The Compass-logo

The Compass


Surprising stories from unusual places. With ideas too big for a single episode, The Compass presents mini-series about the environment and politics, culture and society.

Surprising stories from unusual places. With ideas too big for a single episode, The Compass presents mini-series about the environment and politics, culture and society.


United Kingdom




Surprising stories from unusual places. With ideas too big for a single episode, The Compass presents mini-series about the environment and politics, culture and society.




How to be a former president: Part one

What happens to presidents and prime ministers when they stop running their countries, and leave politics behind? Giles Edwards has spent 10 years finding out what they do next. He shares some of his conversations with former world leaders, takes us inside their organisations and helps us understand their thinking. Giles begins at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where he speaks to presidents and prime ministers about how they use their influence, and what they contribute when...


Stories from the New Silk Road: Mexico

The town of El Triunfo in Tabasco state is not far from the Mexican border with Guatemala. Translated from Spanish, ‘El Triunfo’ means ‘The Triumph’ and being miles from the nearest city, with just over 5000 inhabitants, it does not usually attract much attention. However, that changed in 2018 when Tren Maya was announced and China Communications Construction Company (CCCC) arrived to help build part of the brand new train line, connecting the ancient Mayan ruins across the Yucatán...


Stories from the New Silk Road: Jamaica

From highways to hospitals, Chinese construction firms continue to work on a number of high-profile projects across Jamaica. In the face of soaring debts they have not proceeded without controversy, with particular criticism of the use of Chinese labour for jobs that Jamaicans might do, and concerns of so-called ‘debt-trap diplomacy’. ‘Highway 2000’ is a 66 kilometre motorway connecting Kingston and Montego Bay funded by a loan of over 700 million dollars, and built by a Chinese contractor....


Stories from the New Silk Road: Panama

The Panama Canal is a great feat of engineering and a place of huge global significance for trade and shipping. An artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, literally dividing North and South America, whilst saving thousands of miles of shipping time round Cape Horn at the very southern tip of South America. The Americans built the canal and operated it for decades, but today there’s a new global superpower hoping to make their mark. In 2017, Panama became the first...


Stories from the New Silk Road: Ecuador

The Cordillera del Condor mountain range in the east of Ecuador is where the mountains meets the jungles and the Andes meets the Amazon. In this region a Chinese run copper mine, Mirador, has grabbed the headlines over recent years, leading to controversy, resistance and talk of impending disaster. It has become a huge challenge for a government trying their utmost to support mining projects that might help boost a fragile economy. On the other side of the country, shrimp farms line mile...


On the Border: Narva

Tim Marshall on Narva where The EU, Europe and Nato meet the Russian Federation. It's a city in Estonia where 95% of the population are ethnically Russian. Identity crises are nothing new in Narva which has found itself on the edge of empires, kingdoms and duchies during its long history. Today residents cannot trace family here back further than the second Word War. That is when Stalin deported the locals and replaced them with Russians. Somehow however the collective memory in Narva, a...


On the Border: Kinshasa and Brazzaville

Tim Marshall delves into the strange story of Kinshasa and Brazzaville the only capitals straddling a border. Their peoples share a common culture but were split by Empires and now kept apart by a river border which has no bridge. Presenter: Tim Marshall Producer: Kevin Mousley (Photo: Sapeurs from a group belonging to Papa Griffe, a Sapeur leader, walks on Avenue De La Democratie, in Kinshasa, DRC. Credit: Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images)


On the Border: Niagara Falls

Tim Marshall considers Niagara Falls, the busiest crossing point on the world’s longest border. The fortunes of the two cities either side of the famous Falls have varied over the years as the advantages of being one side of the line, or the other, have played out. Today it is the Canadian side in ascendance but as Tim finds out, the border continues to shape the communities in different ways as it becomes a less informal, so-called ‘friendly’ border and a more of sophisticated digital one....


On the Border: Maastricht

Tim Marshall profiles Maastricht, the city where 30 years ago the European Union was born. Have these economic measures dented relations between the communities that sit on one of Europe’s linguistic and cultural fault lines? (Photo: Aerial view of the city of Maastricht. Credit: N. Bellegarde/Getty Images)

Life in soil: Tasting the earth in France

Writer and environmentalist Isabelle Legeron is in France to see how cultivating a healthy soil, teeming with fungi and microbes, can enhance the flavour profile of food and drink - from cheese to coffee to wine. She explores the fundamental role soil plays in the notion of “terroir’ - the conviction that the natural environment in which plants are grown, can be experienced in the taste and texture of the food and drink made from them. Isabelle speaks to a cast of soil microbiologists, land...


LIfe in soil: The death of soil

Isabelle Legeron travels to Giessen in Germany, to the original laboratory of Justus Von Liebig the brilliant 19th century chemist whose work made way for the 20th century Haber and Bosch process. Liebig joined the spirit of the Industrial Revolution, where technical solutions were set to end starvation; he set out to make the soil more productive, echoed through the 20th century with the Green Revolution. But at what cost to the soil? With Environmentalist, Tony Juniper and Soil Scientists:...


Life in soil: The psychology of soil in California

Isabelle Legeron travels to California, a part of the world whose soil holds a complex history. She meets the indigenous Californians reviving ancestral methods of tending to the land, and the soil scientists exploring the impact of colonisation and agriculture on the soil of the Golden State. With indigenous Californian land steward Redbird (Pomo/Paiute/Wailaki/Wintu), director of the California Indian museum Nicole Lim (Pomo), indigenous ecologist Dr Melissa Nelson...


Green energy: Finance

How is the world going to get to net zero by 2050 and who is paying the bill? Former governor of the Bank of England, and UN Special Envoy on Climate Action and Finance, Mark Carney, recently put the figure we need to spend at 100 trillion dollars at least. Switching to renewable sources of energy, needs the global financial markets to pay for the necessary infrastructure. Costs will come down as the technology improves; take the example of solar panels where the last two decades have seen...


Green energy: Iceland

For over 100 years, Iceland has produced renewable energy from geo-thermal and hydro power to heat its homes and power industry. Iceland harnesses the volcanic hot water under the earth’s crust and the energy from damming its plentiful rivers and waterfalls that run through the island. It produces five times more green energy than its population needs. But decisions Iceland has made in how best to use this surplus energy and the environmental and moral impact on its landscape and population...


Green energy: Renewables

Allan Little investigates the best way to capture, store and redistribute the renewable sources of energy freely available all over the world – wind, solar and hydro. The sun gives earth enough potential power in one hour to provide the total energy needs of the globe for a year – if only we could catch and store it. From a purely economic angle, the costs of renewables are now cheaper than fossil fuels. So what is holding us back from harnessing the power of the sun and wind to secure our...


Green energy: Transport

Allan Little looks at the challenges we face as we wean ourselves off gas and oil to renewable sources powering our cars, trucks, ships and aeroplanes. Green transport is crucial to a net zero future, but how transparent are the supply chains bringing the world the components we need? And how green is the electricity we are using to power electric cars anyway? Cobalt and Lithium, two essential minerals crucial for electric car batteries are mined in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Chile...


The reclaimers: The games people play

As the former ‘British Empire Games’ draws nearer, actor and musician Kema Sikazwe finds out what the world of museums can learn from the communities, artists and curators who are struggling to reclaim global stories about their culture and identity. Kema sees photographer Vanley Burke’s new exhibition, Blood and Fire, curated with Candice Nembhard at Soho House, former home of Matthew Bolton. At the Museum and Gallery, he meets members of We Are Birmingham who have remodelled the iconic...


The reclaimers: Into the valley

Travelling from Lusaka to the Gwembe Valley and then on to Kabwe, Kema Sikazwe hears from people living in communities where artefacts were taken. In the shadow of the Kariba Dam, Kema meets people who were forced from their land when the valley was flooded who explain how promises made at the time have not been kept. Finally, at the lead-mining site where the Broken Hill Skull was discovered in Kabwe 1921, Kema meets former workers who describe how their homes remain contaminated, more than...


The reclaimers: Return to Zambia

Returning to Zambia for the first time since he was three years old, Kema Sikazwe continues his journey exploring the impact of colonial legacies through museum collections. Since 1972, Zambians have campaigned to reclaim the ‘Broken Hill Skull’ from Britain. Kema learns what has led to the current stalemate, as the repatriation movement gathers pace. Kema also meets Zambian creatives who are fabricating their own interpretations of history with ‘digital repatriation’ initiatives, creating...


The reclaimers: Bronzes and Birmingham

Actor and musician Kema Sikazwe is on a mission to uncover his own personal history as he leaves the UK to return to his homeland of Zambia for the first time since he was three years old. As Kema travels, he learns how museums are telling the uncomfortable stories behind some of the objects in their collection. He joins pupils from his old primary school learning why The Great North Museum in Newcastle is offering to return an ancient musical instrument to Nigeria. Arriving in Birmingham,...