The Elders

Ernesto Zedillo

“Time and time again, acts of leadership have helped build peace and lifted millions out of poverty. We must aim to achieve stability, security and prosperity on a global scale.”

Former President of Mexico

“I do believe deeply in public service, in trying to serve others one way or another.”

Championing economic development

“Despite the freest possible trade and investment regimes, there is still no way poverty can be eradicated without a transfer of resources from rich toward the poor.”

Confronting global challenges

“Inclusive globalisation is needed not only by the weak but also by the strong; not only to defeat economic polarisation but also to alleviate old and new resentments that threaten the security of our world.”

Ernesto Zedillo biography

Former President of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms; economist and advocate of multilateralism, inclusive globalisation, nuclear non-proliferation and drug policy reform.
  • President of Mexico 1994-2000
  • Recipient of the Franklin D Roosevelt Freedom from Fear Award, 2002
  • Chairman of the Global Development Network, 2005-2011
  • Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization
"Inclusive globalisation is needed not only by the weak but also by the strong; not only to defeat economic polarisation but also to alleviate old and new resentments that threaten the security of our world."
  • Work with The Elders

    Ernesto Zedillo joined The Elders in July 2013. His first engagement with The Elders came by joining an Elders’ delegation to Washington D.C in July 2013 where they participated in high-level discussions on the conflicts affecting the Middle East with prominent US leaders.

    In January 2014, he travelled to Iran with Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari and Desmond Tutu where they met with various leaders including President Hassan Rouhani. The Elders discussed easing of regional tensions, the spread of extremist violence internationally, the issue of human rights and the Syrian crisis, as well as supporting progress being made in the international negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme.

    Ernesto Zedillo joined The Elders delegation to Moscow in April 2015. Led by Kofi Annan, Ernesto Zedillo along with Martti Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Jimmy Carter visited Russia to discuss key geopolitical issues. During the trip, The Elders met with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, as well as former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

    In September 2015, Ernesto Zedillo travelled to New York with an Elders delegation of Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Graça Machel to celebrate the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals. During the trip, Ernesto Zedillo participated in an event on the selection of the next UN Secretary-General as part of The Elders A UN Fit for purpose initiative.

    In February 2017, he led the Elders’ delegation to the Munich Security Conference. Together with Lakhdar Brahimi, Hina Jilani and Mary Robinson, he had meetings with senior UN officials and foreign ministers from across the Middle East, and took part in a panel discussion on the future of the Iran nuclear deal.

  • A bold reformer

    Ernesto Zedillo began his career as an economist, rising through Mexico’s Central Bank before being appointed Secretary of the Budget in the federal government in 1988. He became Education Secretary in 1992 and launched immediate, sweeping reforms of the national basic education system.

    Elected President of Mexico in 1994, he successfully enacted bold reforms to address the major financial and economic crisis that faced his administration. From 1996 to 2000, Mexico experienced a five-year period of the highest rates of GDP growth in the country’s recent history. At the same time, his government made strong commitments to social justice by increasing its spending on social programmes year after year.

    His administration also launched PROGRESA, the first ‘conditional cash transfer’ social programme, following extensive research on the best methods to fight extreme poverty. As part of this, poor families received financial support on the condition that children attend school and receive preventative medical care. The initiative reached millions of families and has since been replicated in more than 40 countries throughout the world.

    Zedillo undertook profound democratic reforms – transparency and independence of the electoral institution, fair campaign finance and guaranteed access to media, and an electoral tribunal within the judiciary to solve electoral controversies – paving the way for a robust multi-party democracy in Mexico. He pursued and achieved full independence for the Mexican Federal Judiciary, and appointed a leader of the opposition as Attorney General of the Nation.

  • Confronting global challenges

    Since leaving office, Ernesto Zedillo has worked, both at Yale and as member of a number of international panels and commissions, to find solutions to some of the greatest challenges facing the global community.

    He serves on the Global Commission on Drug Policy, chaired by his fellow Elder, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, which calls for a vast rethinking of the ‘global war on drugs’ debate and proposes better regulation to end the criminalisation and marginalisation of drug users. He co-chaired the Latin American Initiative on Drugs and Democracy and, based on work at the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization, published an edited volume: Rethinking the War on Drugs through the US-Mexico Prism (2012).

    His work on nuclear non-proliferation includes serving on the International Commission on Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, which released its final report, Eliminating Nuclear Threats: A Practical Agenda for Global Policymakers in 2009. In 2007, he was appointed to chair a commission to recommend the future course of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body promoting the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

    He has also worked on a number of initiatives focused on climate change mitigation and, in 2008, published an edited volume, Global Warming: Looking Beyond Kyoto.

  • Championing development

    Ernesto Zedillo is Director of the Center for the Study of Globalization at Yale University, where he has taught Trade Theory and Policy , Debating Globalization and The Economic Evolution and Challenges of the Latin American and Caribbean Countries.

    He has participated in many initiatives to improve the world’s ability to design and implement development policy, notably as:

    • Vice-Chair of the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security, 2010-2012
    • Chair of the High Level Commission on Modernisation of World Bank Group Governance, which published its recommendations in 2009
    • Chair of the Global Development Network, an organisation working with developing country researchers and institutes to support their work, 2005-2011
    • Chair of the UN High Level Panel on Financing for Development in 2001
View all articles by Ernesto Zedillo

Nelson Mandela

(1918-2013) Founder

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.

Martti Ahtisaari

Former President of Finland; Nobel Peace Laureate and expert in international peace mediation, diplomacy and post-conflict state building.

Kofi Annan


Former UN Secretary-General, Nobel Peace Laureate and Chair of The Elders (2013-2018); put development, human rights, the rule of law, good governance and peace at the top of the United Nations agenda.

Ban Ki-moon

Former UN Secretary-General, former South-Korean Foreign Minister and diplomat; he sought to give voice to the world’s poorest and vulnerable people by putting Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and gender equality at the top of the UN agenda.

Ela Bhatt

Elder Emeritus

The ‘gentle revolutionary’; a pioneer in women’s empowerment and grassroots development, founder of the more than 1 million-strong Self-Employed Women’s Association in India.

Lakhdar Brahimi

Former Algerian freedom fighter, Foreign Minister, conflict mediator and UN diplomat; an expert in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

Gro Harlem Brundtland

Acting Chair of The Elders

First woman Prime Minister of Norway and Acting Chair of The Elders; a medical doctor who champions health as a human right; put sustainable development on the international agenda.

Fernando H Cardoso

Elder Emeritus

Former President of Brazil; implemented major land reform programme, reduced poverty and significantly improved health and education; an acclaimed sociologist and global advocate for drug policy reform.

Jimmy Carter

Elder Emeritus

Former President of the United States, Nobel Peace Laureate and veteran peace negotiator; dedicated to advancing peace, democracy and health worldwide.

Hina Jilani

Pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner; a leading activist in Pakistan's women's movement and international champion of human rights.

Ricardo Lagos

Former President of Chile; tenacious fighter for democracy and human rights; implemented health reform; and reduced economic inequality while diversifying Chile’s external trade in the era of globalisation.

Graça Machel

International advocate for women’s and children's rights; former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique.

Mary Robinson

First woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; a passionate, forceful advocate for gender equality, women’s participation in peace-building and human dignity.

Desmond Tutu

Elder Emeritus

Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Nobel Peace Laureate and Honorary Elder; a veteran anti-apartheid activist and peace campaigner widely regarded as ‘South Africa’s moral conscience’.

Ernesto Zedillo

Former President of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms; economist and advocate of multilateralism, inclusive globalisation, nuclear non-proliferation and drug policy reform.

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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