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Ethical leadership & multilateral cooperation

Prisoners of hope in a challenging world: reflections from our new CEO

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David Nussbaum offers his reflections following his first board meeting as CEO, recalling the Elders undimmed sense of determination as "prisoners of hope" and paying tribute to Ela Bhatt as she steps down from frontline duties.


Elders' Chair Kofi Annan with CEO David Nussbaum at the October 2016 Board Meeting.

It’s an honour to join this unique organisation and I’m looking forward to working together with Elders, members of the Advisory Council and the Secretariat team to guide and develop its work in the months ahead.

We’ve just finished our October board meeting in London, and it was a great privilege for me to meet Elders in person and engage with them in discussions about our current and future work. We touched on a whole range of our initiatives, from progress towards Universal Health Coverage and strengthening the United Nations, to climate change and analysis of the worsening conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen, and the challenge of finding a road to peace in Israel and Palestine.

One could be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed by such a daunting agenda, but what’s wonderful and inspiring about the Elders is their undimmed sense of determination to work for a better world and to look for solutions to even the most intractable problems. In the memorable words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, they remain “prisoners of hope”.

“Arch” is of course an Elder Emeritus, together with Jimmy Carter and Fernando Henrique Cardoso. They are now joined by Ela Bhatt, who has decided to step down from frontline Elders work and join the ranks of Elders Emeritus.

Elaben, as she invited us to call her, always focused on the human dimension of The Elders’ work, based on her decades of commitment to grassroots activism and empowerment of women in her native India and beyond. We’ll all miss her quiet but steely determination to champion the rights of the marginalised, and she’ll continue to inspire us all in our work ahead.

Next year marks the tenth anniversary of the founding of The Elders. As well as celebrating this milestone, it’s a timely opportunity to take stock of progress to date, and develop a new strategic framework to support our mission into our second decade.

This will be a major focus for me ahead of our next board meeting in May, but in the meantime The Elders will continue working for peace, justice and human rights across the world.

Your continued support for and engagement with our mission remains invaluable.

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