In a world which is often said to lack empathy, UTS Business School graduate Nathan Wiltshire is harnessing deeper human understanding as a key problem-solver in the fields of education, business and policy.
A part of his grand vision is to introduce empathy as a university discipline, teaching students to solve complex matters via deep unbiased understanding of other people’s realities. “Imagine the positive impact of applying an empathy framework into government policy-making and business solutions,” says Nathan. “Too many of the world's problems can be traced to a root cause of ignorance, yet a narrow minded, self-centred view keeps us trapped in a tiny cage.”
"Imagine the positive impact of applying an empathy framework into government policy-making and business solutions."
Rejecting conformity early on, Nathan has always looked for innovative human-centred approaches to business. His early interests led him to a Bachelor of Management in Tourism, before taking on the MBA four years later. It was here that his dream began to take shape, with Nathan establishing the South of the Border enterprise in collaboration with classmate, Baptiste Bachellerie.
He also reinforced his interest in innovation and development through travelling to India with the BUiLD (Beyond UTS International Leadership Development) program, seeing first-hand the benefits of supporting local small business through micro-finance.
While engaged with several start-up activities in early 2013, Nathan took some time to reflect on his interests, achievements and what drives him. Empathy was the common thread. “So upon the realisation I organised a move to India to immerse myself in the field of empathic innovation to pursue my vision,” Nathan recalls.
India provided him with plentiful opportunities to test emphatic approaches to doing business. Armed with great networking skills, Nathan met people whose intellectual ideas and theories helped sharpen his experience and understanding of empathy.
During this time, he worked Project Co-Lead at a social enterprise called Drishtee, and secured a seed funding grant to create a program that facilitates market-based human-centred innovation for rural communities in India and across the developing world.
“The Drishtee team and I created an immersive program for organisations such as multi-national corporations to build understanding and meaningful insights with rural communities, develop human-centred innovation team capabilities, and to see the connections of wider societal contexts,” he explains.
Based in Mumbai, Nathan travelled all over India and met some inspiring people who shared his vision, amongst them Professor Anil Gupta, a renowned academic at India’s leading university, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. Professor Gupta, innovation advocate and follower of the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi, was to become an influential figure in Nathan’s journey.
Later this year, Nathan will accompany the professor on a Shodh Yatra trip to the most remote and poorest communities in India. The main focus of this challenging trip, done mostly on foot, will be to discover and support local inventions aimed at improving the livelihood of the communities. “This journey celebrates creativity at grassroots,” says Nathan. “It is great to see grassroots innovators solving the needs of their communities with empathy - not for fame or fortune but because this approach works best in solving the most pressing human needs.”
Completion of his degrees hasn’t severed Nathan’s connection with UTS. Currently working as a tutor for UTS Business School’s Integrative Business Perspectives (IBP) subject, he’s greatly enhanced the student experience, introducing a peer mentoring program for the subject.
The program, which in its trial phase comprises 22 mentors and 400 students before being scaled next year to 1,600 students, has empathy at its core. Mentors help students with technical advice on classwork, but also turn their learning experience into personal wisdom. “Mentors help tackle a problem, for example, how to solve global poverty, from the perspective of a student. It makes the final learning outcome enriching for mentor and student alike, promoting and creating empathy in the process”.
In Nathan’s view, UTS is the most innovative university in Australia, well ahead of the game in terms of its teaching practices. Add his vision and drive to that mix, and perhaps a dedicated university subject in empathy is not so far in our future.
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