The Elders


Annual report 2014: Supporting courage where there is fear

Our CEO Lesley-Anne Knight reflects on the past 12 months of Elders' work and looks ahead to the organisation's next challenges.

"The Elders want our leaders to take bold decisions, for the common good of the people and the planet we inhabit."

"Looking back at 2014, I hope The Elders have made a small contribution towards making our world a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place in which to live.

"As Elders, we do what we can to encourage, support and hold our leaders to account, but it is the power of ordinary citizens – especially young people – to catalyse positive change and support courageous, compassionate leadership that will make the greatest difference."

Kofi Annan, Chair of The Elders

Iran and the broader Middle East region

The danger posed to regional, even world, peace by the decades-long confrontation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the West and other Middle Eastern countries, especially over Iran’s nuclear programme, has long been a source of concern for The Elders.

A delegation of Elders visited Tehran in January 2014 for exploratory meetings with the country’s leadership on how to address the dangerous spread of religious sectarianism and extremist violence.

In February 2015, The Elders held a follow-up meeting with Foreign Minister Zarif to support efforts to reach a nuclear agreement.

Looking ahead, The Elders will continue to explore ways in which Iran, hopefully in coordination with other regional players, can contribute to ending the interlocking conflicts currently ravaging the Middle East.


Given the far-reaching impact of the unresolved conflict, The Elders believe the international community has a vital role to play in helping Israelis and Palestinians reach a lasting solution.

The Elders spoke out on the need for accountability under international law for the actions of both sides, the importance of lifting the Gaza blockade, and the need to recognise Hamas as a political actor.

They took up the issue of Palestinian political unity at several junctures, including with President Mahmoud Abbas in New York in September.

They also met with Nabil ElAraby, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, on how best to preserve dwindling hopes for a peace agreement.

The Elders convened their sixth annual workshop advising the Palestinian leadership on effective ways to support their quest for statehood.

A planned visit to the region was interrupted by the Gaza War and Israeli elections and subsequently postponed to early 2015.


After visiting Myanmar in 2013, The Elders determined that they could have a valuable and distinctive role in support of the transition by acting at both the highest level and at the grassroots, providing candid independent advice and moral leadership.

In March 2014, two Elders visited Myanmar and Thailand to meet with the government, the military and ethnic minorities.

In October Kofi Annan met the Immigration and Population Minister and the Chief Minister of Rakhine State, where the Rohingya Muslim minority has suffered pogroms and institutional discrimination, to discuss a way forward in this dispute.

In December, The Elders returned to Myanmar and Thailand. Meeting with the government, the armed forces, parliament and civil society amidst growing signs of backsliding in the reform process, The Elders encouraged all concerned to help bring about a fair and inclusive society.

Looking ahead, The Elders expect to remain engaged with the complex issues thrown up by the country’s transition.

Sub-Saharan Africa

The Central African Republic (CAR) has been plagued in recent years by insurrection and massacres of civilians, driving hundreds of thousands out of the country or into internal displacement. In response, The Elders' Team visited CAR in August 2014 to support the interim president, women’s peace-building activities and interfaith religious leaders. They met with President Samba-Panza, the Séléka and Anti-Balaka warring parties as well as with the UN, NGOs, churches, civil society, women’s and youth groups.

The outbreak of civil war in South Sudan in 2013 between factions of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement rapidly took on an ethnic dimension, effectively splitting the country into several parts, with disasterous humanitarian consequences for millions of South Sudanese. Two years after their last visit, The Elders thus determined to explore how to assist the efforts to end the conflict. The Elders’ Team undertook two trips to South Sudan and Addis Ababa to consult with the African Union, IGAD and the Ethiopian Government. In September, the Elders met the UN Special Envoy, Haile Menkerios, to discuss specific actions in support of the IGAD-led peace process.

Climate change

The Elders scaled up their engagement on climate change after concern at the lack of ambitious global leadership in the run-up to the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference.

In April 2014, The Elders met French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and officials who will host the COP21 conference, and held a discussion with young people at a leading political studies institution.

In September, three Elders addressed global leaders at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit and joined 400,000 people on the People’s Climate March in New York.

The Elders produced a film, placed a full-page advertisement in The New York Times and wrote directly to 198 Heads of State on the need for ambitious goals on climate change. They sent a further letter calling for the G20 to support the Global Climate Fund and carbon pricing.

The Elders will continue to work at all levels to ensure that a robust, universal and legally-binding agreement is achieved for a carbon-neutral future.

Equality for girls and women

Committed to working for a more equitable and just world, The Elders view equality for girls and women as a core priority. Deep-rooted discrimination against women and girls denies them fair access to education, adequate healthcare, employment, property and influence.

The Elders promoted Jimmy Carter’s book, published in March 2014, highlighting how religions have been used to justify discrimination and the oppression of women.

To mark International Women’s Day, Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu took part in The Elders’ first-ever Twitter Q&A, focusing on women and leadership.

The Elders spoke out about the “honour killing” of a young woman in Pakistan, wrote to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister urging her against lowering the minimum legal marriage age, and lent their support to the UK government’s Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

In November, four Elders joined women activists for a public debate on the role of women in tackling the root causes of conflict.


With so many intractable conflicts and overwhelming crises, the Elders often find hope in young people. The Elders seek to motivate and encourage but also to listen, because young people often have a unique perspective, producing new approaches to old problems.

In May 2014, The Elders held a discussion in front of an audience comprised mainly of students, answering their questions on topical issues, such Syria and good governance.

During the Pillars of Peace events in Hawaii, The Elders held another debate with young people, on the role of youth in ethical leadership.

At the One Young World conference in Dublin, Kofi Annan and Mary Robinson spoke about climate and ethical leadership to an audience of more than 2,000 young leaders from 160 countries.

The Elders also supported a contest organised by students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US, which focused on the best ways to accelerate youth leadership in climate.

Ethical leadership

In all The Elders’ activities, they are committed to upholding and promoting the highest standards of leadership and service, such as honesty, transparency and accountability.

To mark Human Rights Day, The Elders published their first quiz, to raise awareness of the importance of human rights.

On Mandela Day, The Elders launched a new video series on ethical leadership, promoting the values that Nelson Mandela embodied: justice, equality, compassion, and the power of collective action.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Desmond Tutu took part in Pillars of Peace, holding discussions on defending human rights and speaking out on behalf of those suffering injustice with students, civic and business leaders and the general public.

Throughout the year, The Elders spoke out on a number of issues and crises resulting from failures in ethical leadership, including Ukraine and Ebola.

The Elders' vision is of a world where people live in peace, conscious of their common humanity and their shared responsibilities for each other, for the planet and for future generations. We see a world in which there is universal respect for human rights; in which poverty has been eliminated; in which people are free from fear and oppression and are able to fulfil their true potential.

The Elders use their independence, collective experience and influence to work for peace, poverty eradication, a sustainable planet, justice and human rights worldwide. Working both publicly and through private diplomacy, they engage with global leaders and civil society at all levels to resolve conflict and address its root causes, to challenge injustice, and to promote ethical leadership and good governance.

Read our Strategic Framework to find out more.

It has been a busy year, with many of the issues The Elders confronted in 2014 highlighting the inescapable fact that we live in a world blighted by inequality.

We have seen military might resulting in thousands of civilian deaths; we have seen gender inequality resulting in women and girls being subjected to violence, discrimination and exploitation; we have seen ethnic minorities persecuted and denied their rights; we have seen the world’s poorest people suffer the worst effects of climate change; and we have seen the populations of African countries decimated by diseases that would never have been allowed to gain a hold in the richer countries of the North.

The Elders have spoken out on these issues, and used their influence to bring about change through quiet diplomacy – and they continue to do so. As our work goes on in 2015, we see our task as working towards a fairer world, in which development is for all and is sustainable. It is not just about growth; it is about equity.

The Elders want our leaders to take bold decisions, for the common good of the people and the planet we inhabit. Global leaders have two key opportunities in 2015 to change the course of history:

In September, a new set of Sustainable Development Goals will hopefully be approved by world leaders at the United Nations. If the draft goals are approved, member states will commit to: ending poverty in all its forms everywhere; achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls; taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts; reducing inequality within and among countries. Also included in the draft proposals are a range of other goals aimed at making the world safer, healthier, better educated and more productive.

Secondly, in December in Paris, world leaders will gather to discuss a new international agreement on climate change that must set binding limits on carbon emissions if the world is to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The Elders will do everything within their power during 2015 to ensure that these opportunities are not squandered.

2015 also marks the 70th anniversary of the United Nations, whose stated intention is to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”. As The Elders join in celebrating this milestone in the history of the UN, they will be all too conscious of the fact that we are still far from achieving its primary goal. Far too often we have seen how entrenched divisions in the UN Security Council and a lack of courage by its members to rise to the demands of the atrocities committed have prevented effective action.

There is clearly much work still to be done, and The Elders stand ready to do whatever they can to speed the pace of change towards a more peaceful, fairer world.

Read our annual report of The Elders' work over the past year:

Annual Report cover


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The Elders are independent global leaders, brought together by Nelson Mandela, who offer their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity.

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