Empathy for Peace is the brainchild of Haifa Staiti, a grant-making and philanthropy specialist, born in the Palestinian city of Jenin, and Lily (Cohen) McGregor, a human resources and governance executive, born in Cairo, Egypt. Both spent their formative years experiencing the consequences of the Middle East conflict in different and very personal ways. Haifa’s childhood was marked by her father’s on-going imprisonment in the hands of the Israeli authorities and her mother’s struggle to care for the family on her own; Lily experienced the deportation of her own family from Egypt by the Abdul Nasser regime in 1957, and the stigma of being an Egyptian-born Jew in a community of Holocaust survivors, who had themselves endured unimaginable suffering. Their personal journeys, though differing in time and space, led them to a shared worldview and the conviction that bringing empathy to every human condition is the way to bridge ideological divides, prejudice and injustice – and to achieve peace.
Lily and Haifa met through their work for a charitable organization supporting education and scholarships for girls in the Middle East. They immediately realized they had much in common and became good friends.
Like many great ideas, the seed for this one was planted over lunch in the spring on 2016 while discussing a new conference initiative - Empathy Neuroscience: Translational Relevance to Conflict Resolution, sponsored by the British Academy and about to take place in London, England. The two friends reflected on the ways empathy research could advance evidence-based, empathy-grounded conflict resolution, peace-building and reconciliation processes. The applications were obvious, wide ranging and far-reaching. They concluded that, of the many worthwhile initiatives to advance the human condition, the application of empathy research to conflict resolution, education and the very principles of human rights may perhaps be the most effective way to build a capacity where we are able to share our common humanity. Thus evolved our mission to establish empathy as a vital catalyst of creating fair, just and peaceful communities.
We were fortunate to gain early support from key drivers of the Empathy Neuroscience conference in London; Professor Simon Baron-Cohen and Dr. Emile Bruneau, as well as Eva Armour, Director of Strategy and Programs at Seeds of Peace, and seasoned lawyer and corporate governance expert F. David Rounthwaite.
This founding group is working to further empathy research and a wide range of evidence-based application in the field. We are looking forward to partnering with other organizations that are already doing excellent and important work, all with the common goal: to build a better world of caring, peaceful and civil communities.