Walk Together – The Elders and the British Council

by Emily Faint, Future News Worldwide 2017 alumna

More than 45,000 people tuned in from around the world to watch promising young delegates from the British Council’s Future Leaders Connect programme engage with some of the globe’s greatest humanitarians, The Elders, in honour of Nelson Mandela’s Walk Together campaign.

The Elders were created ten years ago by the late Mandela to focus on global peace solutions in the face of division and conflict, continuing his ‘long walk to freedom’. Comprising of world leaders such as former UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, former Algerian freedom fighter and UN diplomat, Lakhdar Brahimi, The Elders represent an independent body championing Mandela’s values of peace, health, justice and equality.

Kofi Anaan, former UN Secretary-General, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Chair of the Elders, captured the heart of the message during the campaign’s symbolic procession through London.

“You are never too young to lead and never too old to learn.”

Access to education and environmental sustainability were highlighted as the single most crucial challenges facing leadership today, and, by extension, some of its greatest causes of division.

On building global peace, Lakhdar Brahimi quoted Anaan’s urging to “put our planet first”. The greatest obstacle to sustainability progress, he asserted, was “trouble from those who call themselves leaders”. Above all, Brahimi emphasised the need for individual responsibility in ordinary citizens. “It’s not just up to governments; it’s up to us too.”

Fellow Elder panellist, former President of Finland and Nobel Peace Laureate, Martti Ahtisaari, pointed to the potential of women and minority groups as a key solution to bridging global divides. With 60% of the 2017 Future Leaders Connect delegation being women, the focus on female empowerment has, fittingly, been prioritised in this year’s intake. Seun Tuyo, representing Nigeria in the panel, spoke of the failings to properly integrate women into these movements. “In my work, I see women being taken out of the process. There cannot be peace without women.” Imani Brown, American delegate and panellist, called for greater compassion. “All of our grievances are connected. Privileging profit over people is what is actually dividing us.”

Ban Ki-moon and former President of Mexico, Ernesto Zedillo, led the second panel’s discussion on laying the groundwork for peace. Unable to resist a brief quip about the current US President – “You’re a bad man!” – Zedillo argued for the value of access to education as a means of creating unity. The unique context of the digital age for political leadership is both the future leaders’ greatest asset, and their most precarious ally. With isolationist leaders such as Trump “taking the world in the wrong direction tweet by tweet”, the responsible use of technology for peaceful purposes is essential for the leaders of tomorrow.

The inescapable theme to which the conference continued to return to, however, was climate change. Ban Ki-moon critiqued the “snail’s pace” of adaptation to rising global temperatures, referencing the recent natural disasters in the US as evidence for the price we are already paying. Mexican delegate, Diego Mendiburu, echoed Brahimi’s earlier call for individual action with the aid of everyday technology in order to hold our governments, and ourselves, accountable. “We must become citizen watchdogs,” he said, “and use our phones to do more.”

The Future Leaders Connect programme seeks to bring together the most promising young leaders to reach global peace and policy solutions, yet the Elders’ message was clear. We are still walking. The journey to freedom, begun by Mandela, is far from over.

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