The Elders

Co-founder of The Elders

“As Elders, we will strive to use our collective clout to bring people together, amplify the space to give voice to the voiceless, and catalyse action. We understand true leadership as that of service, leadership which promotes equity and dignity for all.”

Freedom fighter to education reformer

“I want to see education that produces young people who will not tolerate their peers living in abject poverty in the midst of plenty; young people who will be outraged by inequality and impatient to bring about change.”

Advocate for girls and women

“Let us give a face and a voice to that girl child who has been ignored. When at last she is front and centre of our development efforts, it is she who will change the world.”

Galvanising civil society throughout Africa

“Don’t underestimate the power of people. Our weakness is that we do not know how powerful we are – and we are not using the power we have as citizens. Go out there and organise, organise, organise. Mobilise mobilise, mobilise. We’ll get there.”

Graça Machel biography

International advocate for women’s and children's rights; former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique.
  • Minister of Education and Culture in Mozambique 1975-1989
  • Founder of the Foundation for Community Development in Mozambique
  • UN independent expert on the impact of armed conflict on children
  • Member of High-level UN Panel on post-2015 development agenda (2012-2013)


"I think The Elders can play the role of amplifying the voices of the millions of citizens of the world who daily are working very hard to make themselves heard."
  • Work with The Elders

    Graça Machel is a founding member of The Elders with her husband, Nelson Mandela. A constant advocate for good governance, human rights and development in Africa, she joined the first Elders’ mission in October that year, travelling to Sudan with her fellow Elders Lakhdar Brahimi, Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu. She spent time in Darfur, highlighting the issue of rape and gender-based violence in the region.

    In November 2008 she attempted to visit Zimbabwe with her fellow Elders to draw attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the country. “Either the leadership doesn’t have a clear picture of how deep the suffering is of their own people,” she told journalists in Johannesburg after the Elders were refused entry to Zimbabwe, “or they don’t care.”

    One of the world’s best known advocates for women and children's rights, Mrs Machel travelled to Ethiopia with The Elders in June 2011 to convene an international meeting of experts and activists tackling the harmful traditional practice of child marriage. “Activists working at the grassroots sometimes feel isolated when they are at the forefront of such change,” she said. “We hope that we can unleash each other’s energy and build the momentum needed to end child marriage.”

    In September 2015, Graça Machel travelled to New York with an Elders delegation of Gro Harlem Brundtland, Hina Jilani and Ernesto Zedillo to celebrate the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals. During the trip, Graça Machel participated in the Social Good Summit hosted by the UN Foundation and Mashable.

  • Education reformer in post-independence Mozambique

    Graça Machel joined the Mozambican Liberation Front in 1973 as a schoolteacher. When Mozambique gained its independence two years later, she became the country’s first Minister of Education and Culture – the only woman in the cabinet.

    Between 1975 and 1989 she was responsible for overseeing an increase in primary school enrolment from 40 per cent of children to over 90 per cent of boys and 75 per cent of girls. As chairperson of the National Organisation of Children of Mozambique, she has also worked closely with families to promote literacy and rehabilitate children affected by the country’s long civil war.

    For Mrs Machel, the struggle for the right to education and development continues. “It is the meaning of what my life has been since a youth – to try to fight for the dignity and the freedom of my own people.”

  • The Machel Report: children in armed conflict

    In 1994, the United Nations Secretary-General appointed Graça Machel as an independent expert to carry out an assessment of the impact of armed conflict on children. Her groundbreaking report recommended the rehabilitation and social integration of children affected by conflict – with emphasis on providing for all opportunities to access education and skills development. The Machel Report established a new and innovative agenda for the comprehensive protection of children caught up in war, changing the policy and practice of governments, UN agencies, and international and national civil society.

    In 1995 Graça Machel was awarded the Nansen Medal in recognition of her contribution to the welfare of refugee children.

  • Advancing African development

    Graça Machel remains a fierce advocate for Africa’s successes and potential. As President of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), a not-for-profit Mozambican organisation she founded in 1994, she promotes development by increasing community access to information and technology. The FDC makes grants to civil society organisations to strengthen communities, facilitate social and economic justice, and assist in the reconstruction and development of post-war Mozambique. Ms Machel founded the Graça Machel Trust which advocates for the rights of women and children on the African continent, as well as good governance and democracy.

    Mrs Machel has also served on the boards of numerous organisations working to prevent conflict and advance development, including the UN Foundation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists, the African Leadership Forum, and International Crisis Group. She was Chair of the Fund Board for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) for almost 10 years as well as Eminent Person of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), and is currently the Chancellor of the University of Cape Town.

    In recognition of her lifelong efforts to promote human rights, education and development, Graça Machel has received the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger (1992), the Inter Press Service’s International Achievement Award (1998), the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe (1998) and the Africare Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award (1999), among others.

View all articles by Graça Machel

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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