I had dinner with Richard Branson!

Ok it wasn’t just me and Sir Richard and it was a few years back – 2005 to be exact. But it was an intimate gathering and we each had an opportunity to chat and ask questions. Like everyone else in the restaurant, I was in awe.

He was, as you would expect — friendly and chatty. We were all small business owners, and he showed an encouraging amount of interest in our issues, problems and questions and provided sound advice to us individually, and as a group.

Inevitably with a meeting like this, the topic of conversation turned to Leadership (note the capital L). We were mesmerised when he spoke of his friendship with Nelson Mandela and the conversations they were having about Leadership (imagine being a fly on that wall!). He talked of their desire to form a group of Elders of the World; mentioning Mandela and Desmond Tutu, among others.

True to his word, alongside Mandela, Tutu and Peter Gabriel, The Elders came into being in 2007. The Elders are an impressive line-up of world leaders. Their current Chair is Mary Robinson, the first female President of Ireland. They work tirelessly to overcome inequality, exclusion and injustice.

Nelson Mandela’s vision for the organisation was – ‘an independent and robust force for good’.
That evening, Branson spoke of his concern for the world when these great leaders are no longer here. Who will we have to look up to? Who will we aspire to? Who will inspire us?

When Mandela passed away Branson said “We have lost not only a great man; the world has lost one of its greatest leaders. He has shown us what can be achieved by leading with integrity and empathy and the desire to help others. The act of forgiveness that Mandela gave his own captors, who held him in prison for twenty-seven years, will be remembered forever”.

On that night in 2005, Sir Richard lamented the fact that there were very few inspiring leaders coming through. In that moment we had not heard of Obama and  Jacinda Adern was yet to enter politics., The young royals, were still too young to be discussed in leadership terms and we had not been introduced to the fierce brilliance of Emma Gonzales or Malala Yousafzai.

I trust that Sir Richard now recognises the value these people bring, as they rise in many corners of the world, and feels confident that the future really is in great hands.