The Charter for Compassion forges ahead

Hope in the Heart’s Tam Martin Fowles updates us on the important work the Charter for Compassion is doing at home and abroad

We only have to look around us to see why a greater focus on compassion is needed in our local and global communities. With conflict, poverty and disease at epidemic proportions, our mainstream media focusing on negativity and fear, stress and mental ill-health rising all the time, we, as individuals and as a human race, need positive change – and we need it now.

The Charter for Compassion is an international document dedicated to restoring the Golden Rule ‘Always treat others as you would wish to be treated’ to communities worldwide. It is the manifestation of British author Karen Armstrong’s wish upon winning the Ted Talks prize in 2008, and was launched the following year. Since then, it has become a vibrant global movement, calling communities to activate and work together in order to create something greater than the sum of their parts.

Anyone can sign the charter; it’s simple and free. Organisations can become Charter Partners, joining a ‘network of networks’ comprising different sectors. Partners can share support, experience and learning, and can access regular telephone conference calls and a private Facebook page.

“We only have to look around us to see why a greater focus on compassion is needed in our local and global communities.”

There are currently 1,200 Charter Partners worldwide, and nearly 300 communities have signed the charter or are preparing to. In the UK, Belfast, Cornwall and Peel – Isle of Man – have signed, and 18 other communities are gearing up to join them.

Compassionate communities can be registered by partner organisations, and range from villages to whole countries (Botswana has signed and an all-Australia initiative is in the pipeline).

Cornwall became the world’s first compassionate county and England’s first compassionate community in November 2014, led by Hope in the Heart CIC, a social enterprise offering training to groups and businesses seeking positive change.

Cornwall already boasted a rich collection of compassionately-motivated organisations, and the initiative grew rapidly, registering around 40 partner organisations in three months and engaging community leaders and members.

Priorities for action vary according to the needs of individual communities, but Compassionate Cornwall is following an action plan to address issues including loneliness, diversity, youth empowerment and environmental sustainability. We have forged links with Charter for Compassion Pakistan, and developed a strong partnership with Botho, The Compassion Movement in Botswana.

I spent part of February in Gaborone, collaborating with Botho’s founder Magdalena Whoolery (who visited us in Cornwall last year), undergoing training and exploring potential links between partner organisations in our two communities. I also visited Johannesburg and Soweto, to learn from potential community leaders and encourage and support the development of initiatives there. Later this year we are hoping to welcome a group from Botswana who want to observe and learn from one of Cornwall’s established institutions.

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Hope in the Heart CIC is now offering services including a two-day training package to organisations wishing to instil a culture of compassion in the workplace, and the Compassionate Cornwall Initiative is preparing to move into a second stage of concentrated activity following a period of reflection, re-evaluation and exploration of the best way forward. We are seeking funding and consolidating our steering group before unveiling our next steps.

It is important to have a committed team and resources in place, and to follow the charter’s guidelines for developing a compassionate community. Passion, trust and vision are also vital ingredients, and shortage of funds or expertise (both lacking in the initial development of Compassionate Cornwall) should not prevent those important first steps.

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