Compassion is the Preceding Value to Success in Development

Jul 18, 2023

Today, I find inspiration from Simon Sinek‘s book, “Start with Why.” It prompts us to question the motivation behind our actions. Can we articulate our “why”?

Reflecting on my own journey in the development sector within Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) for nearly 15 years, I believe that compassion is the driving force behind the vision. NGOs, whether international or local, often originate from the vision of an individual who recognized the need to help someone in distress. They take the initiative to turn their dreams into tangible action, as described by John C. Maxwell in his book “Put Your Dreams to the Test.”

Asante Africa, CEO, Erna Grasz, talking with a parent of one of our students in Uganda.

In its simplest definition, compassion means deeply caring for others and desiring to assist them when they are in need. It entails demonstrating kindness, understanding, and love towards those who are suffering or less fortunate. Within the development sector, compassion is the underlying value that propels our work. It guides our decisions, actions, and strategies as we strive to make a positive impact on the lives of those we serve. The commitment to compassion drives us to address social issues, reduce inequality, and uplift marginalized communities. By keeping compassion at the core of our endeavors, we create a culture of empathy and understanding. It encourages us to develop sustainable solutions, prioritize the well-being of individuals and communities, and work towards a more equitable and just world. Reflecting on the “why” behind our actions, compassion emerges as the fundamental value that fuels our vision within the development sector. It is through compassion that we extend our support, care, and love to those who need it the most.

If you observe closely, you will notice that the stories of most NGOs typically begin with someone, often the founders, encountering a situation where people are suffering and feeling compelled to help. It all starts with compassion, and from there, these organizations evolve from simple acts of charity to becoming professionally run entities. But what is it about compassion that inspires me?

The progress and growth of these NGOs rely on individuals who share a similar level of compassion, joining hands with the founders. Take the example of Mother Teresa, whose story is well-known. She dedicated her entire life to serving the poorest of the poor worldwide. Mother Teresa exemplified immense compassion by reaching out to the sick, abandoned, and dying, providing them with care, comfort, and dignity. She recognized the suffering experienced by others and took decisive action to alleviate their pain. Mother Teresa treated every person with love and respect, irrespective of their background or social status. Her unwavering compassion serves as a profound inspiration for many to join hands.

Compassion is the driving force behind these NGOs and the reason why they are able to make a meaningful impact in the lives of those in need. It is this shared compassion that enables individuals to come together, work towards a common goal, and create positive change in the world.

Compassion is the starting point that sets the foundation for expertise and success in humanitarian work. When individuals begin working in humanitarian programs, they often experience a shift in their perspective on the world. They develop a heightened level of empathy and a strong desire to do what is right in order to help people and promote sustainable solutions. This shift in perspective is often referred to as “Stewardship” by organizations like World Vision. Regardless of the specific role within the organization, whether it’s administrative, program-oriented, financial, or communication-related, individuals naturally adopt a new culture of empathy. This culture influences how they communicate, interact with others, and handle various situations. This newfound empathy becomes an integral part of who they are. It inspires individuals to develop a deep interest in the project space, leading them to continuously fundraise and design new projects with the aim of alleviating more people from suffering. Program managers or grants managers work tirelessly to ensure that the available resources are utilized exhaustively to address the identified needs and reduce suffering. Additionally, there are individuals dedicated to measuring the impact of these interventions to assess their effectiveness.

So why do i feel compassion is such an important value today – in brief

• Compassion inspires the Human-Centered Approach to project design: Compassion serves as a catalyst for the Human-Centered Approach, where development efforts are centered around improving the lives of people and enhancing their well-being, which then fosters empathy, understanding, and genuine concern for others, ensuring that development initiatives are tailored to address the unique needs, aspirations, and challenges faced by individuals and communities.

• Compassion promotes inclusivity: Compassion lies at the heart of people, and it creates a powerful resonance between those offering help and those receiving it. This resonance, often referred to as “relevance,” plays a vital role in promoting inclusion and fostering a sense of oneness in humanity. When compassion is present, it promotes a spirit of cooperation, collaboration, and mutual support, fostering a sense of unity among individuals and communities. Moreover, compassion encourages individuals to extend their helping hand to others, fostering a ripple effect of kindness and empathy. When people witness acts of compassion, they are inspired to show compassion themselves, creating a chain reaction that spreads throughout society.

• Compassion creates a visible and evident change: Programs designed with compassion often have a clear theory of change, a well-defined roadmap that outlines how they aim to create positive impact and bring about meaningful transformation. This theory of change is guided by the compassionate understanding of the needs and aspirations of the intended beneficiaries. One of the most powerful forms of evidence for the success of compassionate programs is gratitude expressed by the intended beneficiaries. When individuals and communities who have directly benefited from these programs express their gratitude, it serves as a testament to the program’s effectiveness and its ability to improve lives.

• Compassion inspires and enhances strategic leadership: Strategic leadership involves setting a clear direction, making informed decisions, and inspiring others to work towards a shared vision which is crafted . When compassion is integrated into strategic leadership, it brings several benefits and positively influences the outcomes of leadership actions. Here’s how compassion inspires strategic leadership:

• Compassionate leaders cultivate empathy and understanding towards the needs, perspectives, and challenges of their team members and stakeholders. A compassionate leader has the ability to understand and share the feelings of those who are suffering. They put themselves in the shoes of others, seeking to comprehend their experiences and emotions. 

• Compassionate leaders build trust and encourage open communication within their teams. 

• Compassionate leaders inspire and motivate others by exemplifying a genuine care for the well-being and growth of the people they serve and the team members.

• Compassionate leaders actively engage in collaborative problem-solving with those who are suffering. 

• Compassionate leaders recognize that the needs and circumstances of those who are suffering may vary. 

• Working Together with like minded compassionate individuals and organizations: Compassion brings people and organizations closer, promoting a spirit of togetherness and teamwork. Success in development relies on collaboration among different groups, like governments, NGOs, communities, and businesses.

• Compassion for the environment: Compassion goes beyond just caring for people and includes looking after the health of our Earth. Sustainable development means being kind to the environment and making sure we don’t use up all our resources or harm nature.

Byrone Wayodi

Byrone Wayodi

Compassion, is a leading value in development that holds immense power to drive positive change and create a more inclusive and sustainable world. It goes beyond sympathy and evokes a deep sense of empathy, understanding, and care for others. As Albert Schweitzer once said, “Compassion, in which all ethics must take root, can only attain its full breadth and depth if it embraces all living creatures and does not limit itself to mankind.” compassion is a universal scope. Like a tree with its roots, compassion forms the foundation for ethical action in development. It motivates us to prioritize the well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment, leading to solutions that are holistic, equitable, and enduring. Just as a seedling grows into a mighty tree, compassion nurtures relationships, collaboration, and sustainable progress, thus paves the way for transformative and meaningful development that leaves no one behind and ensures a better future for all.

Let us all embrace compassion as we drive the strategies forward.

WRITTEN BY: Byrone Wayodi

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