Let me start this post with a question: How many of you have seen the movie ‘Underworld’? If you have, then do you remember ‘The Elders’ from the movie?
In the movie, The Elders was a group of three of the oldest and most powerful vampires. This group controls all vampires and rules them with a tight fist. And of the three, two die in first movie itself, whereas the third becomes a hybrid of vampire and werewolf. Interesting, isn’t it?
Anyway this post is not about fictional characters and groups out of a dark movie. What will your reaction be if I told you that ‘The Elders’ actually exists?
It does. And they are nothing like what is portrayed in movie. They are far worse, infact quite good!
It turns out that “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 goal of the group is to solve global problems, using "almost 1,000 years of collective experience" to work on solutions for seemingly insurmountable problems like climate change, HIV/AIDS, and poverty, as well as to "use their political independence to help resolve some of the world's most intractable conflicts".
It is interesting to note how this group came into being. The whole concept originated in a conversation between Sir Richard Branson and Peter Gabriel. They wondered whether 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? This idea was inspired from traditional societies, where elders often help to share wisdom and resolve disputes within communities.
Richard and Peter approached Nelson Mandela, who agreed to support it. With the help of Graca Machel and Desmond Tutu, Mandela set about bringing the Elders together.
Distinct set of criterias were developed for selecting and inviting the prospective candidates. Firstly and most importantly, they had to be independent. The should have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership.
Formation of Elders was announced by Mandela 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." Nelson Mandela.
The group of Elders present at the announcement were:
- Nelson Mandela, former South Africa President
- Graça Machel, Mozambican activist, Mandela's wife
- Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations
- Mary Robinson, former Irish President and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
- Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate
- Jimmy Carter, former United States President
- Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Grameen Bank founder and microcredit pioneer
- Li Zhaoxing, former Chinese Foreign Minister (who is no longer an Elder)
At the launch ceremony, a chair was left empty on the stage to signify Aung San Suu Kyi, the human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner who was a political prisoner in Burma. Other members who were not present at the launch were the Indian trade union leader and SEWA founder Ela Bhatt, former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Algerian ambassador and veteran U.N. envoy and advisor Lakhdar Brahimi, and former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso.
Ex-ambassador Li Zhaoxing of China expressed some concerns regarding the conflicting nature of the culture of universal values and the national interests of China. The former is characterized by concepts like human rights, democracy, and political freedom as defined by the West, whereas the latter, according to Mr. Li, should be advanced by the Chinese nation as a group with its intrinsic traditions and values, defined by its current state of political development. In this light, Ambassador Li was reluctant to act in this small group as an individual apart from the Chinese nation's collective deliberation on issues that are highly sensitive to China. He was given a graceful exit for "personal reasons".
Princess Mabel of Orange of the Netherlands was appointed as the group's first Chief Executive Officer.
Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Laureate and former President of the Republic of Finland, was announced to have joined the group on 21 September 2009.
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 powers. 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 at times when it is not.