David Nussbaum Chief Executive of The Elders Talks Wisdom

We are delighted to welcome David Nussbaum to our In The Spirit of Things Conversations in July and talk with him about his role leading the secretariat for The Elders.


The Elders is an independent group of global leaders, mainly former Presidents, who work together for peace, justice and human rights, founded by Nelson Mandela. The Chair of The Elders is former President of Ireland, Mary Robinson, and Ban Ki-moon and Graça Machel are Deputy Chairs.

David became Chief Executive at The Elders in October 2016, where he leads the Secretariat which supports the Elders’ work.


The Elders are an independent group of global leaders working together for peace, justice and human rights.

David’s previous roles were as Chief Executive of WWF-UK and Chair of WWF’s Global Climate and Energy Initiative; Chief Executive of the global anti-corruption organisation Transparency International based in Berlin; and Finance Director and a Deputy CEO of Oxfam where he also headed up Oxfam’s operations in India for a period.


David originally qualified as a chartered accountant with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, moved into venture capital with 3i, and then into manufacturing, latterly as Finance Director of Field Group plc through its management buyout and subsequent successful flotation.


David is also the Senior Independent Director of Drax Group plc, a Board member of the Value Reporting Foundation, and of the International Budget partnership, and a member of the Ethical Investment Advisory Group of the Church of England.


David has previously served as non-executive Chair of Traidcraft plc, non-executive Director of Low Carbon Accelerator, Vice-Chair of Shared Interest, Chair of Transparency International UK, Deputy Chair of the International Integrated Reporting Council, and on the Marks & Spencer plc Executive Advisory Board on Sustainability.


David has two degrees in theology, one in finance, and an honorary doctorate. He and his wife have four adult children, and a granddaughter.


About The Elders


On the occasion of his 89th birthday, Nelson Mandela announced the formation of The Elders and expressed his hope that the group will "work to support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict, and inspire hope where there is despair."


'In today’s world, many of the problems we face are global in nature. These include climate change, pandemics such as aids, malaria and TB. And of course, that entirely human created affliction: violent conflict.'


'The structures we have to deal with these problems are often tied down by political, economic or geographical constraints.'


'As institutions of government grapple – often unequally – with challenges they face, the efforts of a small, dedicated group of leaders, working objectively and without any vested personal interest in the outcome, can help resolve what often seems like intractable problems.'


'We have the makings of such a group. Some of them are here, others could regrettably not attend. Using their collective experience, their moral courage and their ability to rise above the parochial concerns of nation, race and creed, they can help make our planet a more peaceful, healthy and equitable place to live.'


'Let us call them Global Elders, not because of their age, but because of their individual and collective wisdom.'


'This group derives its strength not from political, economic or military power, but from the independence and integrity of those who are here.'


'They do not have careers to build, elections to win, constituencies to please. They can talk to anyone they please, and are free to follow paths they deem right, even if hugely unpopular.'




The world has changed markedly since Nelson Mandela founded The Elders in 2007.


The Elders contribute to addressing some of the challenges of leadership, peace-building, inequality, exclusion and injustice in a rapidly-changing world. Key Area of diplomacy are:

  • Ethical Leadership and Multi Lateral Cooperation

  • Conflict Countries and Regions

  • Universal Health Coverage

  • Climate Change

  • Access to Justice

  • Refugees and Migration

Gender Equality and Intergenerational Dialogue Is the Cornerstone of Their Work

Equality for women and girls is a cornerstone of the Elders’ commitment to securing dignity and rights for all, informing our priorities across every aspect of their work. The Elders also seeks to empower young people and promote intergenerational dialogue across our initiatives.


As Kofi Annan said: “you are never too young to lead, and never too old to learn.”

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