From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]


Richard Branson forms a band of ‘Elders’ with Mandela, Carter, Tutu and others
By Michael Wines  /  July 17, 2007

JOHANNESBURG: Melding serious statesmanship and a large slug of
audacity, the former South African president Nelson Mandela and a
clutch of world-famous figures plan to announce on Wednesday a private
alliance to launch diplomatic assaults on the globe’s most intractable

The alliance, to be unveiled on Wednesday during events marking
Mandela’s 89th birthday, is to be called “The Elders.” Among others,
it includes the retired Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu; Jimmy
Carter, the former U.S. president; the retired United Nations
secretary general Kofi Annan, and Mary Robinson, the human-rights
activist and former president of Ireland.

Many, including Mandela, have been early and harsh critics of
President George W. Bush and American foreign policy, particularly
toward Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The group’s members
and backers insisted in interviews, however, that they are guided
neither by ideology nor by geopolitical bent.

Mandela states in remarks prepared for Wednesday that the fact that
none of The Elders holds public office allows them to work for the
common good, not for outside interests.

“This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and
behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,” the remarks
state. “Together we will work to support courage where there is fear,
foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there
is despair.”

Whether governments that become the objects of The Elders’ freelance
diplomacy will agree remains to be seen. One of the group’s founders
and principal sponsors, the British tycoon Sir Richard Branson, said
that those leaders whom he had briefed – including Prime Minister
Gordon Brown of Britain and the South African president, Thabo Mbeki –
“very much support the initiative.”

“There will always be skeptics of any positive initiatives, but these
are people giving up their time for nothing,” he said of The Elders.
“Most individuals in the world would welcome a group of people who are
above ego, who, in the last 12 or 15 years of their lives, are above
partisan politics.”

Precisely what problems The Elders will tackle is unclear; none have
yet been selected.

A spokeswoman said the group would jointly decide where to step in,
based in part on the seriousness of an issue and their ability to
contribute to a solution.

In interviews, Branson and Carter offered two quite different
hypothetical situations: The Elders might be able to help resolve
regional crises like the wave of guerrilla fighting and kidnapping in
Nigeria’s oil-rich Niger River delta, Branson suggested.

For his part, Carter said the group might address problems like the
waste and lack of coordination among aid organizations providing
health care in developing nations. “The Elders won’t get involved in
delivering bed nets for malaria prevention,” he said. “The issue is to
fill vacuums – to address major issues that aren’t being adequately

If the concept and the name seem a bit outsized – a diplomatic league
of superheroes, one might say – that may stem from their ties to
Branson, who rarely does anything in a small way.

In a telephone interview, Branson said that he began thinking about a
the notion in 2003, after he sought to persuade Mandela and Annan to
travel to Baghdad to ask Saddam Hussein to relinquish power in Iraq.
The two agreed, but war broke out before arrangements were completed.

Later, after working on a concert for one of Mandela’s charities,
Branson flew home with Peter Gabriel, the British rock musician and
human-rights activist. “I was talking about the need for a group of
global elders to be there to rally around in times of conflict,” he
said, “and Peter said he’d had a similar idea, but using the global
Internet to help elders relate to the world community.”

Thus was born The Elders, named after the preeminence of elders in
African village societies. Over the last year or so, Branson held a
series of meetings at his Caribbean base, Necker Island, at which
potential members and backers were recruited to the cause and asked to
contribute their own ideas.

Carter said the meetings were a tightly held secret. “Before we went I
didn’t know what the meeting was all about,” he said. “I went because
of Sir Richard. We’d talked earlier about the possibility of a
biofuels plant in my town, Plains.”

Branson and Gabriel contributed funds to begin the project. Asked how
much it would cost, Branson replied, “Obviously, it’s not cheap.” But
enough donors have given money to finance The Elders’ first four years
of work, he said, and he anticipates that raising still more will not
be difficult.

Shashi Ruia joins Branson to fund The Elders
New Delhi, July 23

Essar Group chairman Shashi Ruia has joined entrepreneur Richard
Branson and activist Peter Gabriel to fund a group of world leaders –
The Elders – who will contribute their wisdom to tackle some of the
world’s toughest problems.

The Group of Elders include world leaders like Desmond Tutu, former UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Former US President Jimmy Carter, Li
Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson, Bangladeshi economist Muhammad Yunus, Graca
Machel, Gro Harlem Brundtland and social activist and founder of Self
Employed Women’s Association Ela Bhatt.

Former South African President Nelson Mandela, Graca Machel and
Desmond Tutu have convened the group of leaders to contribute their
wisdom, independent leadership and integrity to tackle the challenges
faced by people all over the world, The Elders said in a statement.

The Elders would be independently funded by a group of founders
including Branson, Gabriel, Shashi Ruia, Ray Chambers, Micheal
Chambers, Bridgeway Foundation, Pam Omidyar and The United Nations

“The group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and
behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken. Together, we
will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement
where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair,”
Mandela said while announcing the formation of the group.

Ela Bhatt, a former Rajya Sabha member and winner of the Ramon
Magsaysay Award, said: “Constructive work is integral for building a
non-violent, peaceful society. Violence cannot contain freedom.
Freedom springs from constructive work.”

AlJazeeraEnglish coverage

Global ‘elders’ launch new alliance
Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, others formed a group to articulate new
approaches to global issues.
By Danna Harman | Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Johannesburg, South Africa – It was about as high-level a gathering of
former leaders as one could imagine.

Former President Jimmy Carter was there. Former Irish President Mary
Robinson was in attendance. Kofi Annan, who just stepped down as
Secretary General of the United Nations, was sitting tall.

And, on the far side of the small stage, relaxing with a hint of a
smile on his face, was the most famous former leader of them all and
the man who had brought them together for the occasion – former South
African President Nelson Mandela.

“The Elders.”

That is what this clutch of influential men and women are calling
themselves. And Wednesday, on Mandela’s 89th birthday, they gathered
here in Constitution Hill (a former complex where Mandela and other
political prisoners were held under apartheid) to unveil their new
global initiative and explain their intentions.

“This group of elders will bring hope and wisdom back into the world,”
said British businessman Richard Branson. He and his friend, the rock
star Peter Gabriel, came up with the idea and pushed for the creation
of such a group. “The elders will play a role in bringing us together
to help unnecessary human suffering and to celebrate the wonderful
world we are privileged to be part of.”

The other members of the group of elders, announced yesterday, are
Graça Machel, a Mozambican human rights activist and Mandela’s wife
(they celebrated their ninth wedding anniversary Wednesday); Muhammad
Yunus, the Bangladeshi who won the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work
in extending loans to impoverished borrowers; and Li Zhaoxing, China’s
foreign minister, until this year.

A chair was left empty on the stage for another elder who was unable
to travel to South Africa yesterday – human rights activist and Nobel
Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ela Bhatt, a women’s trade union leader in India, and former Norwegian
Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, two other members of the elders,
were absent from the launch.

Elders of a ‘global village’

“We all live in a global village, but what is the state of that global
village? No one country, no matter how powerful, can resolve our
problems,” said Mr. Annan, listing problems such as “poverty,
environmental degradation, infectious diseases, international
organized crime, and weapons of mass destruction,” as some of those
the group would be turning its attention to.

In an interview with the Monitor, Mr. Carter explained that the elders
hope to articulate new approaches to global issues and share wisdom by
“helping to connect voices all over the world.” He was quick to add
that they would work to complement, not duplicate or compete with, the
efforts of other organizations and leaders.

Asked why “elders” such as themselves would be able to solve some of
the very problems that dogged them when they were in power, Carter
suggested that being free agents would make the task easier.

Now free from the constraints of office

“There were problems [in the past] that we [as leaders] did not solve
because of a lack of time, or because of very intense pressures from
our own constituencies, or because we were too bogged down with
multiple, simultaneous questions to answer,” says Carter. “But the
elders … have complete freedom to escape from the restrains of
political niceties and be able to do as Nelson Mandela pointed out –
we can talk to anyone and become involved in any issue.”

The elders declined to elaborate on which issues they would first
address. But, at a press conference following the announcement, Ms.
Robinson hinted that they might focus on human rights.

“We are coming up to the 60th anniversary of the universal declaration
of human rights,” she said, adding that they might want to play a role
in “reframing the agenda of human rights.”

“The principle of universal human rights has become very politicized.
There are double standards and people feel alienated,” she explained.
“The elders can make it a living document … that we can certainly do.”

The idea to put together such a group came about before the Iraq war,
said Mr. Gabriel and Mr. Branson in interviews with the Monitor.

“We were chewing the fat, as we do quite regularly, and Richard had
Madiba [Mandela] coming to the house,” recalled Gabriel. “That was the
first time that it was mentioned to him.”

“I had seen Mandela had spoken out vehemently against the [Iraq] war
and I contacted him to see if he would go to Iraq and try and get
Saddam Hussein to go live in Libya,” says Branson.

Mandela was willing, but two weeks later, before he was able to begin
such a mission, the war had already begun. “An elder or a group of
elders could have persuaded Hussein to leave and we would have avoided
the war,” says Branson.

The elders, said Robinson, had already begun working and the group
would meet “as often as was necessary.”

Prodded by Branson, Gabriel closed off the ceremony by singing his old
hit song “Biko” about Stephen Biko, an anti-apartheid activist who
died in police custody in 1977. Tears flowed as the audience hummed to
the music.

behind the story

Correspondent Danna Harman was in South Africa in 1994, during the
first free elections after the end of apartheid. She recalls Nelson
Mandela dancing at a rally.

On Wednesday, she found herself a few feet away from Mr. Mandela at a
press conference announcing the establishment of a global council of
elders. “He’s one of my heros and hasn’t been seen in public recently.
So, yes, I was a little starstruck. I smiled and gave him the thumbs

That was followed by another emotional moment, when British
entrepreneur Richard Branson asked Australian rock star Peter Gabriel
to sing “Biko” – a song about Steve Biko, the South African
antiapartheid activist who died in police custody. “Gabriel’s band
wasn’t there, so he asked the crowd to hum along in key. Branson
started crying. Biship Desmond Tutu was bawling, and I teared up,”
says Danna.

Later, Mr. Branson, he asked Danna what she thought of the event. By
then, her reporter’s hat was back in place. “The elders are admirable,
even great people,” she replied. “But I don’t understand the meat of
the initiative. What are they going to do?”

July 18, 2007

Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu Announce
The Elders – An Historic Group of
World Leaders

Johannesburg, South Africa – Out of deep concern for the challenges facing all of the people of our world, Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu have convened a group of leaders to contribute their wisdom, independent leadership and
integrity to tackle some of the world’s toughest problems.

Nelson Mandela announced the formation of this new group, The Elders, today in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his 89th birthday. He was joined by founding members of the group, Desmond Tutu, Graça Machel, Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Li Zhaoxing, Mary Robinson and Muhammad Yunus. Founding members, Ela Bhatt and Gro Harlem Brundtland were unable to attend.

“This group can speak freely and boldly, working both publicly and behind the scenes on whatever actions need to be taken,” Mandela commented. “Together we will work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair.”

Tutu, Chair of The Elders remarked, “Despite all of the ghastliness that is around, human beings are made for goodness. The ones who ought to be held in high regard are not the ones who are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous. They are the ones who have a commitment to try and make the world a better place.  We – The Elders – will endeavor to support those people and do our best for humanity.”

The Elders will use their unique collective skills to catalyze peaceful resolutions to long-standing conflicts, articulate new approaches to global issues that are or may cause immense human suffering, and share wisdom by helping to connect voices all over the world. They will be working together over the next several months to carefully consider which specific issues they will approach. The Elders’ criteria are not only the magnitude and importance of the challenge, but a deliberate view that their role could contribute significantly to solving the problem.

In addition to working independently, The Elders will work to complement, not duplicate or compete with the efforts of other organizations. They will seek opportunities to partner with established groups in ways that help shine a light on work already
underway or to assist in bringing the group’s efforts to another level.

“I see The Elders as a small but independent group that may fill an existing void in the world community,” said Jimmy Carter. “Almost impervious to the consequences of outside criticism, the group will conduct unrestrained analyses of important and complex issues and share our ideas with the general public and with others who might take action to resolve problems.”

The Elders will invite new members who share the attributes of the original ten: trusted, respected worldly-wise individuals with a proven commitment and record of contributing to solving global problems. Elders will step down if they are elected to
public office.

“I have worked with extraordinary people at the community level, people who have brilliant ideas and are making a huge effort to solve problems but often their contribution is localized, and their voices are not strong enough to be heard,” said Graça Machel. “The Elders can play a role in amplifying the voices of the millions of citizens of the world.”

Several years ago entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician and activist Peter Gabriel discussed with Mandela the obstacles to solving difficult conflicts facing the world. Their idea of a small, dedicated group of leaders, working objectively and
without any vested personal interest in the outcome, began to develop and eventually grew into The Elders.

Founder Peter Gabriel said, “In traditional societies, the elders always had a role in conflict resolution, long-term thinking and applying wisdom wherever it was needed. We are moving to this global village and yet we don’t have our global elders. The
Elders can be a group who have the trust of the world, who can speak freely, be fiercely independent, and respond fast
and flexibly in conflict situations.”

The Elders will be independently funded by a group of Founders, including Branson and Gabriel. Additional Founders include: Ray Chambers; Michael Chambers; Bridgeway Foundation; Pam Omidyar, Humanity United; Amy Robbins; Shashi Ruia,
Dick Tarlow; and The United Nations Foundation.

“This group of Elders will bring hope and wisdom back into the world. To play a role in bringing us together to stop unnecessary human suffering and to celebrate the wonderful world that we are so privileged to be part of,” said Founder Richard Branson.

For media enquiries, please email: media [at] theElders [dot] org

Selected Quotes from The Elders

“I know The Elders will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair.”

“I have worked with extraordinary people at the community level; people who have brilliant ideas and are making a huge effort to solve problems, but often their contribution is localised, and their voices are not strong enough to be heard. The Elders can play a role in amplifying the voice of the millions of citizens of the world.”

“Despite all of the ghastliness that is around, human beings are those that are made for goodness.  The ones that are held in high regard are not the ones that are militarily powerful, nor even economically prosperous.  They have a commitment to try and make the world a better place.”

“For building a non-violent peaceful society in the nations of the world constructive work is integral. Violence cannot contain freedom.  Freedom springs from constructive work. The non-violent freedom society is not going to drop from heaven on one
auspicious moment, as Ghandhi said. Each one nation and each citizen will have to build it brick by brick, by person to person. Constructive work is the milestone of peace and good relations.”

“I see The Elders as a small but independent group that may fill an existing void in the world community. Almost impervious to the consequences of outside criticism, there will be opportunities for unrestrained analysis of important and complex
issues, the evolution of suggestions, and for sharing our ideas with the general public and with others who might take action to resolve problems.”

“To maintain world peace, promote common development, and realize mutual benefit and win-win cooperation, all countries in the world must work harder and the international community must enhance coordination and cooperation.  Members of The Elders have rich experience in political or economic areas, and have all contributed to the prosperity and development of their motherlands. The Elders Group is an ideal platform for them to continue to advise on important issues of world development for the well-being of the whole mankind.”

“Part of the wisdom of The Elders is to remind the young of values… and I was excited at the possibility and the timing for this group of Elders…to remind the world that we actually have universal values that are accepted by every government in the world and yet they are not being implemented.”

“It is very important at the very outset to be clear about what our objectives are, and what is the best way for us to have the greatest impact, in terms of both economic and social issues.”




Kofi Annan
Kofi Annan of Ghana emerged from the ranks of United Nations’ staff to become its seventh Secretary-General, and served from 1997 to 2006. One of Kofi Annan’s main priorities as Secretary-General was a comprehensive programme of reform aimed at revitalising the United Nations and making the international system more effective. He was a constant advocate for human rights, the rule of law, and the Millennium Development Goals in Africa, and sought to bring the organisation closer to the global public by forging ties with civil society, the private sector, and other partners. At his initiative, peacekeeping was strengthened in ways that enabled the United Nations to cope with a rapid rise in the number of operations and personnel. It was also at Kofi Annan’s urging that, in 2005, member states established two new intergovernmental bodies: the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council. He also played a central role in the creation of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, the adoption of the United Nation’s first ever counter-terrorism strategy, and the acceptance by member states of the ‘responsibility to protect’ people from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. His Global Compact initiative, launched in 1999, has become the world’s largest effort to promote corporate social responsibility. Kofi Annan has undertaken wide-ranging diplomatic initiatives. In 1998, he helped to ease the transition to civilian rule in Nigeria. Also in that year, he visited Iraq in a bid to resolve an impasse between that country and the Security Council over compliance with resolutions involving weapons inspections and other matters – an effort that helped avert the outbreak of hostilities that was then imminent. In 1999, Kofi Annan was deeply involved in the process by which Timor-Leste gained independence from Indonesia. He was responsible for certifying Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, and in 2006 his efforts contributed to securing a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. Also in 2006, he mediated a settlement of the dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the Bakassi peninsula, through implementation of the judgement of the International Court of Justice. Kofi Annan’s efforts to strengthen the United Nation’s management, coherence and accountability involved major investments in training and technology, the introduction of a new whistleblower policy and financial disclosure requirements, and steps aimed at improving coordination at the country level.

Ela Bhatt
Ela R. Bhatt is widely recognised as one of the world’s most remarkable pioneers and entrepreneurial forces in grassroots development. Known as the “gentle revolutionary,” she has dedicated her life to improving the lives of India’s poorest and most oppressed women workers, with Gandhian thinking as her source of guidance. In 1972, she founded the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) – a trade union which now has more than 1,000,000 members. Founder Chair of the Cooperative
Bank of SEWA, she is also founder and chair of Sa-Dhan (the All India Association of Micro Finance Institutions in India) and founder-chair of the Indian School of Micro-finance for Women. Ela Bhatt was a Member of the Indian Parliament from 1986 to 1989, and subsequently a Member of the Indian Planning Commission. She founded and served as chair for Women’s World Banking, the International Alliance of Home-based Workers (HomeNet), and Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing, Organizing (WIEGO). She also served as a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation for a decade. She has received several awards, including the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the Right Livelihood Award, the George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award, and the Légion d’honneur from France. She has also received honorary doctorates from Harvard, Yale, the University of Natal and other academic institutions.

Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland
Few people have had an impact on society as global as Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, a medical doctor and Master of Public Health (MPH). She spent 10 years as a physician and scientist in the Norwegian public health system and served 20 years in public office, including 10 years as Prime Minister of Norway. In the 1980s she gained international recognition, championing the principle of sustainable development as the chair of the World Commission of Environment and Development (the Brundtland Commission). Dr. Brundtland was aged just seven when she enrolled as a member of the Norwegian Labour Movement in its children’s section. She has been a member ever since, and has led the Labour Party to electoral victory three times. As a young mother and newly qualified doctor, she won a scholarship to the Harvard School of Public Health. There, working alongside distinguished public health experts, Dr. Brundtland’s vision of extending health beyond the confines of the medical world into environmental issues and human development began to take shape. In the ensuing decade, while also bringing up her children, Dr. Brundtland returned to Oslo and the Ministry of Health, and became Director of Health Services for Oslo’s schoolchildren. In 1974, Dr. Brundtland became Minister of the Environment and received international recognition for her work. In 1981, at 41 years old, she was appointed Prime Minister for the first time – the youngest person and the first woman to hold the office in Norway. She served more than 10 years as Head of Government over three terms, stepping down to become Director-General of the World Health Organization for seven years until her retirement in 2003. Since then, Dr. Brundtland has served as Health Policy Fellow at Harvard University, and as member of the High Level Panel on Threats, Challenges, and UN reform appointed by the UN Secretary General. In March 2007, she was appointed as Special Envoy of the United Nations Secretary-General on Climate Change.

Professor Li Zhaoxing
Li Zhaoxing was born in Shandong province in October 1940 and after graduating from Peking University in 1964 he began his senior diplomatic career in Africa, spending seven years in Kenya during the 1970s. He was assigned First Secretary at the Chinese Embassy in the Kingdom of Lesotho in the 1980s, laying firm foundations for good relations between the two countries during his time in the post. Between 1985 and 1990, Li Zhaoxing became nationally renowned as spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, while also serving as Deputy Director General and later Director General of the Information Department. Even today, there are still many Chinese who call him “Spokesman”. He has many friends among journalists, and is always willing and happy to meet with them. Between 1990 and 1993, Li Zhaoxing visited 33 African and Middle Eastern countries while Assistant Foreign Minister. From 1993 to 1995, he was Ambassador to the United Nations for China – one of the permanent members of the Security Council – and played an important role in helping to maintain world peace and mediate in regional conflicts. He was also twice Chairman of the Security Council, and directly participated in the re-democratisation of Haiti. Li Zhaoxing has delivered some 300 speeches on crucial issues concerning Iraq, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda, Cyprus, and Central Asia, as well as on arms control, climate change and human rights. From May 1995 to March 1998, Li Zhaoxing served as Vice Foreign Minister in charge of Chinese-US relations, the United Nations, and international legal affairs. Since then he has been the Chinese Ambassador to the United States of America, Vice Foreign Minister of China, and the Foreign Minister of China. Today, he is the Honorary President of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs.

Graça Machel
Graça Machel is a renowned international advocate for women’s and children’s rights, and has been a social and political activist for decades. She is President of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), a not-for-profit Mozambican organisation she founded in 1994. The FDC makes grants to civil society organisations to strengthen communities, facilitate social and economic justice, and assist in the reconstruction and development of post-war Mozambique. In 1994, the Secretary General of the United Nations appointed Graça Machel as an independent expert to carry out an assessment of the impact of armed conflict on children. Her groundbreaking report was presented in 1996 and established a new and
innovative agenda for the comprehensive protection of children caught up in war, changing the policy and practice of governments, UN agencies, and international and national civil society. Over the years, Graça Machel has gained international recognition for her achievements. Her many awards include the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from the Hunger Project in 1992 and the Nansen Medal in recognition of her contribution to the welfare of refugee children in 1995. She has received the Inter Press Service’s International Achievement Award for her work on behalf of children internationally, the Africare Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award and the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, among others. Graça Machel has served on the boards of numerous international organisations, including the UN Foundation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists, the African Leadership Forum, and the International Crisis Group. Among many other commitments, she is Chair of the Fund Board for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, and Peer of the African Peer Review Mechanism. As Minister of Education and Culture in Mozambique (1975-1989) she was responsible for overseeing an increase in primary school enrolment from 40% of children in 1975 to over 90% of boys and 75% of girls by 1989.

Nelson Mandela
One of the world’s most revered statesmen, Nelson Mandela led the struggle to replace South Africa’s apartheid regime with a non-racial democracy. His anti-apartheid activities led to his sentencing in 1962 to five years in prison, and in 1964 he was jailed for life because of his involvement in underground armed resistance activities. He served 27 years in prison. Nelson Mandela became the first democratically elected State President of South Africa on 10 May 1994. Since stepping down in 1999, he has become South Africa’s highest profile ambassador, and has campaigned tirelessly in the fight against HIV/AIDS. He was also active in peace negotiations in African countries, including the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi. Fondly known in South Africa by his clan name ‘Madiba’, Nelson Mandela has received scores of awards and honours throughout the world.

Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and more recently United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has been a human rights advocate for most of her life. Born Mary Bourke in Ballina, County Mayo (1944), the daughter of two physicians, she was educated at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), King’s Inns Dublin and Harvard Law School, to which she won a fellowship in 1967. As an academic (Trinity College Law Faculty 1968-1990), legislator (Senator 1969-1989) and barrister (1967-1990; Senior Counsel 1980, English Bar 1973), Mary Robinson has always sought to use law as an instrument for social change, arguing landmark cases before the European Court of Human Rights as well as in the Irish courts and the European Court in Luxembourg. A committed European, she has also served on expert European Community and Irish parliamentary committees. Mary Robinson married Nicholas Robinson in 1970, a lawyer, conservationist, and authority on 18th century caricature. They have a daughter and two sons. In 1988 Mary Robinson and her husband founded the Irish Centre for European Law at Trinity College. Ten years later she was elected Chancellor of the University. The recipient of numerous honours and awards throughout the world, Mary Robinson is Chair of the Council of Women World Leaders and Vice President of the Club of Madrid. She chairs the International Board of the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and the Fund for Global Human Rights, and is Honorary President of Oxfam International and Patron of the International Community of Women Living with AIDS (ICW). She serves on several boards, including the Vaccine Fund, the Global Compact, is a member of the Royal Irish Academy and the American Philosophical Society, and chairs the Irish Chamber Orchestra. Now based in New York, Mary Robinson is the President of Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative. Its mission is to make human rights the compass that charts a course for globalisation that is fair, just, and of benefit to all.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Anglican priest Desmond Mpilo Tutu became the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches in 1979. He spoke strongly and internationally, pushing for non-violent change and economic sanctions against South Africa. In
reaction, the South African government revoked his passport. A month after winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, Tutu was elected the first black Anglican bishop of Johannesburg. In 1986 he was elected Archbishop of Cape Town, the highest position in the Anglican Church in South Africa. In 1989 he led a march to a whites-only beach, where he and supporters were chased off with whips. In 1994, after the end of Apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela, Tutu was appointed as Chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, to investigate apartheid-era crimes. His policy of forgiveness and reconciliation has become an international example of conflict resolution, and a trusted method of post-conflict reconstruction. He continues to pursue an active international ministry for peace.

Professor Muhammad Yunus
After receiving his PhD in Economics from Vanderbilt University in the United States, Muhammad Yunus returned to his home country of Bangladesh in 1972. There he founded the Grameen Bank Project in 1976, and transformed it into a formal bank in 1983. Through the Grameen Bank Muhammad Yunus has given practical expression to his belief that the world’s poorest people can transform the conditions of their own lives if given appropriate financial support. From this belief came the idea of ‘micro-credit’ – bank loans offered to the poor without asking them for guarantees or security in return. As Muhammad Yunus himself describes it: ‘The repayments are designed in such a way that they are tiny instalments. You can pay back your loan over a long period. So all of this together is micro-credit. Small loans for income-generating activity, addressed to the poorest, without collateral.’ For more than 30 years Muhammad Yunus has worked tirelessly to gain loan opportunities for the
world’s rural poor, especially poor women. Grameen Bank currently operates 2,381 branches, offering credit to 7 million poor people from 75,950 villages in Bangladesh. In 2006 Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to create economic and social development from the ground up. This award not only inspired the people of Bangladesh towards greater achievements, but also gave worldwide recognition to the nation as a whole. Muhammad Yunus has proved himself to be a leader by transforming his vision into practical action for the benefit of millions of people, not only in Bangladesh, but in many other countries too.