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Members of Compassionate City Belfast stand with Mayor Mairtin O’ Muilleoir at the Belfast City Hall where the Charter for Compassion was signed on June 2. Photo: Compassionate City Belfast

On June 2, the city of Belfast, Ireland, signed the Charter for Compassion, an initiative launched by 2008 TED Prize winner Karen Armstrong, making it the 40th city to adopt the Charter. Given Northern Ireland’s history of sectarian violence, this was a major breakthrough. More than 100 people, including representatives from all political parties, attended the official announcement which took place at the Belfast City Hall.

We thought we would check in with Frank Liddy, a Charter for Compassion organizer in the city. A Belfast native, Liddy has spent more than 25 years counseling trauma victims through the Belfast Mindfulness Centre, many of them traumatized by “The Troubles,” the colloquial term given to the sectarian violence in Northern Ireland that claimed more than 3,600 lives between the 1960s and 1980s. Read on to hear how that experience led him to Karen Armstrong’s TED Prize wish.

Was there any particular incident in your life that spurred your interest in learning more about compassion?

I was born and bred in Belfast, brought up through The Troubles. During the 1970s, when I was about 20-years-old, I witnessed a horrific bomb blast in Belfast and I was one of the first to rush in to rescue people. I was horrified and shocked after that, and I knew it was trauma. Trauma has a good way of bringing about denial. I didn’t want to talk about it at first, but I knew something was wrong. I thought, “Violence can’t be the answer; there has to be another way.” The only thing I came across in the 1970s, during my search for a non-violent way, was His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which then took me on a search to find out more about Buddhism.

How did studying Buddhism and mindfulness change you?

I found that “frozen Frankie” began to thaw. I slowly got my feelings and my emotions back. When you’re traumatized, you freeze up and you can’t really participate. I studied with Panchen Ötrul Rinpoche [a high-ranking Tibetan lama] for a while, and then His Holiness the Dalai Lama came to Belfast in 2000, at which point I was asked to be his assistant. Being in His Holiness’s presence had an equally great impact. Did you know that “Dalai Lama” actually means “ocean of compassion?” It oozes from him, and because there is that love, there is no fear—you get a sense of loving kindness, a kind of warmth. I was able to ask him many of the questions I’d been harboring for years and one was about all the anger I’d felt about what’d happened and about not being able to do anything about the violence. He told me that the way forward is through forgiveness and that forgiveness comes through compassion. He said: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

Frank Liddy, a Charter for Compassion organizer in Belfast, has spent more than 25 years counseling trauma victims through the Belfast Mindfulness Centre. Photo: Courtesy of Frank Liddy

Frank Liddy, a Charter for Compassion organizer in Belfast, has spent more than 25 years counseling trauma victims through the Belfast Mindfulness Centre. Photo: Courtesy of Frank Liddy

Did experiencing the trauma of the bomb blast change your life?

The bomb for me was an awakening—a rude awakening, but one that catapulted me into that challenge of what’s going on, and what can be done about it. I applied my background in counseling to working with trauma victims. Trauma can have a cumulative effect—almost like layers—and being brought up in Belfast through The Troubles, one has to be troubled. For me, it was about engaging in a practice that was of value and benefit and that’s when I would say I began to “wake up.” I wanted to share this with others by spreading the ideas of compassion and mindfulness.

Given your personal experience, do you think there’s a relationship between suffering and compassion?

Back in the 1970s, Mother Teresa was in Belfast and she was asked by TV presenter: “When do you think there will be peace in Ireland?”  And she replied: “When people have suffered enough.” For me and the rest of Belfast, that was the last thing we wanted to hear. Had we not suffered enough? Truth be told, that really stuck with me. Unfortunately, trauma wants us to stay away from suffering; trauma wants us to create some Wizard of Oz experience where it’s disassociated. But it’s only when you engage the trauma, and push through the suffering that you then find kindness and compassion.

Do you think that compassion is an “idea worth spreading” in Northern Ireland?

Yes, because compassion transcends religious dogma. No one can be excluded. The Charter for Compassion is going to open a lot of doors, at least for people to start conversing. Dialogue is a great place to start—I think it will bring about an awareness and a gradual awakening. I do believe that compassion will be a great reach from where we are right now. Ireland is a land of Saints and Scholars so, for me, if compassion is born out of the back of The Troubles then nothing has been wasted. I believe that compassion is the ointment that we need as a people in order to be able to move forward.

What is the significance of this charter, given Northern Ireland’s history?

It will bring us hope. Things are better in Belfast, but there is also a sense of emptiness sometimes.  The Charter for Compassion will almost be like a raft to get us through what we are going through now and to bring us into the new territory, like a blank canvas. We as a people have never been here before. Over the last hundreds of years, there’s always been a struggle, but I really believe now that we are looking for a way forward. If you drop the “I-O-N” from compassion, we get the word “compass.” So there is something about a “compass” within compassion that will reset us towards our true nature. I believe our true nature is that of kindness.

For more information on Compassionate City Belfast»

Watch Karen Armstrong’s TED Talk »

Read more about TED Prize-winning wishes»

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Eleven-year-olds running a classroom?  That could sound outlandish to some elementary school teachers, but not to Joe Jamison, or “Mr. J” as he is affectionately called by his fifth grade students at Lawrence Intermediate School in central New Jersey.

“I learn from my kids,” says Mr. J, as he dips his hand into a Philadelphia Eagles football helmet — otherwise known as the “helmet of fate” — and pulls out the name of the next group of students to give a presentation on Mercy Otis Warren, an American playwright and poet, not to mention one of the few female propagandists of the American Revolution, which Mr. J’s class is currently studying.

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SOLEs teach students how to work together, an important skill to have in the real world. Photo: Natasha Scripture

There is a feeling of excitement in the small classroom, which is adorned with inspirational snippets and colorful educational paraphernalia. The kids sit at the edge of their seats, waiting in anticipation; they are eager to showcase their findings after spending an hour researching and putting together a presentation on the one stand-alone quote that Mr. J projected onto a whiteboard at the front of the classroom: “The rights of the individual should be the primary object of all governments.” In groups, they were asked to figure out the significance of the quote, using only their critical faculties and a few laptops as research tools.

This activity is part of Mr. J’s bi-weekly “SOLE” session, which can be described as a “freestyle” learning period, revolving around a particular topic, quote or question. “SOLE,” which stands for “Self-Organized Learning Environment,” is a concept drawn from 2013 TED Prize winner Sugata Mitra’s “wish” in which he offered up a new vision of education that combines the vast resources of the Internet with children’s innate sense of curiosity. The School in the Cloud, as he calls it, is a global experiment in self-organized learning. SOLEs let kids puzzle through big questions and ideas on their own, teaching each other in the process.

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Online learning gives students a sense of empowerment. Photo: Natasha Scripture

“The biggest thing for me is to prepare my students for the real world, to teach them essential skills such as critical thinking,” says Mr. J, who was inspired to action after watching Mitra’s 2013 TED talk. “I believe in taking risks. If you’re right all the time you’re not going to learn anything. I believe in pushing my students out of their comfort zones because that is where the real learning and personal growth happens.”

Mr. J was recently awarded the 2013-2014 New Jersey Governor’s Teacher Recognition Award, given to one teacher at every school in the state. It’s a true testament to his popularity among his students. He strikes a precious balance between providing gentle instruction and mentorship, and giving students the freedom to explore on their own. “I’m trying to teach my students how to think. This is a process: learning where to find good, quality information and determine how relevant it is to the question being posed. How do you boil it all down to a two-minute presentation? This is what I call critical thinking,” he explains.

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“I’m trying to teach my students how to think,” says Mr. J, a fifth grade teacher at Lawrence Intermediate School. Photo: Natasha Scripture

His students are flexible and receptive to working in different ways. “I usually work independently so for me it is a good opportunity to work in a group,” says Madeline, 11, who admits she was skeptical of the SOLE concept at first. “I like the Internet because you have access to a lot of newer things. In books you can’t get things that are going on, like, yesterday because books take a long time to be written,” she says, adding that she wants to be a graphic designer or a party planner when she grows up.

Hadi, 11, also enjoys SOLE sessions. “I like how we get to be independent and collaborate with our friends and talk it out instead of the teacher teaching us,” he explains. Hadi, whose favorite subject is math, has his own Samsung laptop and plans on being either a doctor or lawyer.

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“It’s not like back in the day when you had to find books and search through them,” says Hadi of the Internet. Photo: Natasha Scripture

“I think computers are faster and more efficient, especially when you know what you’re doing,” says Natalie, 10, who envisions a career as an architect. She is a big fan of Mr. J. “He is more open to social media and I think that’s very interesting because not a lot of teachers are like that. He is more open to our generation,” she says.

Mr. J has known he wanted to be a teacher since he was a sophomore in high school. His passion for teaching, love of social media and curiosity about educational trends drive him to explore new options like Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud platform, which helps students conduct research and create presentations. “There is no single formula. Every teacher, every situation is different. I have to set it up in a way that I know is going to work for my kids,” says Mr. J.

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SOLE sessions help students get used to navigating the Internet and build their research skills. Photo: Natasha Scripture

Other adults in the school notice Mr. J’s willingness to try new teaching techniques, and have been experimenting with self-organized learning in their classrooms as well. It is clear that technology is a big priority at the school. “This is all about the 21st century learning,” said David Adam, principal of Lawrence Intermediate School. “We’ve got to get on board now, otherwise our students will be behind.”

Wikipedia and Google are two of the go-to websites for students as they conduct their research, but they are quite adept at navigating their way into less familiar terrain too, clicking on a series of hyperlinks that pull them into offbeat historical websites or down into the bottomless pit of YouTube. As they go, there is a sense of comradery and unity. Together, each group decides what snippets of research should feed into their presentation, taking turns using a shared computer. While one clicks on the mouse, another takes notes, and another student perhaps will ponder the meaning of the quote and make a suggestion.

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Students are engaged during a SOLE session in Mr. J’s class. Photo: Natasha Scripture

As clusters of kids make their way to the front of the room to deliver their respective presentations, the diversity of content is striking — they use multimedia add-ons and offer philosophical musings, often memorable for their uniqueness. From finding a quirky, yet informative, YouTube video, where students from another school impersonate Mercy Otis Warren during the American Revolution, to making a statement such as “Mr. J gave us this quote because in the olden days women’s opinions never really mattered to people but hers did,” it’s clear that the kids enjoy the limitless creative leverage proffered by SOLEs.

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Creativity and collaboration are important qualities of SOLE sessions. Photo: Natasha Scripture

While textbooks are clearly not obsolete, schools like Lawrence Intermediate School are learning to adapt to the impact the Internet is having on students and are figuring out how to take advantage of what it has to offer. In the end, there is no single right way to get kids engaged in learning, but it’s clear that those who have worked in SOLE environments feel a sense of empowerment, confidence and maturity when it comes to online learning. Perhaps teaching a child how to think critically is the gift that keeps on giving.

Find out more about about Sugata Mitra’s TED Prize wish >>

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Photo: Natasha Scripture

This portrait of a girl tells a story larger than the massive piece of vinyl it is printed on. Unfurled in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan, “#NotABugSplat” was created by a collection of artists and activists, using TED Prize winner JR’s Inside Out campaign, to send a message to drone operators, who reportedly call their kills “bug splats” because they appear small and grainy on screen. The idea is to “create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators,” explains the project website.

Below, an image JR posted about this Inside Out project via Instagram:

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“It’s easy to think that corruption happens somewhere over there, carried out by a bunch of greedy despots,” says anti-corruption activist Charmian Gooch in her blistering talk from TEDGlobal 2013. “The reality is that the engine of corruption exists far beyond the shores of countries like Equatorial Guinea or Nigeria or Turkmenistan. This engine is driven by our international banking system, by the problem of anonymous shell companies, by the secrecy that we have afforded big oil, gas and mining operations and, most of all, by the failure of our politicians to back up their rhetoric.”

Gooch, along with her Global Witness co-founders and co-directors — Patrick Alley and Simon Taylor — have spent 20 years doing research and deep analysis into the many ways that corruption weaves itself into society. And so TED is pleased to announce Gooch as the recipient of the 2014 TED Prize, honoring Global Witness’ work to date – and calling on them to use the $1 million prize to make a world-changing wish. On March 18, Gooch will take the TED stage to share this wish with world, and look to the TED community to help make it become a reality.

This wish has been in the works for months. After careful consideration of more than 1,000 nominations, Gooch was selected as the TED Prize winner by a jury of TED community members.

Notably, the Skoll Foundation will also honor Global Witness this year with its own million-dollar-plus prize to help further the organization’s work.

“That both TED and Skoll independently selected Charmian and Global Witness as recipients of these prizes is a remarkable testament to their daring investigative and campaigning work,” says TED curator Chris Anderson.

“Social entrepreneurs are, by definition, disruptors. Charmian’s leadership epitomizes great social entrepreneurship,” says Sally Osberg, President and CEO of the Skoll Foundation. “Skoll and TED both connect and showcase inspiring, entrepreneurial, breakthrough innovators. We are thrilled to be working closely with our TED colleagues.”

If you haven’t watched Gooch’s talk from TEDGlobal 2013, do it now. While you’re at it, read her detailed annotations of the talk. But of course, the heart of the TED Prize is a wish—a bold clarion call to galvanize global action. Mark your calendars for March 18 from 6 to 7:45pm PST to watch Gooch reveal her wish during session 4 of TED2014. This session will be broadcast globally for free at this URL: http://tedlive.ted.com/webcasts/2014

Then in early April, Gooch, Taylor and Alley will be honored along with other 2014 Skoll Awardees at the 11th Annual Skoll World Forum in Oxford.

“Everyone at Global Witness is honored and thrilled,” says Gooch. “This is truly a rocket boost to our work – making it possible for us to carry out even more cutting edge investigations, report on matters in the public interest, and launch hard hitting campaigns that challenge vested interests and change the system. This being our 20th anniversary year, we couldn’t have wished for a better birthday present.”

A few numbers to keep in mind: 3, 31, and 1 million. That’s because nominations for the 2015 TED Prize are being accepted through the end of the day on March 31, 2014. You have until then to nominate a mentor, a co-worker or a visionary leader whose work you admire from afar for this prestigious prize, which brings with it $1 million for a wish to inspire the world.

Below, learn more about the TED Prize.

19: The number of people who have been awarded the TED Prize so far. Just a few of the winners: politician Bill Clinton, astronomer Jill Tarter and author Dave Eggers.

1,353,958: The number of species catalogued in E.O. Wilson’s Encyclopedia of Life, launched with the 2007 TED Prize.

105: The number of countries in which Pangea Day events were held in 2008, as part of Jehane Noujaim’s TED Prize wish.

About 11 million: Pangea Day’s total number of YouTube views.

60: The percentage of people with incurable epilepsy who have demonstrated at least a 50% reduction in seizure rates from Robert Fischell’s responsive electrical stimulation, now known as RNS. He explained this advance in his talk “My wish: Three unusual medical inventions.”

14,685: The number of architectural projects shared through Cameron Sinclair’s Open Architecture Network.

153: The number projects completed via the Open Architecture Network so far.

1,644,110: The number of people that Sinclair estimates have benefited from these projects.

4: The number of centers dedicated to math and science that Neil Turok has opened as part of his wish to “Find the next Einstein in Africa.” The centers are located in South Africa, Senegal, Ghanna and Cameroon.

174,760: The number of posters pasted so far in 110 countries, from JR’s wish to turn the world Inside Out through art.

67 million: The amount of money raised by Sylvia Earle’s Mission Blue voyage, and the subsequent Ocean 5 voyage, to protect the oceans.

Jamie Oliver's TED Prize wish in action: “I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.” Photo Courtesy of JOFF

Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish in action: “I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.”
Photo Courtesy of JOFF

Somewhere between 3 and 4: The percent of the ocean that is now fully protected.

105,005: The number of people who have signed Karen Armstrong’s Charter for Compassion, including Pope Benedict XVI.

30: The number of languages the Charter has been translated into.

5,000: The number of children in classic music programs involving Sistema Fellows, the 50 passionate musicians trained by Jose Antonio Abreu and the New England Conservatory of Music.

3 million: The number of people who have participated in ONE’s efforts. That’s three times what Bono hoped when he wished was to build “social movement of more than 1 million American activists for Africa.”

888,000 and counting: The number of people who have signed the petition for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

6K: The number of people who’ve been taught how to cook on Oliver’s Big Rig mobile kitchen, during its 40 week tour of California in 2011.

And finally, 3/18: The date when you’ll find out who has won the 2014 TED Prize. Mark your calendar: You can watch a free webcast of the TED Prize as it’s presented live on the TED stage, 6–7:30pm Pacific time on Tuesday, March 18. Stay tuned to the TED Blog for details to tune in.

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JR’s TED Prize wish — to turn the world Inside Out through portraiture — has led to more than 120,000 posters created and pasted on walls in 108 countries, from New York’s Times Square to Nepal. Photo: Aline Deschamps

The TED Prize turns our staff into genies: every year, we give a million dollars to one inspiring leader with a bold wish for the world. Here’s a sampling of wishes that have won in recent years:

“My wish is to help design the future of learning by supporting children all over the world to tap into their innate sense of wonder and work together. Help me build the School in the Cloud.” —Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 prize

“I wish for you to stand up for what you care about by participating in a global art project, and together we’ll turn the world…INSIDE OUT.” —JR in 2011

“I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity.” —Jamie Oliver in 2010

“I wish you would use all means at your disposal — films! expeditions! the web! new submarines! — to create a campaign to ignite public support for a global network of marine protected areas, Hope Spots large enough to save and restore the blue heart of the planet.” —Sylvia Earle in 2009

Nominations are open for the 2015 TED Prize now through March 31. Using ournominations page, you can introduce us to an incredible colleague, friend, teacher or mentor — or even nominate yourself. And while the nomination form asks for a wide range of information, the most vital element is the wish itself. A vivid, compelling wish — like the ones above — excite our entire office. Below, a look at the anatomy of a great TED Prize wish, to help you craft your thoughts into the perfect wish.

The heart of a TED Prize wish: A creative approach to solving a problem.

A great TED Prize wish is a new, fresh way to think about one of the world’s intractable issues. It should be simple and free of jargon. It must be compelling and infused with passion. And while it may not eradicate the problem entirely, it offers a way for people to join together and create a movement toward that end. Anna Verghese, Deputy Director of the TED Prize, explains, “The wishes that get us excited are the ones that, in a couple of sentences, clearly set out the issue that needs the world’s attention, and provoke you to want to take action on it.” Sarah Schoengold, our TED Prize Project Coordinator, adds, “The wishes that excite me most are those that capture my imagination and make me think again. Sugata’s kid-centered learning labs – it’s easy to picture how this take on group learning could spiral across cultures and intersect with classical learning. And JR’s wish made us rethink the power of paper and glue. Who could have imagined that something so simple could be so compelling?”

The brain of a TED Prize wish: A leader with the ability to inspire action.

A key element of a TED Prize wish is that is geared toward action — that there is a clearly defined plan for how the wish can be achieved. This means that the ideal TED Prize wish comes from a pragmatic dreamer — someone with a big idea who also has a proven track record in his or her field. We’re looking for a leader who is able to manage others and who can demonstrate the ability to execute a multi-year project (we give winners 1 to 3 years to implement their wish), to budget a million dollar initiative (the award goes fully toward the project), and to produce measurable results (we ask that the bulk of the project be completed in year one). But beyond being a great strategic thinker, a TED Prize winner must be a great communicator, with the vision and charisma to get people outside of their field excited to take part in the wish.

The arms and legs of a TED Prize wish: The TED community.

As soon as a TED Prize wish is announced, it has a global army of willing foot-soldiers: the members of the TED community. This includes not just the TED Prize staff but our international network of TEDx organizers, our diverse community of speakers, the members of our TED Fellows program, and our web of Open Translation Projecttranslators. A TED Prize wish should point towards concrete ways for these communities to get involved. Explains Verghese, “The TED community’s resources and desire for change provide a wish with that foundation to encourage mass, global collaboration.”

The lungs of a TED Prize wish: The public, at large.

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Sugata Mitra has just opened the first branch of his School in the Cloud, where students turn over the questions that matter most to them as a retired teacher encourages them on via the Granny Cloud. Photo: Anna Verghese

A great TED Prize wish allows members of the public — whoever they may be — to breath fresh air into a field. Part of Jamie Oliver’s wish: that families to cook together, as a way to teach kids about food. The core of JR’s wish: that people photograph themselves and paste the image publicly, in a global effort to surface unheard voices. These wishes invite people in, give them a way to take action, and let them run wild with their creativity. Schoengold explains, “The most powerful wishes use really inclusive, visual language, asking everyday people to take part in an experiment that will only work with their help.”

So what is the wish that won the 2014 TED prize? We’ll reveal that during TED2014 “The Next Chapter” in March. In the meantime, we can’t wait to see what wishes you make for 2015. We are looking to you dreamers out there to wish big for the world!

What would you do with $1 million to spark change in the world? Every year, the TED Prize is awarded to an extraordinary individual with a bold vision to ignite an imaginative and collaborative global action. From Sugata Mitra’s School in the Cloud to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, TED Prize winning wishes are transforming big dreams into realities from India to LA.

The time has come for us to find the next TED Prize winner—and it could be you or someone you admire.

Help us find the next TED Prize winner. Join TED Prize Director Lara Stein, for a Twitter Q & A on June 4, 2013 from 3-4pm ET to learn more about the nominations process. Participate in the conversation and submit questions by tweeting at @TEDPrize and using the hashtag #TEDPrize14. Feel free to send questions in advance by tweeting @TEDPrize and we’ll address them during the June 4th chat.

To apply for the TED Prize, nominate yourself or someone else with an ambitious wish for the world by June 16, 2013 at 11:59 pm ET.

Are you or someone you know the next TED Prize winner?

By, Jamia Wilson

On an unseasonably chilly Monday evening in Manhattan, hundreds stood in line in Times Square for up to two hours. As a city-dweller for seven years, I’ve seen queues this long for big Broadway openings or on New Year’s Eve. But this line was formed for a very different purpose — for people to have their faces and stories featured in what JR describes as “the biggest art gallery in the world.”

JR, the man behind the participatory global art project INSIDE OUT, has parked a photobooth truck in Times Square, from now until May 10. Photo: Instagram/newyorkermag

It’s been three years since TED Prize winner JR made the wish to turn the world INSIDE OUT with a global collaborative art project. As a documentary about the project premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last weekend, JR decided to use his time in New York productively. He hatched the plan to park a truck with a photobooth on-board in the middle of Times Square, as he’s done in other cities before. As soon as I heard about this project, I knew that I wanted to be one of the volunteers for the truck’s inaugural night in my hometown.

When I arrived in Duffy Square (the northern triangle of Times Square), stunning rows of freshly pasted black and white portraits covered the ground. Smiling, smirking and winking visages of passersbys — with homes as diverse as the Bronx and Tokyo — replaced the usual bareness of the concrete. Throughout my shift, elders, painters, skateboarders, toddlers and even NYC’s infamous Naked Cowboy posed for INSIDE OUT’s camera, adding their photos to the street-side quilt of images that breathed life and humanity into the street.

As an INSIDE OUT volunteer, I learned how to capture and distribute large-scale portraits and make and apply wheat-paste. Over and over again, commuters interrupted their busy and purposeful strides and stopped to behold “the people’s art project.” Since I was adorned in INSIDE OUT’s trademark black and white spotted t-shirt, I was repeatedly asked about the origins of the project, how people could get involved, and how much it would cost to buy the portraits. Almost everyone eagerly jumped in line after learning that they could participate by giving their time, image and elbow-grease to help paste pictures.

Placing the faces of strangers side-by-side in a collective masterpiece created a powerful sense of community. People marveled at the process of taking their pictures in the speckled black and white photobooth and watched in awe as their likeness printed from the side of the truck. I spoke to one man who was so addicted to the practice of snapping and pasting his photo, that he has followed JR’s installation to three cities around the world, including Tokyo and New York.

As I walked away from Times Square, I thought of the thousands of people who have contributed 120,000 portraits to city walls, streets and countless other surfaces from Tunisia to South Dakota. I wondered if volunteers in the each of the 110 countries INSIDE OUT has touched experienced what I did. Did they see giggling children who were shorter than the portraits of their likeness dance blissfully with images of themselves? Did they witness a bride and groom take photos in their wedding finery and paste their pictures next to each other to symbolize their bond? Or, did they see what I repeatedly witnessed, a sense of recognition, pride and purpose in the eyes of folks who were given a moment to be truly seen – with big, bold, authentic, and honest emotion.

“The people’s art project” gave New Yorkers a chance to choose to remain anonymous while also being visible. By providing us with an opportunity to pause and be present together, INSIDE OUT created a humbling a sense of intimacy in the most populous city in the United States.

Help INSIDE OUT transform the city! If you live in New York City or will be visiting between now and May 10, email nyc@insideoutproject.net to volunteer by yourself or with a group.

By Naween A. Mangi

My grandfather was compulsively compassionate. As a child, I remember this quiet and gentle soul, offering love, understanding and a helping hand, to whomever he came across. Thieves and con men were no exception. When his family objected, he smiled and offered compassion anyway. Compassion was a trait at the center of his being.

When I started the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust in his memory in 2008, the aim was to create a model village in his ancestral hometown of Khairo Dero, a village in southern Pakistan. A model that could be replicated elsewhere in turning poverty-stricken and forgotten rural hamlets into habitable places; complete with access to clean water, a sanitation network, housing for all, education, income-generating opportunities, and health-care services.

As we began the process of engaging the community of 3,700 people in their own development, something felt sorely amiss. While projects were doing well and impact was visible, the work seemed somehow to be standing in isolation. Then, I came across the Charter for Compassion, became a signatory, and started thinking about how we could bring compassion into village life, creating a binding force that would weave our work and our community together.

When we opened a community center and park in 2011, we documented our symbolic commitment to practicing compassion by displaying the Charter in our Community Hall. We then started by teaching our trust’s employees and volunteers about compassion and seeking their views on how we can implement this approach in our daily lives.

Since we wanted to make compassion real, a part of village life, and a practice rather than a notion, we began holding regular activities exploring how to live compassionately. Some of the events we routinely host are:

-Readings from the Charter for Compassion and group discussions.
-Readings from Karen Armstrong’s Letter to Pakistan and Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life.

Pakistan: Compassion Readings

-Short plays developed and performed by village children on the theme of compassion.

-Drawing competitions about compassion.

-Compassion Counter: We maintain a journal at the Community Center where adults and children can come and record their acts of compassion. We’ve crossed 700 acts and are aiming to hit 1,000 by the summer. Two examples: a schoolboy took a few extra moments to clear away stones from the road so passengers wouldn’t be hurt and on a chilly January morning, and a teacher brought in one of her favorite sweaters for a maid who didn’t have any warm clothes.

-Compassionate Living Day: We celebrate this without schedule and as often as our community feels we need to center ourselves and come back to the mindful practice of compassion. The day is marked by cultural performances, plays and speeches on how we can treat fellow villagers as we would ourselves would like to be treated.

As we began taking these small, practical steps, we started noticing a change in the way villagers interacted with each other.

“People always used to bully me and make fun of my speech and gait, and in turn, I also used to misbehave with them,” says Rashid Gachal, a 12-year-old diagnosed with cerebral palsy. “Seeing the love and compassion I got from the staff since the program began, villagers also started treating me with love and in turn I also behave very well with them.”

We were so heartened by these countless individual stories that we added Compassion Campaign to the list of projects on our website and continued to spread the word, inviting more people to participate. We went for the easiest, most visible targets first.

“Earlier, children were constantly complaining about each other and picking fights in the park,” says Zoya Parveen, a trainer at the trust’s Community Center. “Since we began our compassion campaign, we notice how these kids offer each other a turn on the swings and slides without our intervention.”

This led us to our next step and we started asking ourselves how we can make all our projects in the village more compassionate. We pondered how we could make the process of documenting which candidates most urgently needed a hand pump to access water, or materials to build a home or a micro-loan to set up a small business more infused with empathy. And again, we thought the smallest steps are the best place to start.

“As volunteers for the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust, we are taught to practice compassion in everything we do,” says Tariq Kango, a 15-year-old student. “So we are not supposed to just take patients to the hospital but accompany them with an understanding for their suffering. And in this process, I’ve learned that the practice of compassion brings me so much happiness and great joy.”

Soon, we also started noting changes in the way people interact with our organization that is now at the center of village development. Individual demands of “more for me” started to slowly give way to the idea of sharing.

“I was a beneficiary in the first group of women who received micro-loans to start small businesses in 2011,” says Mashkoora Mirbahar, a 35-year-old woman, who spent years begging in the fields for food to feed her children in the absence of an income. “I also became part of the group that discusses compassion. When a meeting of past and potential loan candidates was called, I attended. But when asked whether old candidates should get loans again and whether I would like a new loan, I said no. I already received that benefit and now the opportunity should be given to other needy women. This is how I chose to practice the concept of compassion I learned here.”

Most recently, we lost our sweet Waheeda, a heart patient in her twenties who died on April 2 after post-surgery complications. We came back, in our grief, to compassion. In our condolence and prayer meeting the next morning, we decided on a new compassion theme to make constant practice easy: Each Person Matters.

In a letter to our trust’s employees that day, my heart deep in mourning, I offered these words:

Service without love, without warmth, without truly giving of your deepest self, is no service at all. As we set out each day in service of our community, let us always ask ourselves if we are showing each person we serve that they truly matter.

The same day, Waheeda’s husband, Javed Depar, came to us with this consolation:

“I could never have arranged my wife’s surgery if the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust had not made all the arrangements and provided funds,” he said. “But what truly moved me was the courage, support and deep compassion they provided me. This created a warm, family-like feeling that will always stay with me even though I lost my wife.”

In today’s Pakistan, there is often talk of revolution; when it will finally happen, how it can be brought about, what forces will be involved. No one can deny revolution is what our people so desperately need. But can a true revolution be brought about by grit, force and power? That may cause change, yes. But isn’t revolution ultimately meant to improve the lives of a people weighed down by an endless struggle to survive? What good, otherwise, is a revolution to those helpless against a system that provides them no skills, no jobs, no access to healthcare? In our little village, peoples’ lives are changing. Street children are drawing flowers and forming letters, once-starving women are making a living and casting off dependence, those suffering in sickness are finding a place to turn to and the community is pulling itself out of a centuries-old mire.

As I watch, in amazement, I have learned that a real revolution is small, silent and deeply empowering. In our little corner of the world, an uprising is underway and our commitment to compassion is the thread tying it all together.

Naween A. Mangi has been working as a financial journalist for 18 years. She is currently the Pakistan Bureau Chief for New York-based Bloomberg News. Naween started the Ali Hasan Mangi Memorial Trust in 2008 in memory of her late grandfather. The non-profit aims to create a model village in Khairo Dero, district Larkana, Pakistan, that can be replicated elsewhere.

Naween holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the London School of Economics and a master’s degree in business and economic journalism from New York University. She lives in Karachi.