The Elders with their founder Nelson Mandela
It is a pleasure to write to you on the eve of a significant milestone for The Elders, as we mark ten years since Nelson Mandela founded our group. Later this month, we will gather in Cape Town to celebrate a decade of accomplishments, recommit ourselves to the mandate Madiba gave us, and launch a new campaign to show solidarity with those who are most downtrodden and vulnerable in today’s world.
The world has changed in innumerable ways since The Elders first gathered together. The global financial crisis has plunged millions into poverty and badly shaken trust in monetary and banking institutions. Terrible conflicts have scarred regions of the world, particularly Syria and the wider Middle East, and the number of people forcibly displaced from their homes has risen to the highest level since the end of the Second World War.
The internet has forever altered the structure and content of how we communicate with each other and how we consume news. Sometimes this has been emancipatory, but sometimes we have seen how social media can give voice to the ugliest impulses in humanity, with an alarming rise in intolerant voices and vicious hate speech.
But in the words of our dear brother Archbishop Tutu, as Elders we remain “prisoners of hope”. Amid the gloom and despair, there remains much to celebrate in our world. Two great diplomatic successes of recent years – the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change – were born not just out of high-level political meetings but a vast wave of global citizens mobilising together and demanding change. The Elders have also been catalysts for these grassroots movements, for example by founding Girls Not Brides, the global campaign against child marriage which has helped improve the lives of girls and women worldwide.
Taken together, these constitute sparks of hope in communities all around the world – courageous moral leaders who should be supported and celebrated. They are working for the freedoms to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.
As we celebrate our tenth anniversary on Mandela Day, 18 July 2017, we will be working with civil society partners to help champion these inspirational individuals and groups, build a bright web of hope and encourage people to walk together to find what unites them. As Mandela once said, “to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.
As we enter into our second decade of work together, I am also delighted that we are welcoming a new member of our group. Ban Ki-moon, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, has joined The Elders and we will all benefit from his wisdom and unique perspective in our future work.
As Secretary-General, Ban worked tirelessly to secure the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He also oversaw the creation of UN Women – an institutional symbol of the UN’s commitment to gender equality and female empowerment.
These are issues dear to all our hearts and will be central to our work in the year ahead. We have all come a long way in the past decade, but our long walk to freedom, following in Madiba’s footsteps, will continue. On 18 July, we will launch a year-long campaign to celebrate and stand in solidarity with people around the world fighting for the freedoms Nelson Mandela championed throughout his life. The campaign will culminate on 18 July 2018, the centenary of Madiba’s birth, with the message “10 Years Young, 100 Years Courageous”.
We invite you all to join us, either in Cape Town or via social media, for our launch event as we walk together towards a better world for all.