April 10, 2019

Nonprofit Social Promise uses hands-on cross-cultural learning to build empathy in kids

Creating opportunities for children to walk a mile in another's shoes helps them learn the importance of giving back.

Social Promise's signature event, the African Adventure, gives children the opportunity to experience the daily routines of Ugandan children, which builds empathy and understanding.

I was never engaged in meaningful service work growing up. I volunteered at the church I attended with my family, but never learned about the needs of the people in my community or beyond. I managed to secure the few hours of community service required for school by doing various small projects, but I never felt a connection to what I was doing, and therefore, never took such experiences to the next level.

Fast forward many years later. I was married and about to have my third child. My sister-in-law introduced me to an amazing group of people living in Uganda; people who survived war, disease and were living in the most extreme poverty imaginable. A connection was made, and we learned. We learned about two amazing institutions doing remarkable work but lacking the financial means to fully support this work. After many years of learning from the people and forging a trusting relationship, the non-profit Social Promise was finally born.

Social Promise supports Lacor Hospital and St. Jude Children’s Home in Gulu, Uganda. Our mission is clear- to help one of the most vulnerable populations of people in the world. My first trip to Uganda will always be one of the most important experiences in my life. The people of Gulu wanted to be heard. They had a history no group of people should ever have had to endure, and they were eager to know that a broader public cared. I found myself wishing I had known about their situation earlier. Why wasn’t I encouraged or motivated to learn about others at a younger age? Why wasn’t I exposed to different cultures and how other people lived?

These thoughts, combined with a background in education, led to the development of the second part of Social Promise’s mission: to promote social awareness and to empower other people and institutions to establish a community dedicated to philanthropy.

In New York City, where my family lives, there is a multitude of activities — sports, art, music and academics, for children to be involved in with the goal of proficiency. Why not philanthropy? In my experience, young children have a natural ability to empathize and a strong desire to help other people. If, at an early age, they begin to learn about people like them in every way but their circumstances, that communal and global awareness will become an integral part of their lives, and these children will grow up with the knowledge, empathy, and understanding requisite to lead lives dedicated to volunteerism and philanthropy.


The young members of Social Promise gather for a hands-on learning event.

Social Promise is committed to educating young children in our own communities. Beginning at the young age of four, children begin to understand the differences between their lives and the lives of others. Our signature event in New York City, the African Adventure, has afforded children these opportunities in a hands-on and fun learning environment. Attendees experience the daily routines of Ugandan children: making toys from recycled materials, carrying baby dolls on their backs and imagining home life in a replica of a Ugandan mud hut.

Smaller versions of the African Adventure have been held in other states throughout the country as well as in elementary and preschools in the tri-state area.
Social Promise is fortunate to partner with other institutions to further its mission of education. Classes are held throughout the year in New York City for children ages 4-10. Additionally, a new partnership with HOBY Youth Leadership has allowed us to further our reach and teach sophomores in high school who are dedicated to living a life of service.

New York City is a community rich with culture and diversity. It is the ideal avenue in which to learn about other cultures and to expand that knowledge globally. Although philanthropy and volunteerism are vital characteristics in future generations, empathy and understanding are as well. As such, Social Promise views all the educational opportunities it presents with a critical eye. We want students to understand they have as much to learn from others as they have to learn about us. The word charity can sometimes carry a negative connotation to a critical ear. Our goal is to foster a partnership – two groups of people interacting, each with an abundance to learn from the other. When this sense of empathy is fostered, only then can we truly engage and help in a meaningful and long-lasting way.

For more information about Social Promise please visit www.socialpromise.org.

To learn more about current classes or to inquire about educational opportunities in your school or community, email sarahmcgee@socialpromise.org.

Sarah McGee

Co-Founder, Social Promise

Sarah McGee is the co-founder of Social Promise, an organization that partners with Ugandan nonprofits to help provide critical health and educational resources for the local communities they serve. She currently serves as the director of education and communication, which allows her to combine her two passions: philanthropy and education. Through her work for Social Promise, she seeks to inspire children in the United States to think critically about problems in the world, feel inspired to help other people, and foster a lifelong commitment to volunteerism and philanthropy. Sarah has visited Uganda multiple times to support Social Promise’s endeavors and organizes teams to run for Social Promise in the NYC Marathon, raising money and awareness for the organization’s life-saving programs. An advocate for youth and equal opportunity, Sarah received her B.S. in Childhood and Special Education from New York University and her M.A. as a Literacy Specialist from Columbia University. She is a member of the New York Junior League and the Central Park Conservancy Women’s Committee.