On Monday I attended a screening of Road to Peace, a fly on the wall documentary of The Dalai Lama. At the end of the film I turned to my partner and said to him, there is so much love for this man, how will the world react when he and some of the world’s most respected and loved statesmen and women pass on?
Sadly just three days later I saw exactly what happened when a world statesman left this earth. I was on facebook around 9.45pm when my newsfeed became flooded with status upon status declaring the sad news that Nelson Mandela had died. As I read through messages from dear friends scattered across the world, many had chosen to include inspiring quotes from the man himself; a number of quotes I had not heard or read before but I found each one resonated with the words of an individual who had experienced so much in his life and he was now offering this wisdom to us all.
Talking to two dear friends yesterday who had both lost their parents, one thing both girls agreed on was each of their parents had acted as a guide, someone who could help direct them when they weren’t sure of the next step to take and this was a huge loss in their lives. In a world full of change and confusion, it’s important to be able to seek wisdom from those who have seen great changes and challenges and can help us all to keep on the path of love, forgiveness and compassion. One specific legacy Nelson Mandela has left through his work is to ensure his wisdom lives on through a group of like minded statesmen and stateswomen. This group is called The Elders.
So Who Are The Elders?
Nelson Mandela founded The Elders in Johannesburg on his 89th birthday, 18 July 2007, after the idea was brought to him by the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, he brought together ten ‘Elders’ – independent, progressive leaders committed to peace, justice and human rights – to work together on global problems including peace-building and reconciliation in war-affected regions, sustainable development and equality for girls and women.
The Elders are Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan (Chair), Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland (Deputy Chair), Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Hina Jilani, Graça Machel, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo. Desmond Tutu is an Honorary Elder.
At the group’s launch in 2007, Nelson Mandela called on The Elders to act as “a fiercely independent and robust force for good, tackling complex and intractable issues – especially those that are not popular.”
After founding The Elders, Nelson Mandela did not play an active role, but he remained an Honorary Elder and the inspiration for The Elders’ work. In May 2010, the Elders reunited with Nelson Mandela during one of the group’s biannual meetings, in Johannesburg. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, then Chair of The Elders, said: “It gives us such a strong sense of purpose and determination to sit with dear Madiba who brought us all together.”
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.
I became aware of The Elders many months ago via a posting from Virgin Unite and I have featured their work on my radio show. I have huge respect for all the individuals involved – each one of them a pioneer in their own right and who, together, as a group are now dedicating their lives to listening and resolving disputes in a peaceful and inclusive way. With this hugely influential group trailblazing this approach, I personally feel huge hope in my heart for peaceful resolution of disputes.
We all have our own part to play. 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. 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.’
Each one of us has the same opportunity to use our own experiences and self belief to be a force for good. How will YOU be remembered? What will be YOUR legacy?