Kinful: Harnessing the power of virtual reality as a revolutionary educational tool in teaching social-emotional learning.

What if we could teach empathy through experience — by using virtual reality to truly see the world through each other's eyes?

Photo of Michael Auerbach
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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

As Peace Corps Volunteers, we experienced deep immersion in a culture not our own, forming lasting connections that bolstered a steadfast belief that differences between humans are only skin deep. We created Kinful out of a desire to not just spread this message, but to provide learners the opportunity to come to the same conclusions. By leveraging virtual reality technology, Kinful aims to foster meaningful collaborative exercises between unfamiliar populations, not only providing a holistic social-emotional learning experience, but ultimately teaching cross-cultural empathy.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • New York

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • New York

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]


Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is largely absent from academic standards. Yet, research shows that SEL not only improves academic achievement by an average of 11 percentile points, but it also increases pro-social behaviors (such as kindness, sharing, and empathy); improves student attitudes toward school; and reduces depression and stress (Durlak et al., 2011). Without SEL programming, many students are left struggling to develop these pro-social and pro-academic skills crucial to future success in school, work, and life ( Kinful aims to fill this gap in the educational standard with an innovative K-12 curriculum that harnesses virtual reality to make SEL an exciting -- and critically beneficial -- component of every child's school year.

Kinful's approach to wellbeing is not about knowledge but experience. We believe that social-emotional competencies are not competencies that can be adopted through text but needs to be felt and practiced. Kinful fosters deep and personal social exchange by leveraging virtual technology to provide human interactions that allow students around the world to collaborate in ways that would be geographically and financially impossible at the rate and scale needed to foster genuine connection. By harnessing cutting edge technology to achieve social-emotional outcomes, Kinful is tapping into a growing support system for quality STEM programming and utilizing it for a new frontier of SEL experiential learning.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Community Development and Empowerment
  • Education

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Idea (poised to launch)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

We train teachers to deliver our in-classroom K-12 curriculum that utilizes virtual reality (360° videos) to push the bounds of SEL (related research: High-level overview of Kinful's student-centered learning: Who: Students explore a world not their own through the eyes of a total stranger What: Students share set of values related to self, friends, and family When: Students recall shared emotions with others Where: Students familiarize themselves with foreign places Why: Students identify underlying reasons for their actions and actions of others How: Students see themselves as part of a global network of changemakers (creating an interconnected society by bridging divides)

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Currently finalizing pilot curriculum. Projected future impact: Students are more successful in school and daily life when they know and can manage themselves; understand the perspectives of others; and are capable of making sound personal and social choices. -More positive attitudes toward oneself and others: confidence; persistence; empathy; connection and commitment to school; and a sense of purpose -More positive social behaviors and relationships with peers and adults -Reduced conduct problems and risk-taking behavior -Decreased emotional distress -Improved test scores, grades, and attendance In the long run, greater SEL competence can increase the likelihood of high school graduation; readiness for postsecondary education; career success; positive family and work relationships; better mental health; reduced criminal behavior; and engaged citizenship.

Organization Type

  • hybrid

Annual Budget

  • $1k - $10k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

We believe that our financial model is highly sustainable and scalable, resembling that of a software company. Initial upfront costs will chiefly revolve around development of the curriculum and related virtual reality videos. However, once we have the curriculum developed, ongoing costs will include any updates to the curriculum and cost of technology/equipment (VR headset = ~$15). Thus, our ongoing marginal costs will be minimal.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

Virtual reality is a massively growing wave in education ( However, most VR EdTech companies are focusing on science and geography. Kinful aims to be among the first to utilize VR technology to create an unprecedented SEL curriculum. Kinful's UVP is even more clear in "Kinful v2". V2 will incorporate our pilot-tested SEL curriculum with STEM skills training by having students produce their own virtual reality videos to share with their classroom partner, thereby meeting the demand for STEM and SEL programming in one curriculum package!

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

The educational paradigm is shifting before our eyes. Children need to develop as conscious citizens as well as learn new knowledge and skills, and we aim to join the educational movement that doesn't see these two goals as mutually exclusive. Kinful believes that by providing experiences aimed at student-centered learning and social emotional wellbeing rather than role learning, we are not only providing our participants with impactful opportunities to foster social change but also contributing to educational reform.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)


Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)


Program Design Clarity

a) K-12 classrooms participating in both the production and consumption of Kinful educational materials. b) Exercises that allow students to work together in person (classmates) and virtually (partner classroom) to grow their social-emotional learning capacities. c) In-school. The modules total 30 hours and can be deployed under flexible parameters while still meeting program dosage. d) Kinful trains educators to deliver the curriculum. This way, we maximize SEL outcomes by leveraging existing relationships to provide a conducive climate and expand assessment capabilities.

Community Leadership

We will take a closed feedback loop approach with our school partners when deploying our pilot curriculum, directly incorporating feedback from teachers and students alike and co-designing year 2 alongside each other.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

Our main strategy for shaping children's wellbeing on a systemic level is to join the existing movement, mostly led by CASEL, in establishing social-emotional learning as a component of education policy in all 50 states.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

1) Strong Sense of Self -- Kinful's curriculum is designed to achieve measurable short-term outcomes such as self-management, self-awareness, optimistic thinking, etc. (Devereux Center). 2) Purpose -- Kinful aims to build a pipeline of changemakers by equipping students with both SEL and STEM skills for ultimate social leadership. 3) Belonging -- The crux of Kinful, empathy through VR, is a basic building block of community.

Leadership Story

We met as founding members of Peace Corps' Gender & Development Initiative in West Africa. There, we co-founded and directed Girl Mentoring Centers (GMCs) in partnership with host-country nationals while contributing to Peace Corps' Girls' Education & Empowerment curriculum. Mauritania is a country marked by deep ethnic divisions. Our GMCs were designed to bring together students from all ethnic backgrounds to partake in equitable community capacity building programming. Through this unity, we witnessed firsthand the power of intercultural empathy as a key to unlocking humanity's potential.

Organization's Twitter Handle


Organization’s Facebook Page (URL)

Leader's LinkedIn Profile (URL)

Evaluation results

4 evaluations so far

1. Relevance: Does this project seem to help children (ages 0 to 12 years) develop a strong sense of self, belonging, and purpose?

5 - Yes, this is great! The project lays out a strong, compelling case for how its model nurtures children’s wellbeing. - 25%

4 - It seems like a good fit, and the model talks explicitly about children’s wellbeing. - 25%

3 - I think so. The project seems related to children’s wellbeing, but the logic is vague. - 50%

2 - Not sure. The project doesn’t have much to do with wellbeing, or it doesn’t give enough information. - 0%

1 - Nope, this project definitely doesn’t fit the challenge brief (e.g., It doesn’t help kids younger than 12, isn’t in the U.S., etc.) - 0%

2. Innovation: Does this project tackle children’s wellbeing from a new angle?

5 - I loved this! The project describes a novel model that addresses important cultural or systemic barriers. - 50%

4 - This is pretty cool. The project is addressing an important problem in a new or compelling way. - 50%

3 - I feel like there’s something there, but I want more details about what makes it distinctive. - 0%

2 - It’s a good project, but I’ve seen others like it before. - 0%

1 - It was confusing or hard to tell what it made it different. - 0%

3. Social Impact: What is this project’s potential for creating positive social impact?

5 - Lots of potential. This project is achieving impressive results, and it’s growing quickly. It could absolutely inspire changes in the ways we approach caring for kids nationally, across sectors (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

4 - Pretty good potential. This project demonstrates significant positive impact so far, and it could scale regionally or nationally one day and fundamentally change how a system operates (e.g. childcare, healthcare, education). - 25%

3 - Budding potential. This project is creating local impact, but it would take a few adjustments before it could scale. - 50%

2 - Some potential. This project demonstrates some initial positive impact, but it would require major changes before it could scale. - 0%

1 - Limited potential. This project has great intentions, but it looks like it does not include key drivers of a shift towards children’s wellbeing. - 0%

4. Overall, how do you feel about this idea?

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 25%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 50%

3 - I think the idea is great, but it needs some work before it moves onto the next round. - 25%

2 - I liked it fine but preferred others. - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. Needs significant revisions. - 0%

5. Offer some feedback. Where should this participant spend some time revising?

DEFINING THE PROBLEM. Make sure to articulate the root causes or main barriers of the social issue your project addresses. (Founding Story, Problem, Solution). - 33.3%

CLARITY OF MODEL. Make sure to mention (a.) the beneficiary, b) the main activities, and c) how those activities drive social impact. Keep it streamlined! - 100%

MARKETPLACE. Make sure to research other players in this space and articulate how this project is different. I didn’t get a complete sense of how this project compares to others. - 0%

IMPACT POTENTIAL. Make sure to use specific numbers to describe what your project has achieved so far! And consider how you might scale the model or its insights, through partnerships, trainings, or franchising. - 100%

WRITING STYLE. Try to stay concise and make it vivid. Avoid jargon. - 0%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Christy Beighe-Byrne

This is definitely a neat initiative. I really think the pictures told their own story and offered some insight into your model. I would suggest that you describe more of the activities and how the cross cultural exchange will work across language barriers. Overall, cool project and it is one that I could see being replicated if successful. I would definitely want to have it at our center!

Photo of Michael Auerbach

Hi Lee,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Agreed - IF done well we believe this project definitely has potential. To that end, we'll look to leaders in the SEL space, like CASEL, to ensure our curriculum is both impactful and age appropriate (we're aiming to partner with elementary schools).

Photo of Lee Erickson

I am intrigued by the idea of integrating modern technology with addressing SEL issues, Michael! If done well, it definitely has potential. You are correct in stating that the paradigm of education is changing before our eyes, and we would be well-advised to integrate technology wherever possible, especially if it is combined with interpersonal opportunities as well. (Sometimes I feel that young are in danger of being too detached from others.) I am interested in seeing the results of this project once it is fully implemented!