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The Empathy Project

We are using Nike Grind materials to promote the sharing of stories among strangers in an effort to promote empathy in our communities.

Photo of Colleen O'Connor
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Please refer to the attachment included in this submission. For your convenience, we have copied the link here:

Which Nike Grind materials will your idea utilize?

  • Rubber Outsoles
  • Rubber Granulate
  • EVA Foam Sheets & Blocks
  • EVA Foam Components
  • Laminated EVA Foam
  • Laminated PU Foam

How specifically will these materials be incorporated into your solution?

Throughout our design process, our team was inspired by the variety of colors present in the rubber granulate material. To us, the multi-colored granulate serve to represent the multiplicity and diversity of backgrounds and experiences that we aim to bring together with The Empathy Project. Thus, we plan to use the rubber granulate to make picture frames that participants will receive at the end of their interactions. After the two strangers have engaged in an icebreaker and have shared stories, they will be asked to separately write down a part of their identity that is not easily assumed by onlookers. These identities will help fill in a poster to hold for a final photograph together. It reads, “This is what _____ and ______ looks like.” The photograph, which will be placed in the frame made by the Nike rubber granulate, will serve as a lasting physical reminder to participants that people from all walks of life, no matter how old, young, rich, or poor, can find joy and empathy with one another. Therefore, the rubber granulate and Nike Grind materials are a physical component that serve to facilitate a humanizing shared experience. To achieve this goal, we will use the Nike Grind rubber granulate to make the picture frames described above. We plan to utilize the shape and granulometry of the Nike Grind granules to allow for the mechanical pressing of these materials into picture frames. These materials will be combined with a form of epoxy, which will act as a glue to set the granules into place. We have also chosen to use the EVA form to create the back of the picture frames. If the participants choose to change the photo in the future, additional waste will not be created, as picture frames may be reused. In addition to adding metaphorical purpose to our mission, the multi-colored rubber granulate will also create aesthetically-pleasing picture frames that will remind our participants of both the celebrated diversity and humanizing sameness of strangers.

Please include a visual (can be either 2D or 3D) representation/prototype of your concept. (required)

Please refer to the attached image for a 3D prototype.

What is the current stage of development of your idea?

  • Research & Early Testing
  • Prototyping

Describe your target market. Who will benefit from your product?

We hope to begin by bringing The Empathy Project to Boston, Burlington, and New York City. This project is nondiscriminatory and focuses on bringing strangers together for a fun experience that showcases people’s humanness and ability to connect. Therefore, our target market is anyone who passes by our setup and chooses to partake. By receiving a framed photograph at the end of their experience, participants will walk away with a tangible reminder that kindness exists around every corner.

How will you scale your idea? Please describe in detail your plan to scale your concept.

The Empathy Project will become economically sustainable and profitable by partnering with corporations who seek to both advertise to our participants. We also envision that, as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility, partnering companies will take a more active role in coming up with ice breakers or question prompts for our participants. For example, a partnership with Burton Snowboards would not just mean that we would include Burton’s name in the banner in front of which each participant takes a picture. Rather, it could also translate into a Burton-themed ice breaker (think simulated snowball fight in the middle of summer using white yarn balls) or a story-evoking question such as “if your life was an illustration on a snowboard, what would it look like and why?” We are aware that it is human nature to remain in one’s own 'bubble'. However, The Empathy Project brings with it the perfect combination of the weird, the wonderful, and the worthwhile to engage passerbys.

How is your idea innovative?

If you had told us a few months ago that all our human-centered design efforts would result in a pitch to make a picture frame out of Nike Grind materials, we probably would have laughed. However, through this process, we’ve realized that a picture frame, as mundane as it may seem, can be the physical representation of multiplicity and diversity that exists in society. Additionally, our business model is innovative in that it promotes the active participation of partnering corporations.

What inspired this idea?

The Empathy Project is an endeavor that aims to forge meaningful connection among strangers. Discouraged by the lack of empathy that seems to exist between people of diverse backgrounds, we were inspired to create something that facilitates joy and the sharing of stories.

Tell us about yourself and your team. What is your background and experience?

Hi! We are Colleen and Matt, two Human-Centered Design students at Dartmouth College looking to make a positive impact in the world. With the help of Nike, we hope to continue to promote empathy among strangers both at home and around the globe.

In what city are you located?

Hanover, NH

In what country are you located?


Please describe how becoming a Top Idea will support the growth of your concept.

The Nike Grind Challenge has already sparked us to create The Empathy Project, and we are excited by the possibility of gaining funding to make this idea a reality. If selected as a Top Idea, we would be able to expand from the New Hampshire and Vermont area to bring our project to others across the United States and use Nike Grind materials to leave participants with a tangible item that reminds them of the goodness that exists in the world if we open our minds to embrace our differences.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lauren Ito

Hi Colleen,

A reminder that the ideas phase of this Challenge closes in less than one hour, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. Please have your submission updated by this deadline with content to all proposal questions complete.

Excited to have you in the Challenge!

Photo of Colleen O'Connor

Hi Lauren,

Thank you for reaching out! I have updated my submission and republished it.

Excited to be part of the Challenge,