Address by Nelson Mandela to The Elders, Ulusaba Private Game Reserve

26 May 2007

In today’s world, many of the problems we face are global in nature. These include climate change, pandemics such as aids, malaria and TB. And of course, that entirely human created affliction: violent conflict.

The structures we have to deal with these problems are often tied down by political, economic or geographical constraints.

As institutions of government grapple – often unequally - with challenges they face, the efforts of a small, dedicated group of leaders, working objectively and without any vested personal interest in the outcome, can help resolve what often seems like intractable problems.

Gathered here today we have the makings of such a group. Using their experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nation, race and creed, they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live.

Let us call them Global Elders, not because of their age, but because of their individual and collective wisdom.

This group derives its strength not from political, economic or military power, but from the independence and integrity of those who are here. They do not have careers to build, elections to win, constituencies to please. They can talk to anyone they please, and are free to follow paths they deem right, even if hugely unpopular.

It is now several years since Richard and Peter came to me with their idea for The Elders. Since then I have watched the concept grow, gain structure and strength, and become a real, viable, and pragmatic initiative.

I believe that, with your experience and your energies, and your profound commitment to building a better world, The Elders can become a fiercely independent and robust force for good, tackling complex and intractable issues, especially those that are not popular.

However, I know that this group will not become arbitrary and arrogant, and that it will seek advice from expert organisations and work cooperatively with them. What’s more, you will not take the easy, short term route, but support long-term, sustainable approaches that address the root causes of the problems you tackle.

Wherever possible you will work with local and indigenous knowledge.

You will listen, bringing together antagonists and protagonists, working with anyone who is motivated to resolve a problem,

and giving them support and the determination to do so. You can help foster and introduce innovative ideas and little known solutions to connect those who have real practical needs with those who have something to give.

Through our friends in business, we can mobilise up to date technology, and raise not only awareness of forgotten issues, but also help locate the resources to address them.

But whatever techniques you use, I believe that in the end it is kindness and generous accommodation that are the catalysts for real change.

And I expect that, if my friend the Archbishop has anything to do with it, you will insist on assuming the essential interdependence of all human-kind. We call this the spirit of Ubuntu - that profound African sense that we are human only through the humanity of other human beings.

You should be conscious that you will often disagree with each other, and that you will have detractors.

Who are these self-appointed “saviours” people will ask? Respond to these internal disagreements and outside critics with openness. In fact, reach out to those detractors, convert them to this way of thinking.

The Elders can become a real role model – leading, guiding and supporting all sorts of initiatives, both your own and those of many others.

The Elders can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken.

And remember who most needs your help the most. It is those who have the least who suffer the most. It is they who are rarely heard. This group of Elders can represent them and make sure they are not ignored.

I know that you will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.

This initiative cannot have come at a more appropriate time. It will bring together an extraordinary collection of people, with the skills and resources to undertake what is now required.

I am proud to be here at this ground breaking first meeting of The Global Elders. As I have said, I am trying to take my retirement seriously, and though I will not be able to participate in the really exciting part of the work, analysing problems, seeking solutions, searching out partners, I will be with you in spirit.

I thank you.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation