Former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Laureate; a leader who dedicated his life to the anti-apartheid struggle, democracy and equality; founder of The Elders.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu served for six years as Chair before stepping down in May 2013, and remains an Honorary Elder.
The Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was also an Honorary Elder, until her election to the Burmese parliament in April 2012.
Elders no longer hold public office; they are independent of any national government or other vested interest. They should have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership.
The Elders share a common commitment to peace and universal human rights, but they also bring with them a wealth of diverse expertise and experience:
An Elder is also a changemaker - someone who can lead by example, creating positive social change and inspiring others to do the same.
The concept originates from a conversation between the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. The idea they discussed was simple: many communities look to their elders for guidance, or to help resolve disputes. In an increasingly interdependent world - a ‘global village’ - could a small, dedicated group of individuals use their collective experience and influence to help tackle some of the most pressing problems facing the world today?
Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel took their idea of a group of ‘global elders’ to Nelson Mandela, who agreed to support it. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, Mandela set about bringing the Elders together and formally launched the group in Johannesburg, July 2007.
The Elders represent an independent voice, not bound by the interests of any nation, government or institution.
They are committed to promoting the shared interests of humanity, and the universal human rights we all share.
They believe that in any conflict, it is important to listen to everyone - no matter how unpalatable or unpopular this may be.
They aim to act boldly, speaking difficult truths and tackling taboos.
They don’t claim to have all the answers, and stress that every individual can make a difference and create positive change in their society.
The Elders is an unusual organisation with a distinct way of working. The Elders work strategically, focusing on areas where they are uniquely placed to make a difference.
This can mean engaging in private advocacy, using their collective influence to open doors and gain access to decision-makers. At other times, The Elders work publicly to promote neglected issues and speak out against injustice. The group decides collectively where there is the greatest opportunity to make a real impact, whether this is:
The Elders are cautious not to claim all the credit for making a difference. Much of The Elders’ work is dedicated to supporting the efforts of other campaigners and advocates, giving them a platform to make their voices heard. Read blogs by some of the activists The Elders have worked with.
The Elders are in regular contact with each other, and meet twice a year to review their activities, discuss current priorities and plan their upcoming work.
Identifying situations where the Elders’ involvement can make a positive impact, and where they - as Elders - are uniquely placed to act, often means making difficult decisions. The group isn't always able to intervene in particular conflicts or prevent cases of human rights abuse. These decisions are always made by consensus and new areas of work are only adopted with the agreement of the group.
While The Elders is not a typical campaigning or fundraising organisation, we still encourage you to get involved in making the world a better place.
The Elders believe very strongly in the idea that everybody can be a make a difference - The Elders themselves embody the notion that everyone is capable of achieving change in their own way.
For the young Lakhdar Brahimi, this meant taking up arms in Algeria’s liberation struggle; for the ‘gentle revolutionary’ Ela Bhatt, it was a nonviolent, grassroots approach to women’s empowerment. Read more of The Elders’ personal stories of change.
Kofi Annan says, ‘I am often asked what can people do to become a good global citizen? I reply that it begins in your own community.’