Independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights

Image by Jeff Moore

Today’s interconnected world with its multitude of complex challenges requires leaders who are respected and experienced in problem-solving at a global level.  In 2007 Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, Peter Gabriel and Richard Branson founded The Elders, a remarkable group 11 visionary leaders who speak freely, are fiercely independent and use their collective experience and influence for peace, justice and human rights worldwide.

Virgin Unite was instrumental in incubating this initiative, from developing the initial concept and bringing together a group of passionate and influential partners who provided $18M in support of this initiative, to recruiting a strong management team to support the Elders work.

Image courtesy of The Elders

Working both publicly and through private diplomacy, the Elders engage with global leaders and civil society to help resolve conflict and address its root causes, to challenge injustice, to promote good governance and to inspire ethical leadership. Independent and freed from the constraints of office, the Elders can draw on their experience of leading positive change in their own countries and internationally.

They never approach problems with ready-made solutions. They know that only through listening to those most directly involved can obstacles eventually be overcome. They are committed to empowering the voiceless and the marginalised, especially women and young people.


Since 2007, the Elders have worked on peace-building efforts in Côte d’Ivoire, Cyprus, Israel and Palestine, the Korean Peninsula, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Sudan and South Sudan, and Zimbabwe. The group has also worked to encourage inclusive and peaceful transitions in countries affected by change in the Middle East and North Africa.

Image courtesy of The Elders

The current Elders are:


  • Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland,
  • Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (Chair),
  • Ela Bhatt, founder of India’s Self-Employed Women’s Association,
  • Lakhdar Brahimi, former Foreign Minister of Algeria,
  • Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway (Deputy Chair)
  • Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil,
  • Jimmy Carter, former US President,



  • Hina Jilani, international human rights defender from Pakistan,
  • Graça Machel, former Education Minister of Mozambique,
  • Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland,
  • Ernesto Zedillo, former President of Mexico.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu served for six years as Chair before stepping down in May 2013, and remains an Honorary Elder.

The Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was also an Honorary Elder, until her election to the Burmese parliament in April 2012.

I’ll never forget the wonderful Archbishop Desmond Tutu standing up at an Elders meeting and proclaiming that ‘the reason the world is in such a mess is that we are going against a fundamental principle of humanity, that we are one common family and that what I do to you I do to myself’.

Richard Branson

Virgin Unite continues to be part of the “engine” that provides both financial support and offers a range of experience and resources, helping to expand the reach of the Elders’ great work.

To find out more visit

Image courtesy of The Elders

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