• Since 2009, 18 July is Nelson Mandela International Day.
  • With unrest over race, and COVID-19, his words continue to strike a chord.
  • He called young people to create a brighter future together.

This year’s Nelson Mandela International Day has a particular poignancy. Against a backdrop of protests against racial injustice, and COVID-19 amplifying inequality, his words resonate as much as ever.

Through his work as a human rights lawyer, prisoner of conscience, and the first democratically elected president of a free South Africa, Mandela has become one of the most recognized peacemakers of our time.

Nelson Mandella
Nelson Mandella
Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

In his 95 years he made countless speeches, driving forward global efforts in conflict resolution, race relations, the promotion and protection of human rights and social justice.

Here are some of his most inspiring quotes on those issues.

On poverty

“Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.”

“The dire poverty of some is not an affliction which impacts only on those who are deprived. It reverberates across the globe and ineluctably impacts negatively on the whole of humanity, including those who live in conditions of comfort and plenty.”

On racism

"The very fact that racism degrades both the perpetrator and the victim commands that, if we are true to our commitment to protect human dignity, we fight on until victory is achieved."

“We should lay the scourge of racism to rest”.

What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent social and political unrest have created a profound sense of urgency for companies to actively work to tackle racial injustice and inequality. In response, the Forum's Platform for Shaping the Future of the New Economy and Society has established a high-level community of Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officers. The community will develop a vision, strategies and tools to proactively embed equity into the post-pandemic recovery and shape long-term inclusive change in our economies and societies.

As businesses emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, they have a unique opportunity to ensure that equity, inclusion and justice define the "new normal" and tackle exclusion, bias and discrimination related to race, gender, ability, sexual orientation and all other forms of human diversity. It is increasingly clear that new workplace technologies and practices can be leveraged to significantly improve diversity, equity and inclusion outcomes.

The World Economic Forum has developed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit, to outline the practical opportunities that this new technology represents for diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, while describing the challenges that come with it.

The toolkit explores how technology can help reduce bias from recruitment processes, diversify talent pools and benchmark diversity and inclusion across organisations. The toolkit also cites research that suggests well-managed diverse teams significantly outperform homogenous ones over time, across profitability, innovation, decision-making and employee engagement.

The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Toolkit is available here.

On freedom

"Our freedom cannot be complete while others in the world are not free."


“Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”

Mourners gathered outside Cape Town City Hall when Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013.
Mourners gathered outside Cape Town City Hall when Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013.
Image: Reuters/Mike Hutchings

On peace

“It is easy to break down and destroy. The heroes are those who make peace and build.”

“Peace is not just the absence of conflict; peace is the creation of an environment where all can flourish, regardless of race, colour, creed, religion, gender, class, caste, or any other social markers of difference. Religion, ethnicity, language, social and cultural practices are elements which enrich human civilization, adding to the wealth of our diversity. Why should they be allowed to become a cause of division and violence? We demean our common humanity by allowing that to happen.”

On making the world a better place

"To the youth of today, I also have a wish to make: Be the script writers of your destiny and feature yourselves as stars that showed the way towards a brighter future."

“Today we should all ask ourselves: What have I done to improve the surroundings in which I live?”