C20 Symposium in Chicago: Compassion is the need of the hour

People worldwide have the ability to join hands to find solutions for the environmental catastrophes, widespread poverty, and civil conflict we are urgently facing. We can save countless lives through the light of empathy and kindness.

Civil 20 hosted a thought-provoking symposium on "Compassion - The Need of the Hour" at MA Center Chicago. The one-day event fostered meaningful discussions and shared valuable insights relevant to the global community. By emphasising the significance of empathy and kindness in today's world—particularly in the areas of technology, education, health, gender equality, and sustainability—the gathering aimed to inspire positive change.

The esteemed individuals who took part brought expertise from diverse fields such as healthcare, artificial intelligence, climate change, behavioural therapy, data science, policy-making, and global leadership. Despite their varying areas of expertise, they were united by their belief in the transformative power of compassion.

As the Chair of Civil 20 India, Amma said in a video message, "Hunger, conflict, extinction of species, and environmental destruction are the most important issues facing the world today. We should put in sincere effort to develop solutions. If scientists of all fields—computer science, mathematics, physics, engineering, etc—would all work together, we would be able to create more innovative methods of predicting environmental catastrophes and save countless lives. Often, we see a lack of multidisciplinary and integrated effort. This is the need of the hour."

Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, who is with the C20 Troika, travelled from Amritapuri to Chicago and represented Amma at the gathering. He shared that at first he didn’t understand the need for such an event in Chicago. But following Amma’s request, he is now able to see the pressing needs that must be addressed and the tremendous potential such discussions can create. Many caring hearts and great minds came together under the theme of compassion to seek solutions.

“Through embracing the interconnectedness of our world and recognising the inherent oneness of our global family, countries bear the dual responsibility of protecting borders while promoting unity. Upholding dharma means taking only what we need and giving back to society and nature,” said Swami Amritaswarupananda in his address.

“Harming nature is a violence and a sin, hurting both the environment and ourselves. Nature, our first mother, deserves our love and care. With compassion as our guiding light, we gain the strength to address climate change and foster sustainable development, creating a harmonious and thriving world.”

Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, the US Representative, 8th District Illinois, attended the symposium. He explained how for him, Amma is a living example of how to care for those who do not have a voice, do not have power, and sometimes, have lost all hope.

“Amma has done so much. She has provided housing to 47,000 families across rural and poor parts of India. She has also given more than 50,000 scholarships and collected more than $60 million in disaster relief donations, not just for places in India but around the world. Amma exemplifies the universal values that we want to uphold and celebrate and inculcate into our people, especially our children,” he said.

“I think the ‘C’ in C20 means charity, compassion, care—the qualities that we want all countries, not just the world’s 20 leading economies that will be represented at the G20 Summit, but all people of all countries to practise at all times.”

Mr Ramu Damodaran, First Chief, United Nations Academic Impact, also attended the symposium. He spoke about how leaders such as Amma today and Swami Vivekananda in the late 1800s are beacons of light for how spirituality and humanitarian service are able to go hand-in-hand.

"Like flower petals in their final stage, radiating peace and beauty, we too can bring light to the world. At the Summit of World Religions, Amma emphasised the interconnectedness of nations, urging us to recognise that each nation is an integral part of the others. Compassion for others is, in essence, compassion for ourselves,” he said.

“Reflecting on a summit held 130 years ago in this very city, Swami Vivekananda proclaimed that it would mark the end of fanaticism and persecution. He envisioned a world where people, despite different paths, unite towards a common goal. We are all destined for the same future, and together, we can shape a harmonious world."

Mr Vijay K Nambiar, Principal Coordinator of C20 India, was also present. He said, “Amma's profound teachings inspire compassion and seva, which are deeply rooted in Indian society and passed down through families, schools, and institutions like India’s National Service Scheme. In a world faced with numerous challenges, her message of 'You are the light' reminds us that small actions can collectively create a significant impact.

“India firmly believes in internationalism and multilateralism, recognising that most of our problems are global in nature, yet we often respond only at the national level. Amma's pioneering projects exemplify her commitment to address pressing issues and promote a more inclusive and sustainable world."

Other distinguished panelists and speakers to grace the occasion included Mr Jeffrey D Walter, Elburn Village President; Swami Dayamritananda Puri, Executive Director of MA Centers North America; Dr Prema Nedgungadi, Education and Digital Transformation (EDT) Working Group; Dr Krishnasree Achutan, Technology, Security and Transparency (TST) Working Group; Dr Bhavani Rao R, Gender Equality (GE) Working Group; and Dr Krish Ramachandran with Harvard Medical School, Integrated Holistic Health (IHH) Working Group. Dr Maneesha Sudheer, Sustainable and Resilient Communities (SRC) Working Group, attended online.

Dr Sudheer’s SRC working group is addressing climate resilience & social justice, environmental sustainability, and net-zero emission management. They have reached out to civil society organisations (CSOs) who work at the grassroots level and have witnessed firsthand what people face as a result of the destruction of nature. In the process, they connected with 700+ CSOs from more than 60 countries.

“We wanted to achieve vasudeva kudumbakam—the whole world is one family—by identifying the gaps in building sustainable and resilient communities. We undertook in-depth engagement to be able to define realistic policy strategies and form interventions to design sustainable solutions from a multicultural perspective that is scalable to communities of different sizes,” she explained.

“Spiritual love and compassionate approaches are the driving force for our work. Amma has said that true compassion is the ability to see and know what is beyond. Only those who have the capacity to see beyond can offer real help and uplift others. Compassion is right understanding with a deeper knowledge of the person, the situation, and what he or she truly needs.”

Prof Bhavani Rao R observed how representatives from different sectors of society have come together to shape policies that include all citizens. C20 has 16 working groups that have held almost 500 physical meetings, 500 outreach programs, and engaged with more than 200,000 participants.

“C20, alongside other engagement groups like Science 20, Think 20, Urban 20, Labor 20, Women 20, and Youth 20, contributes crucial information and collaborates in ministerial meetings to shape inclusive policies. These countries collectively represent 90% of the world's GDP, 80% of global trade, and two-thirds of the world's population,” said Prof Rao.

“Amma emphasises that meetings should transcend mere intellectual exchange, becoming heartfelt encounters where words transform into action. During its C20 participation, the Mata Amritanandamayi Math has initiated a project of more than $6 million for women and people with disabilities in different developing nations. It has also donated €115,000 ($127,000) to a UN Women project for people affected by the war in different parts of Ukraine. This demonstrates her commitment to addressing critical challenges and promoting a more equitable world."

Shared Dr Prema Nedungadi, EDT working group, “Through the collaborative efforts of 104 countries and over 16,000 participants, the Education Development Track (EDT) has yielded impactful policy recommendations. These recommendations include promoting holistic education for life, education for persons with disabilities, equitable access, learning equity audits, skill development, education in emergencies, and inclusive digital accessibility.

“We have also developed an app to assist civil society organisations in serving refugees, as well as engaging in digital health education initiatives with IHH frontline health workers and the Ayurveda Clinical Portal. Together, we are transforming education, fostering inclusivity, and creating a brighter future for all."

Held in advance of the upcoming C20 culmination event in Jaipur, India, the symposium included informative talks, interactive workshops, and inspiring cultural performances. This event was one among the many that have taken place worldwide, allowing ordinary people to voice their needs and aspirations to the Group of 20 (G20) leaders. The G20 leaders possess the authority to implement policies and provide resources that address challenges faced by communities across the globe.

The symposium served as a unique platform for learning, sharing, and networking with experts, scholars, and policymakers from around the world. With a significant turnout of Indian Americans residing in the United States, the event raised awareness among the American audience. With more than 4.5 million Indian Americans, the community constitutes approximately 1.35% of the US population. It represents the largest group of South Asian Americans and the second-largest group of Asian Americans, following Chinese Americans. They are also the highest-earning ethnic group in the United States.

Following the symposium, attendees came together for a collective photo, showcasing their unity and support for the One Million Lights Campaign. This global initiative commemorates women's empowerment and advocates for gender equality, aligning with Amma's guiding principle for the Civil 20: "You are the light."

In a symbolic gesture, participants illuminated the scene by raising their cell phone lights, signifying their commitment to this important cause. The Civil 20 Group and its symposium participants remain committed to advancing compassion and addressing pressing global challenges. By fostering dialogue and collaboration, they aim to create a more compassionate and inclusive world for all.

PHOTO 1: Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi is the US Representative, 8th District Illinois.He remarked that the “C” in C20 could also stand for care, compassion, and charity–qualities that all countries should champion.

PHOTO 2: Mr Vijay K Nambiar, Principal Coordinator of C20 India, said in a world faced with numerous challenges, Amma’s message of 'You are the light' reminds us that small actions can collectively create a significant impact.

PHOTO 3: Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, C20 Troika, represented Amma as Chair of C20. He said that with compassion as our guiding light, we gain the strength to address climate change and foster sustainable development, creating a harmonious and thriving world.

PHOTO 4: Dignitaries included Dr Prema Nedgungadi, Education and Digital Transformation; Dr Krishnasree Achutan, Technology, Security and Transparency; Mr Ramu Damodaran, First Chief, United Nations Academic Impact; Mr Vijay K. Nambiar, Principal Coordinator of C20 India; Mr Jeffrey D Walter, Elburn Village President; Swami Amritaswarupananda Puri, C20 Troika Member; Dr Bhavani Rao R, Gender Equality; Dr Krish Ramachandran with Harvard Medical School, Integrated Holistic Health. Dr Maneesha Sudheer, Sustainable and Resilient Communities, attended online.

PHOTO 5: All came together to express their unity and support for the C20 One Million Lights Campaign. This global initiative commemorates women's empowerment and advocates for gender equality by asking people to name someone who has been an inspiration in their lives.

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