Global Health Academy

Global Compassion Initiative

Innovative collaboration: Understanding compassion and its integration into the various domains of society.

Group of smiling black children looking up at the camera

The purpose and vision of the Global Compassion Initiative

To catalyse, enable and embed the evidence and practice of compassion within the University and across our relationships in the city, Scotland and the world.

We want the world to be a better place for everyone because compassion is woven into all our choices.

We have recently launched a distinct website for this initiative. Visit us here:

People and Partners

The Global Health Academy established a Global Compassion Initiative at the University in 2016.

It is led by a small group of Directors – a member of the University Court (Kirsty MacGregor), three academic staff (Liz Grant, Paul Brennan, Harriet Harris), and an Honorary staff member (John Gillies).

We are partnered with Stanford University, the University of Helsinki,  NHS Lothian, the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh and the International charity SayitForward.

We are currently exploring ways to profile and expand the work we are doing – to enable more staff, students and partners to be agents of sustainable transformation.  Our objectives are set by students and staff and will be delivered through collective work between students and staff.

Our ambition for the Compassion Initiative is three fold:
  • to ensure that  students leave university with an understanding of the fundamental aspects and drivers of human existence and the relationships that hold people together, enabling creativity and innovation to flourish. At the core of this is compassion.
  • to ensure that business leaders understand and step into the challenges their businesses are facing by developing a leadership practice centred on the ethic of compassion with interactive learning workshops, exposure to key scientists and thought leaders in the fields of leadership, data science and compassion science, action learning sets and one-to-one coaching, supported by a programme-specific virtual learning environment, to support them and their organizations in navigating the age of disruption
  • to provide support for organisations and communities to utilise a Compassion Index which will set a benchmark for compassion engagement across all services.

Responding to our changing world

We are working and studying in the context of a ‘perfect storm’ of global challenges: the impact of climate change, food, water and energy insecurity, population increase and ageing, economic and political fragility, and the risks of both new and old infectious disease spread.

We are seeing the emergence of these global challenges met with a rise in isolationism and fear, and a new anger fuelled by intolerance. Artificial intelligence and data science are disrupting markets and changing the nature of work itself, while machine learning and robotics introduce fear of a future that challenges assumptions of the very nature of humanity. The external challenges are also felt internally in terms of ethics, values, free speech and truthfulness. Whilst new social media has offered a step change in connectivity, it has brought with it additional pressures of reactivity, cyber-bullying and an exacerbation of social isolation. Global, national and local challenges cannot be solved by expert intervention alone.

However, alongside these challenges we recognise that this is also an age of unprecedented opportunity – with global connectivity providing a new democratisation of innovation, creativity and the entrepreneurial spirit.

The Compassion Initiative across the University aims to provide a robust vision of hope, resilience and resourcefulness which embraces the imperative of relational skill-building as a core dimension of education and training which will encourage the development of the inner strength, dexterity and leadership capability to navigate complexity and build solutions towards a sustainable future.

Developments in neuroscience and psychology are providing evidence-based insight into the importance of values and character building to health and well-being in an increasingly secular age.

Compassion is a defining human ethic. The complexity and depth of this sense of concern for the suffering of others and dedication to action to see that suffering relieved is anything but weak – it is the ultimate aspiration of survival of the human species.

Mounting evidence from the new science of compassion demonstrates that it is key to:

  • improving personal and organizational performance (in cooperation and productivity, resilience, employee commitment and retention),
  • enhancing effectiveness (creativity and innovation, navigating change, collaboration, addressing conflict);
  • supporting well-being (physical and mental health, engagement at work, and welfare); and
  • building reputation (credibility).

We know that we require different relational ways of working, and of understanding our place in the environment and society in which we work and live.

Articles and resources

  • ‘Can Compassion Transform Society?’ was the title of the recent James Gregory lecture by Professor Anne Birgitta Pessi of the University of Helsinki (October 2018). The lecture was delivered in both Edinburgh and St Andrews and is available here.
  • Reflections on ‘Compassion and Insurance’ – an article by Kirsty MacGregor and Karen Morris.
  • The Carnegie UK Trust on the place and power of kindness – a new report and the launch of the ‘Kindness Innovation Network’ to embed kindness in workplaces, services and communities.
  • To find out more about the University of Edinburgh’s Global Compassion Initiative contact Professor Liz Grant on