Saturday, 30th September 2023

Celebration of a great milestone

By Anita Kouassigan
02 August 2019   |   4:19 am
Last year on the 18 July 2018, the world came together to mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela. In the lead up to this, I was approached by a number of individuals and organisations inviting me to support in the global celebrations.

Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan

Shanthi Annan is a graduate of The University of Oxford. She studied Politics Philosophy and Economics (PPE), and is the founder of the Mandela Mile. Shanthi is a global social entrepreneur who advises and invests in early-stage business projects across a range of industries. Shanthi guides the strategy of various charities such as The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and works in partnership with organisations to develop community building, impact and engagement initiatives. The Guardian invited her for an interview after the second edition of Mandela Mile, her latest project, which is now an annual event held on 18 July – Mandela’s birthday.

When and why did you decide to create the Mandela Mile initiative?
Last year on the 18 July 2018, the world came together to mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela. In the lead up to this, I was approached by a number of individuals and organisations inviting me to support in the global celebrations. One of these organisations was the Westminster United Nations Association. They asked me to help them by establishing an official and iconic Mandela Mile route starting from Nelson Mandela’s Statue at Parliament Square, through Whitehall passing the South African High Commission, home to the Apartheid Protests, and over the Hungerford Bridge to Nelson Mandela’s Bust at the Southbank Centre. I was inspired by the potential for opening up London’s centenary celebrations to a wider audience as I am particularly passionate about inclusivity.

At that time, my father-in-law was Chair of The Elders, a group of independent global leaders working together for peace and human rights. They were originally brought together by Nelson Mandela on his 89th birthday. A year prior, to mark their 10th anniversary they had launched Walk Together, a yearlong campaign encouraging people to continue Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom.The fact that my father-in-law was preparing to travel all the way from Geneva to Johannesburg, to walk in the freezing cold aged 80, to promote peace, health, justice and equality prompted me to “go the extra mile”.

Out of my deep respect for him came the sense that I had a duty to do something bigger, and to make sure that we – as the next generation – were also playing our part. There is something about African culture that doesn’t allow one to feel comfortable sitting back and watching your elders do all the hard work! It just didn’t feel right to me and before I knew it, I was galvanising a team of people to build a globally inclusive campaign that involved encouraging and mobilising people in other parts of the world to walk a Mandela Mile in support of the Walk Together campaign.

Is Mandela Mile an event? Or a media campaign to inspire others to support The Nelson Mandela Foundation? Or a greater movement towards a greater good? Or even a peaceful demonstration?
Mandela Mile is a movement towards global community ideals. In accordance with the UN Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace (2019-2028), Mandela Mile is dedicated to keeping Nelson Mandela’s world view alive, by encouraging worldwide participation in International Mandela Day. Every year on Mandela Day we invite people across the world to “walk a mile”, as a way to showcase their leadership and openly express their commitment to humanitarian ideals like peace, health, justice and equality – in honour of Nelson Mandela #forKofi. We do this by laying the groundwork for participation through our global campaigns, events, leadership challenges and a 24-hour livestream, all geared towards amplifying global community actions.

Is there any fundraising involved? What’s the end goal?
Mandela Mile is supported wholly by global community contributions. These contributions allow us to sustain and expand our core activities, which also provide valuable training opportunities for women and young people in the field of media and event production. Our core supporters include: The United Nations, The Nelson Mandela Foundation, The Kofi Annan Foundation, The Elders Walk Together Campaign, Women Walk Together, Youth Production Network, The UN Foundation, Caux Peace & Leadership Programme, UN Youth Charter, Westminster United Nations, United Nations Association – UK, The Greater London Authority, the South African High Commission UK & Norway, the Ghanaian, Embassy Norway, Hustle Time, Most Influential 100 People of African Descent, Africa10, and United by Futbol.

This year we are particularly thankful to: Out There Media, MTN and Vodacom for “stepping up” by sending the campaign out to hundreds of thousands of mobile users across South Africa, and inviting them to walk the Mandela Mile.  A huge Thank You also goes to Shaman Durek and Princess Martha Louise of Norway for delivering a free Mandela Mile workshop before leading their very own ‘Stay Lit’ Mandela Mile in New York City, and Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (52 delegates from 40 different countries) for taking up the Mandela Mile Leadership Challenge to activate walks in their home cities. It’s generosity like this, not least of all the countless hours donated by the core team and Global Walk Leaders that truly make this an exciting, innovative and community-led campaign. We are committed to building on these wonderful relationships and to developing Mandela Mile into an effective vehicle for inspiring, training, supporting and highlighting global humanitarian leaders.

One of the event slogans is: “Go that extra mile for peace, health justice and equality” – what do you mean by that? How can supporters go that extra mile, apart from physically walking the mile on 18 July. Please share some examples.
Our campaign language is deeply rooted in the concept of Nelson Mandela’s “Long Walk to Freedom”. A mile is a measure of distance, but a Mandela Mile is a metaphorical mile of an entirely different magnitude. With this in mind, Mandela Mile calls the global community to go the extra mile for peace, health, justice and equality, and to share this with the global community.

Going the extra mile in life involves “being willing to make a special effort to do or achieve something”, and how this looks is different for everyone. For some people, this might look like 60 minutes of voluntary service, for others it might look like taking a public stand on an issue in their community. For another, it might be doing what it takes to reconcile with a family member. Whatever it looks like to a person, physically walking an extra mile on Mandela Day signifies having the resolve and willingness to do what it takes. I firmly believe that when each of us is prepared to go the extra mile, together we can go the distance to a freer, fairer and more peaceful world.

How many cities have participated so far that you are aware of? This year and last year?
This year Community Walk Leaders from 13 cities participated in Mandela Mile including; Soweto, London, Luton, Rio, Bali, NYC, Bonn, Berlin, Accra, Lagos, Dakar, Caux, and Oslo – up 69% from last year.

Will Mandela Mile be an annual event? This year you added the hashtag #ForKofi. Please explain?
In 2018, the world came together to mark the centenary of Nelson Mandela and exactly one month later on 18th August, to mourn the passing of Kofi Annan. Since Mandela Mile was largely inspired by the actions of my late father-in-law, we felt that adding #forKofi was a befitting way to commemorate these two great humanitarian leaders and friends who had a great deal in common. By pausing to honour Nelson Mandela and by celebrating Mandela Day each year, we automatically honour Kofi Annan, knowing that that’s exactly the kind of thing he did – and would have done.

Are you happy with how Mandela Mile has been received to date, and what’s next?
We have been overwhelmed by the support received from our growing list of core supporters. Next year we are committed to developing Community Walk Leaders  worldwide, establishing more iconic routes in cities around the world, distributing the global livestream more widely, and developing further training opportunities for young people. We will soon be announcing details for our Inspiration Tour, which will see us engage further with Mandela Mile communities around the world. Those who have committed to a range of further activities in support of the four main themes: peace, health, justice and equality. We welcome you to join us. Please send all enquiries to:

Conclusion: #ForKofi
Kofi Annan walked for the last time with his fellow Elders and activists, to mark what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday on 18 July 2018. Inspired by this, the Mandela Mile launched in tandem, prompting future generations to pick up the baton and mobilise others to “go the extra mile for a freer, fairer, more peaceful world” by raising awareness and walking to celebrate International Mandela Day. The Mandela Mile is a charitable initiative supporting the objectives of the UN Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace (which is recognised as the period between 2019-2028). For the 2019 edition – the second – the world found itself not only marking the 10th anniversary of International Mandela Day and the start of the UN Nelson Mandela Decade of Peace, but also 25 years since apartheid ended in South Africa. In celebration of these milestones and in commemoration of these great humanitarian leaders, this year’s Mandela Mile encouraged people to step up and Be the Legacy. The exciting initiative invited citizens from around the world to join the global social media campaign and 24-hour livestream which showcased them as willing to go the extra mile in life for peace, justice, health and equality, and to step up for a freer, fairer and more peaceful world.

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