The Elders

Desmond Tutu

“People like the Elders are not here to lead change, or end wars. They are here to remind you that wars can be ended.”

Anti-apartheid leader

“Perhaps oppression dehumanises the oppressor as much as, if not more than, the oppressed. They need each other to become truly free, to become human.”

Nobel Peace Laureate

“To talk about ‘ethical leadership’ is to speak from experience, not because you were a perfect leader but because you were thrust into difficult situations – stirring hatred or calling for cool heads, igniting a war or enshrining peace, reaching out to the poor or assuming they will perish. And maybe you helped to see humanity prevail.”

Healing South Africa’s wounds

“Forgiveness is not just an altruistic act, but one born of self-interest. Forgiveness helps give people the resilience to survive and remain human in the face of all efforts to dehumanise them.”

The ‘world’s moral conscience’

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Desmond Tutu biography

Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Nobel Peace Laureate and Honorary Elder; a veteran anti-apartheid activist and peace campaigner widely regarded as ‘South Africa’s moral conscience’.
  • Founding member and Chair of The Elders 2007-2013
  • Nobel Peace Laureate 1984
  • Chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission
"Despite all of the ghastliness in the world, human beings are made for goodness. The ones that are held in high regard are not militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They have a commitment to try and make the world a better place."
  • Work with The Elders

    Known affectionately as ‘Arch’ by his fellow Elders, Desmond Tutu helped bring the group together in 2007 and served as its much-loved Chair until May 2013.

    One of the world’s best known advocates for peace and reconciliation, Archbishop Tutu has travelled to Cyprus with the Elders several times to encourage reconciliation between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities; to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to promote a just and secure Middle East peace; to Côte d'Ivoire, where the Elders encouraged national reconciliation following the post-election violence of early 2011; and to Sudan and South Sudan to highlight humanitarian needs and the importance of dialogue between political leaders.

    A constant champion of youth empowerment, Archbishop Tutu took part in Elders+Youngers, an intergenerational dialogue on sustainable development around the Rio+20 summit in June 2012. He has also travelled to Ethiopia with The Elders in June 2011, and to India in February 2012, to support communities tackling the harmful traditional practice of child marriage. “We want to use our collective clout, as Elders,” he said, “to lift up something that has been ignored by the world.”

    In January 2014, he joined The Elders visit to Iran, aiming to encourage dialogue between Iran and the international community and promote peaceful solutions to conflict and sectarian divisions in the region. The Elders met with key Iranian figures and discussed Iran’s role in the easing of regional tensions, the spread of extremist violence internationally, issues of human rights and the Syrian crisis.

    He stepped down as Chair in May 2013, noting that "As Elders we should always oppose Presidents for Life." He remains an Elder Emeritus.

  • Anti-apartheid archbishop

    Desmond Mpilo Tutu began his career as a high school teacher but turned to theology after the 1953 Bantu Education Act enforced racial segregation in all educational institutions. He was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960, becoming the first black Anglican Dean of Johannesburg in 1975 and the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches four years later. An outspoken critic of the apartheid government, he insisted that racial segregation was against God’s will. He soon became well-known internationally for his commitment to non-violence and for his support for economic sanctions against apartheid South Africa.

    He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his work in the struggle against apartheid. In 1986 he was elected Archbishop of Cape Town, the highest position in the Anglican Church in South Africa. Widely regarded as 'South Africa's moral conscience', he continued to speak out against the apartheid regime and organised many peaceful demonstrations with thousands marching beside him.

  • Truth and reconciliation

    In 1994, after the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as President of South Africa, Tutu was appointed Chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate apartheid-era crimes. The model he established, based on truth as a foundation for forgiveness and reconciliation, was central to healing South Africa's divided society. He says, “Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations.”

    Tutu retired as Chair of the Commission in 1998 and has since shared his experience and advice with those undertaking their own truth and reconciliation processes in post-conflict societies, from Northern Ireland to the Solomon Islands.

  • Advocate for peace and justice

    Archbishop Tutu remains a passionate critic of injustice. Despite announcing his retirement from public life in 2010, he continues to stand up for those who are poor and oppressed, to raise awareness of global crises such as the AIDS pandemic and climate change, and to advance peace and reconciliation worldwide.

    Alongside his wife, Leah, Archbishop Tutu continues to work through the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation with the objective of promoting peace building through conflict resolution, fostering reconciliation and to cultivate accountable servant leadership.

    Archbishop Tutu's ability to convey difficult messages with clarity, compassion and conviviality make him one of the most loved and respected activists of our time. As his great friend Nelson Mandela said of Tutu, he is “sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour.”

View all articles by Desmond Tutu

Nelson Mandela

(1918-2013) Founder

Former President of South Africa and Nobel Peace Laureate; a leader who dedicated his life to the anti-apartheid struggle, democracy and equality; founder of The Elders.

Martti Ahtisaari

Former President of Finland; Nobel Peace Laureate and expert in international peace mediation, diplomacy and post-conflict state building.

Kofi Annan


Former UN Secretary-General, Nobel Peace Laureate and Chair of The Elders (2013-2018); put development, human rights, the rule of law, good governance and peace at the top of the United Nations agenda.

Ban Ki-moon

Deputy Chair of The Elders

Former UN Secretary-General, former South-Korean Foreign Minister and diplomat; he sought to give voice to the world’s poorest and vulnerable people by putting Sustainable Development Goals, climate change, and gender equality at the top of the UN agenda.

Ela Bhatt

Elder Emeritus

The ‘gentle revolutionary’; a pioneer in women’s empowerment and grassroots development, founder of the more than 1 million-strong Self-Employed Women’s Association in India.

Lakhdar Brahimi

Former Algerian freedom fighter, Foreign Minister, conflict mediator and UN diplomat; an expert in peacekeeping and post-conflict reconstruction.

Gro Harlem Brundtland

First woman Prime Minister of Norway; a medical doctor who champions health as a human right; put sustainable development on the international agenda.

Fernando H Cardoso

Elder Emeritus

Former President of Brazil; implemented major land reform programme, reduced poverty and significantly improved health and education; an acclaimed sociologist and global advocate for drug policy reform.

Jimmy Carter

Elder Emeritus

Former President of the United States, Nobel Peace Laureate and veteran peace negotiator; dedicated to advancing peace, democracy and health worldwide.

Hina Jilani

Pioneering lawyer and pro-democracy campaigner; a leading activist in Pakistan's women's movement and international champion of human rights.

Ricardo Lagos

Former President of Chile; tenacious fighter for democracy and human rights; implemented health reform; and reduced economic inequality while diversifying Chile’s external trade in the era of globalisation.

Graça Machel

Deputy Chair of The Elders

International advocate for women’s and children's rights; former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique.

Mary Robinson

Chair of The Elders

First woman President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; a passionate, forceful advocate for gender equality, women’s participation in peace-building and human dignity.

Desmond Tutu

Elder Emeritus

Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Nobel Peace Laureate and Honorary Elder; a veteran anti-apartheid activist and peace campaigner widely regarded as ‘South Africa’s moral conscience’.

Ernesto Zedillo

Former President of Mexico who led profound democratic and social reforms; economist and advocate of multilateralism, inclusive globalisation, nuclear non-proliferation and drug policy reform.

The Elders are independent 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.

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