Interview – Ray Chambers

‘It has been one of the most unexpectedly uplifting experiences of my life.’

Ray Chambers is a member of the Elders’ Advisory Council, which provides funding and advice to the Elders, and founder and chair of the MCJ Amelior Foundation. Caroline Hartnell asked him why he joined this funders’ collaborative and what it’s like being part of it. One thing is abundantly clear: he has no regrets about his decision to be part of it.

Why did you decide to join with others in funding the Elders?

When Richard [Branson] and Peter [Gabriel] called me and talked about the idea of bringing together a group of global leaders to help resolve some of the most intractable global problems, my immediate reaction was ‘What a brilliant idea. Why didn’t I think of it?’ The idea comes from traditional societies where the village elders often help to resolve disputes. Then Richard invited me and my wife to Ulusaba, near Johannesburg for a preliminary get-together with potential Elders and potential funders.

What did you feel could be achieved by being part of a collaborative that couldn’t have been achieved funding on your own?

I’ve been involved in a lot of philanthropy in my time, and my conclusion is that the most effective results come as part of a collaborative. At George Bush’s request, I was the founding chairman of Points of Light Foundation, a major volunteer collaboration. I also co-founded, with Professor Jeffrey Sachs, the Millennium Promise Alliance, which aims to bring together NGOs, government agencies and private sector to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. For the last five years I’ve been one of the leaders of an effort to eradicate malaria – I am currently the UN Secretary General’s Special Envoy for Malaria. Over five years, the Global Fund to fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has raised almost $5 billion. By 2015 we reckon we will have reached 700 million people at risk from malaria and there will be zero deaths.

Are there downsides to collaborating like this – for example the amount of time it takes up agreeing strategy among yourselves?

Yes, of course, but the results are far greater than without the collaboration. It’s a magical experience being in the company of people like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Archbishop Tutu is the chair of the Elders, and any differences over strategic or political issues are dealt with in what I can only describe as a loving way. There really is complete harmony among the Elders and the advisers, with no contentious words ever spoken. And the Advisory Council has taken on this same sense of emotional connection among themselves.

What sort of input do you have into the activities of the Elders?

At our semi-annual meetings the Elders elicit the views and suggestions of the advisers – and hopefully we will soon have an opportunity to talk to them by phone between meetings. We also work closely with the management team in London and give our thoughts to them.

Of course, some ideas that seem like very good ones don’t get adopted, and that’s always disappointing, but overall I feel honoured, and pleasantly surprised, that they want to listen to us.

Have the achievements of the Elders equalled what you hoped for?

I’m very impressed by what’s been accomplished in three and a half years. I think the Elders have had some positive influence in the Middle East, and certainly in Sudan, in Darfur. In early January some Elders and some advisers had a significant presence in Sudan observing the elections regarding the independence of Southern Sudan. Kofi Annan and Graça Machel were influential in resolving the disputed elections in Kenya.

But not everyone is aware of the Elders yet. I hope that world leaders will increasingly start to turn to them if there are disagreements to mediate. Nevertheless, it will be some time before their full potential is reached.

Overall, has it been worth it?

To be in the presence of the Elders and observe how much can be achieved through their collective experience has been one of the most unexpectedly uplifting experiences of my life.

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