Learning from The Elders

Richard Branson and Mary Robinson on a protest
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Published on 2 April 2021

We can always learn more from our elders, and – in particular – from The Elders. It was wonderful to return to Sirius XM with my co-host John Fugelsang to discuss how individuals and teams can make an enormous difference.

We were joined by the remarkable Mary Robinson, Chair of The Elders, former President of Ireland, former UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and my dear friend. 

Image from International Peace Institute
Image from International Peace Institute

Mary and I got to know each other over the years since she became a founding member of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights. Incubated by Virgin Unite and a wonderful group of partners, they were originally brought together by Nelson Mandela and his formidable wife, and human rights leader, Graca Machel. He asked each member to “support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, inspire hope where there is despair”. Mary remains an incredible example of these values, and it was wonderful as ever to learn from her in our conversation.

Every time I talk to Mary and reflect on what The Elders have achieved, I am overcome with the same hope and inspiration that sparked the formation of The Elders almost 15 years ago. As the COVID-19 pandemic shines a harsh light on our world’s existing inequalities, The Elders continue to inspire me and so many others through these most trying times.  

I mentioned to John during the show that The Elders don’t act like ‘elders’ in relation to the energy and effort they put into fighting for human rights, though they do in the sense that they are unmatched in their wisdom, balanced decision making, and unwavering commitment to peace. 

Benny Gool
Benny Gool

We discussed why business leaders should speak up about social issues and Mary put it so well: “Many of the activities in our world, whether they be dealing with the climate crisis, migration, or devastating poverty, can and must be addressed by business. Business leaders must take a more integrated and intersectional approach, and work with a strong moral compass, passion, compassion, and empathy.” I wholeheartedly agree, and from supporting refugees to launching the Business Leaders’ Declaration Against the Death Penalty, we try to put these words into action.

Mary and I spoke more about how COVID-19 has exacerbated global inequalities and highlighted the intersectionality between issues. Listen to the show to hear Mary’s explanation about the ‘five layers on injustice’, which each require a climate justice approach. As she explains it, poverty, gender, future generations, development pathways and nature itself are all inextricably woven and highlight the connected global issues that we all must address. 

Mary said to me at the end of the show: “I may be Chair, but I humbly listen to all of my fellow Elders and learn so much from them.”

I too humbly listen to each of The Elders and encourage you to do the same – in particular, try The Elders’ podcast Finding Humanity, and Mary’s Mothers of Invention podcast, all about the women driving powerful solutions to climate change. The more of us who learn from The Elders’ empathy and heart, the better the world will be.