. The organisation provides new ways of seeing and connecting with the world, all from the safety of the classroom.

We want kids to meet and communicate with people who they think might be different from them. In our experience it shows them that they have a lot more in common than they thought they did. Our mission is to prepare the next generation for this increasingly connected world. Helping them to navigate cross cultural relationships with empathy and what we believe is a core component for success in life and in business.'

Ryan's path to non-profit leadership is unique, following completion of an Arts degree in creative writing, he ended up designing online games for a living. A good move for Ryan, combining his love for gaming with his creative writing ability.

His work involved the 'Gamification' of television programmes, from Beavis and Butt-Head to Criminal Minds and everything in between.

Ryan enjoyed his career in ‘gaming’, however he felt unfulfilled and wanted to make more of a positive difference to the world utilising his varied knowledge and skills. He points to Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami who featured a character who wrote articles for travel magazines that were never meant to be read.

‘He called it shovelling cultural snow and it really resonated with me, in some ways I was shovelling cultural snow for a job. I had learned how to build technology, how to write stories, how to work with artists and engineers and all of that was fantastic. But I also knew that it wasn't really what I wanted to do with my career’.

Ryan made the decision to start his own business, switching from making games purely for entertainment value to creating educational content that engaged children. His target was 7–10-year-olds who had stopped reading. Eventually this led him to a role working in the non-profit sector for UNICEF focused on building technology to empower children across the globe.

I had built this really incredible programme where we empowered kids who typically didn't like to learn or had difficulty learning, they also didn’t understand that they had the power to make the difference in the world’.

The UNICEF Kid Power platform, also described as ‘streaming for good’ provides hundreds of activity videos and self-driven content for children, families and educators to access.

Following five successful years at UNICEF, Ryan applied for the role as Executive Director at Empatico and started in mid-2021 during the global pandemic. The role was a perfect fit for Ryan, but he had joined during challenging times. He had to convince the Board, who had just hired him, that they would need to redevelop the platform to meet the new demands of Covid-19.

‘The pandemic threw a 'monkey wrench' into our goals and we have just now re-launched the service’.

Despite the challenges the organisation continues to go from strength to strength. Empatico now has nearly 60,000 educators from over 166 countries accessing the service and 100,000 children have experienced live exchanges with kids from around the world.

Empatico was founded by social entrepreneur Daniel Lubetzky and The KIND Foundation.


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