In 2004, in honour of the wedding of HRH Crown Prince Frederik to Australia's own Mary Donaldson, a 1.1 million kroner ($176,000) gift was raised in Denmark and Greenland. As wedding gifts go, this was a pretty generous one and certainly a sign of how much faith Danes had in their new Crown Princess Mary. That trust was paid back in spades when three years later the new royal put the people's funds to work and launched her Mary Foundation.
HRH The Crown Princess Mary's vision was to create a powerful initiative that gave something back to Denmark, a program of charity projects that would tangibly help the most vulnerable and tackle key social problems. Under an overarching mantel of combating social isolation, based on the belief that everyone has a right to belong, the Mary Foundation has identified and developed around 10 projects within three focus areas of bullying and well-being, domestic violence and loneliness.
"The last 10 years have been a rewarding and challenging journey," Crown Princess Mary tells The Weekly.
"We have worked hard and in collaboration with experts and partners have established the Mary Foundation. That our efforts can help to improve people's lives and give them a sense of hope for the future, gives all of us at the Mary Foundation a sense of fulfilment and pride.
"However, today I am more convinced than ever that our work has only just begun. When working with social issues, you quickly and out that the more you learn, the more complex it becomes − and the more humble you get when it comes to creating lasting changes and securing long-term impact."
On the importance of acceptance
"I believe that we all have a fundamental need to be an accepted and valued member of a group, that we are an important part of something greater than ourselves. Alone, we feel vulnerable. This is the basic idea behind the Mary Foundation's underlying philosophy that everyone has the right to belong. All of our work and efforts are targeted at combating social isolation, whether it leads to or is the result of bullying, domestic violence or loneliness. Today, we know that the feeling of happiness and the quality of our health are closely linked to whether we feel that we have good and close relations."
On her work to combat bullying
The "Free of Bullying" program, pioneered by the Foundation, has been introduced into half of Danish kindergartens and a third of schools. So when Crown Princess Mary's youngest son came home talking about her work it was a wonderful moment for her, as a mother. "Vincent came home from school and told me that they were learning about 'mum's project'," says Crown Princess Mary proudly.
"In Denmark, the way we view bullying is changing," she adds.
"Today the focus is more and more on the group and each child within the group, no longer just the children who bully and the children who are being bullied. We view bullying as not being about vulnerable children or mean children, but rather about unhealthy dynamics within a group. Therefore, if we are to effectively combat bullying, we have to engage everyone within the group. It's about the group, with the guidance and support of teachers and parents, creating a common set of values and a common understanding of what it means to be a good friend. Creating a culture where bullying within the group is seen as unacceptable."
On violence against women
The third focus area of the Mary Foundation is tackling the issue of domestic violence, now at epidemic levels globally.
"Violence against women is one of the most prevalent human violations in the world," explains the Crown Princess.
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"It knows no social, economic or national boundaries. Globally, an estimated one in three women will experience sexual or physical violence in her lifetime, and gender-based violence undermines the health, dignity, security and independence of its victims, yet it remains shrouded in a culture of silence.
"In the Mary Foundation, we strive to empower the individual woman and to support her in starting a new life, free of violence."
Read the full story in the new issue of The Australian Women's Weekly, on sale now