19 July 2007
Nelson Mandela marked his 89th birthday on Wednesday by announcing the formation of The Elders, a group comprising former heads of state, Nobel laureates, leading entrepreneurs and philanthropists who will “contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems”.
Mandela was joined by fellow founding members South African Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu, philanthropist Graca Machel, former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, former US President Jimmy Carter, former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson and Bangladeshi social banker Muhammad Yunus.
“This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,” Mandela said.
“Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair.”
The Elders’ chairperson Tutu remarked, “Despite all of the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place.”
“We, The Elders, will endeavour to support those people and do our best for humanity,” Tutu said.
A statement issued by they new group states that The Elders will use their collective skills and experience to suggest new approaches to tackling global issues, and will be working together over the next several months to consider which issues to approach first.
“The Elders’ criteria are not only the magnitude and importance of the challenge, but a deliberate view that their role could contribute significantly to solving the problem,” the statement explained.
Though working independently, the group will work to complement the efforts of other organisations, seeking opportunities to partner established groups where possible.
“I see The Elders as a small but independent group that may fill an existing void in the world community,” Carter said.
“Almost impervious to the consequences of outside criticism, the group will conduct unrestrained analyses of important and complex issues and share our ideas with the general public and with others who might take action to resolve problems.”
The Elders will invite new members who share the attributes of current group members – trusted, respected worldly-wise individuals with a proven commitment and record of contributing to solving global problems. Elders will step down if they are elected to public office.
“I have worked with extraordinary people at the community level, people who have brilliant ideas and are making a huge effort to solve problems but often their contribution is localized, and their voices are not strong enough to be heard,” Machel explained.
“The Elders can play a role in amplifying the voices of the millions of citizens of the world.”
‘Dedicated group of leaders’
Several years ago entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician and activist Peter Gabriel discussed with Mandela the obstacles to solving difficult conflicts facing the world.
Their idea of a small, dedicated group of leaders, working objectively and without any vested personal interest in the outcome, began to develop and eventually grew into The Elders.
“In traditional societies, the elders always had a role in conflict resolution, long-term thinking and applying wisdom wherever it was needed. We are moving to this global village and yet we don’t have our global elders,” Gabriel said.
“The Elders can be a group who have the trust of the world, who can speak freely, be fiercely independent, and respond fast and flexibly in conflict situations.”
A group of founders, including Branson and Gabriel, as well as by Ray and Michael Chambers, Bridgeway Foundation, Pam Omidyar, Humanity United, Amy Robbins, Shashi Ruia, Dick Tarlow and The United Nations Foundation will fund the Elders.
“This group of Elders will bring hope and wisdom back into the world. To play a role in bringing us together to stop unnecessary human suffering and to celebrate the wonderful world that we are so privileged to be part of,” Branson enthused.