It’s like Space Cowboys in the real world: ageing heroes returning to save the Earth.
The group’s stated purpose is to work, with “an independent voice, not bound by the interests of any nation, government or institution”, for peace and human rights.
That mission can be controversial, as The Elders insist on listening to all sides in a conflict and speaking “difficult truths.” Indeed, while Nelson Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, promotes ending child marriage, former US President Jimmy Carter and Mary Robinson, former President
of Ireland, have visited North Korea to broker a peace deal with the South.
But when Mandela inspired Sir Richard Branson to help him launch a network of senior statesmen, the legendary South African was already rather old. Sir Richard named the new group The Elders. And now they’re adding a youth division – The Youngers.
“The Elders are working with younger people, but this is not a mentoring relationship,”
explains Katy Cronin, The Elders’ Chief Operating Officer. “Our Youngers are already experts and have aspirations for leadership.”
“The major barrier young people have is a lack of believe in youth held by those in power.
They feel they have the monopoly of knowledge,” says Esther Agbarakwe, a 28-year-old Younger from Nigeria. “There are emerging global civil society networks working on sustainability
that create greater pressure from the bottom up,” adds Marvin Nala, a 23-year-old Chinese Younger.
What young leaders need is support and a listening ear, says Cronin: “Elders give The Youngers recognition. They’re very talented young people, but they often feel that people don’t listen. The Elders listen to them and give them confidence.”
The Elders now also include Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former world leaders and presidents
like Carter and Brazil’s Fernando Cardoso. Tutu serves as the group’s chairman, while Mandela has now retired.
“My fellow Elders and I often travel to places of deep unrest and suffering, but we always find wonderfully bright, inspiring young people who fill us with hope,” Archbishop Tutu tells Metro. “Five years ago, when he founded The Elders,
Nelson Mandela told us to reach out to the youth and that is precisely why: young people everywhere need to be assured of their incredible power. In turn, they can give us oldies some of their energy!”
The Elders have helped negotiate between the Koreas, in the Middle East, Cote d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka and Sudan; Elder statesman Lakhdar Brahimi has just been appointed UN peace envoy to Syria.
“The Elders demonstrated their faith in young people and told the world that youth matters,” adds an enthusiastic Agbarakwe