The Elders

By: David Ruttan

I recently had the pleasure to see a short movie detailing a new concept of organizing for world peace.  They call themselves “The Elders” and the group consists of world leaders, both political and religious, who have banded together to make a difference and promote world peace.  The group consists of many well known peace advocates—Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu from South Africa, Kofi Annan from Ghana and Jimmy Carter from the United States, plus many more Elder Statesmen and women.

The Elders story

English billionaire Richard Branson and superstar rock musician Peter Gabriel engaged in a conversation one day—a very simple conversation.  Could it be feasible, in an ever-changing and interdependent world, that a group of brilliant and extremely independent dedicated elders could work together to tackle the seemingly impossible problems of global suffering and world peace?

Inspired by their meeting, they pondered if a concept of a “global village” could evolve from traditional societies, where elders often help to share wisdom and resolve disputes within communities. They then brought their idea to Nelson Mandela of South Africa, who the help of Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu, set about bringing the Elders together.

Mandela announced the formation of the Elders 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 unheard 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 are amplified by the well-known Elders. The Elders do not hold public office and have no political or legislative power. They are not bound by the interests of any single nation, government or institution, and are therefore free to speak boldly and with whomever they choose on any issue, and to take any action that they believe is right. As the word spread of this unusual and groundbreaking philosophy, other Elders were invited to join on the basis of a distinct set of criteria. Firstly, and most importantly, they should be independent. They should have earned international trust, demonstrated integrity and built a reputation for inclusive, progressive leadership.


The Elders are strongly concerned with listening to the views of all groups and individuals – and especially women and young people. Working at all levels of society — local, national and international ––working both in the public eye and behind the scenes—the Elders lend support and advice—whether it is welcomed or not.  They have earned the right to speak freely and share the collective wisdom of many generations.

The Elders concentrate their efforts in two broad areas: promoting dialogue and peace building; and supporting efforts to alleviate human suffering, particularly caused by armed conflict, extreme poverty, injustice or intolerance.

The Elders decide collectively where to focus their efforts. There are three principles that guide them:

1)       They should always put the interests of humanity first.

2)       They should act independently.

3)      They should have no vested interest in the outcome of any issue in which they are engaged.

We at Alameda Elder Communities avidly support the mission of these visionaries and hope that you will be interested in learning more about them.