The Elders are an independent group of eminent 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.
The story of the Elders started in a conversation between the entrepreneur Richard Branson and the musician Peter Gabriel. The idea they discussed was a simple one. In an increasingly interdependent world — a global village — could a small, dedicated group of independent elders help to resolve global problems and ease human suffering?
For inspiration, they looked to traditional societies, where elders often help to share wisdom and resolve disputes within communities. They took their idea to Nelson Mandela, who agreed to support it. With the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, Mandela set about bringing the Elders together. Prospective members were invited to join on the basis of a distinct set of criteria. Firstly, and most importantly, they should be independent. They should have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership.
Mandela announced the formation of the Elders in July 2007, on the occasion of his 89th birthday, at a ceremony in Johannesburg. During the ceremony, he described the mission of the group: "The Elders can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes. They will reach out to those who most need their help. They will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair."
The Elders amplify the voices of those who work hard to be heard, challenge injustice, stimulate dialogue and debate and help others to work for positive change in their societies. The Elders do not hold public office and have no political or legislative power. Because they are not bound by the interests of any single nation, government or institution, they are free to speak boldly and with whomever they choose on any issue, and to take any action that they believe is right.
When undertaking initiatives, the Elders are committed to listening to the views of all groups and individuals — and especially women and young people. The Elders work both publicly and behind the scenes and at all levels — local, national and international — lending support and advice when invited, and sometimes when it is not.