Ban Ki-moon and Ricardo Lagos walking from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square in London on 23 October. (Credit: The Elders)
It is a great pleasure and privilege to write to you for the first time since joining The Elders.
I have just returned from my first board meeting with my fellow Elders in London, where we had intensive discussions on global affairs as well as an uplifting public event with young leaders.
The Elders is a remarkable organisation that draws its strength and moral purpose from the mandate bestowed upon us by our founder, Nelson Mandela, in 2007.
We celebrated his life and legacy in our public event in London. It was an honour to walk alongside Kofi Annan, Martti Ahtisaari, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Brundtland, Ricardo Lagos, Graça Machel and Ernesto Zedillo under the slogan “#WalkTogether for Peace”.
We were also joined by young leaders from the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme and other civil society representatives, all united in our call for peace, tolerance and ethical leadership.
As Kofi Annan told the crowd in Trafalgar Square before our walk, “we live in troubled and turbulent times”. Our planet faces severe existential threats, from climate change to the recent provocations of North Korea by testing nuclear device and long-range missiles.
This is why it is so important for leaders to put their people first, and shape policy in response to long-term needs rather than short-term political advantage or cynical calculations.
And this is why Nelson Mandela remains such a vital moral, political and social example for the world to follow. He never compromised in his determination to fight for freedom, but nor did he allow himself to be consumed by bitterness or revenge.
Mandela’s presidency was characterised by magnanimity, inclusivity and justice – three values which our current leaders would do well to reflect upon as they respond to contemporary challenges.
The Elders’ #WalkTogether campaign seeks to champion Mandela’s values in the year ahead as we prepare to mark the centenary of his birth in July 2018. It also aims to shine a light on brave groups campaigning for peace, justice, health and equality around the world.
How we achieve these goals was a focus of the conversations that my fellow Elders and I had with the impressive young leaders brought together by the British Council at Church House in London, following our walk.
Our discussions were a refreshing antidote to the gloom and despair one can sometimes feel in the face of overwhelmingly negative news of conflict, corruption and cynicism in the media.
The young leaders were motivated, passionate and eloquent in their proposals to change their societies for the better. They reminded me that the rest of us have a responsibility to ensure that the coming generations have every chance to meet their potential to the fullest extent.
This is a question of economic, cultural and political rights. When young people do not have jobs or the necessary skills to get jobs, when they are not treated with respect by the authorities – whether schools, police or the judiciary -- they risk becoming alienated from their societies. And we know from across the world how alienation can lead to anger and, in the worst cases, violent extremism.
Fortunately, the young people I met in London all shared a determined optimism that a better world is possible. The Elders share their conviction, and I hope you will join us as we #WalkTogether in the coming months to realise this vision.