The Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture Series invites prominent people to drive debate on significant social issues. The lecture series is an important event on the Foundation's calendar, and encourages people to enter into dialogue – often about difficult subjects – in order to address the challenges we face today.
Previous speakers include South Africa's Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, former US president Barack Obama; Archbishop Desmond Tutu; former South African president Thabo Mbeki; Chilean-American author and human rights activist Ariel Dorfman; Nobel laureate Wangari Maathai; former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan; Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; social entrepreneur Muhammad Yunus; Director of Egypt's Library of Alexandria Ismail Serageldin; former Irish president and philanthropist Mary Robinson; philanthropist Mo Ibrahim; Chilean President Michelle Bachelet; economist Thomas Piketty; Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates; and United Nations deputy secretary-general Amina J Mohammed.
António Guterres, the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), has had a long and varied career in public service rooted in one overarching imperative: to promote human dignity for all.
From working as a volunteer in the poor neighbourhoods of Lisbon where he was born, representing his constituency in the Portuguese parliament and his years as Portugal’s Prime Minister, to his service as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres has sought to ease suffering, protect the vulnerable and ensure human rights for all.
These priorities remain at the core of his efforts today as UN Secretary-General. Since taking office in January 2017, he has worked to promote peace, combat hatred and harness ambition in fighting the global climate emergency and achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
Guterres has also recognised the need for the UN to be more innovative and effective, and has set in motion wide-ranging reforms to use new technology and to enhance agility, transparency and accountability. He is also working to make the organisation more equal, including through gender parity – with major milestones met well ahead of schedule – and improved geographical representation.
Guterres describes himself as a proud multilateralist, but he stresses that “international cooperation cannot be taken for granted”. “We must prove its value by addressing the real problems people face.”
Guterres was born in Lisbon in 1949 and graduated from the Instituto Superior Técnico with a degree in engineering. He is fluent in Portuguese, English, French and Spanish. He is married to Catarina de Almeida Vaz Pinto, Lisbon’s deputy mayor for culture, and has two children, a stepson and three grandchildren.
“This year’s Lecture takes place at a time when the world faces an unprecedented test, as the COVID-19 pandemic threatens everyone, everywhere. The world must unite to protect lives and ease suffering. As always at times of crisis, the vulnerable suffer first and worst.
“But we must also return to progress by recovering better. Even before the pandemic, inequality was a global plague. Today, this injustice is clear to all.
“Nelson Mandela devoted his life to fighting it. That is why I will devote my upcoming Lecture to the theme, “Tackling the inequality pandemic: A new social contract for a new era”.
“I plan to look ahead to what we must do to address the world’s fragilities and build a fair globalization.
“I thank the Nelson Mandela Foundation for this opportunity, and I look forward to gathering virtually with the people of South Africa and others from around the world to discuss our shared pursuit of a better world for all.”
António Guterres, 18th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture speaker.