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The Elders: Moral Authority Without Superpowers

The Elders: Annan, Carter and Machel i

Graca Machel, activist and wife of Nelson Mandela (right) speaks at a Nov. 24 joint news conference in Johannesburg addressing the growing power-sharing and cholera crisis in Zimbabwe. She is joined by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter. Alexander Joe/AFP hide caption

toggle caption Alexander Joe/AFP
The Elders: Annan, Carter and Machel

Graca Machel, activist and wife of Nelson Mandela (right) speaks at a Nov. 24 joint news conference in Johannesburg addressing the growing power-sharing and cholera crisis in Zimbabwe. She is joined by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter.

Alexander Joe/AFP

The Elders, a group founded in 2007, is made up of a dozen former world leaders working behind the scenes and in plain sight to stem the spread of conflicts, poverty and human rights issues. The organization started as an idea by musician Peter Gabriel.

Gabriel shared his idea with entrepreneur Richard Branson back in 1999 with the thought of forming a group that could work in much the same way as respected elders of an African village, sharing wisdom and solutions with a community that could be moved to positive outcomes.

The founding roster for "The Elders" includes:

Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa

Graca Machel, former first lady of Mozambique, activist for women's and children's rights, and Mandela's wife

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa

Jimmy Carter, former U.S. president responsible for the 1978 Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt

Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights

Lakhdar Brahimi, former Algerian diplomat

Muhammad Yunus, economist and founder of the Grameen Bank

Fernando Cardoso, former president of Brazil

Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations

Aung San Suu Kyi, pro-democracy activist and the prime minister-elect of Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), unrecognized winner of the 1990 Burma election

Ela Bhatt, founder of the Self-Employed Women's Association, a trade union with more than 1 million members in India

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway and former director general of the World Health Organization

Members of the Elders have traveled to Kenya, Sudan, Cyprus and most recently to South Africa to evaluate the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe and attempt to reach resolution through unconventional means.

Several of the founding members of the Elders are recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize.

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