Three former presidents

Using their position to make a difference

Published July 12, 2016

Three former presidents: John Kufuor (Ghana), Mary Robinson (Ireland) and José Maria Figueres Olsen (Costa Rica)

How can a former head of state leverage their position to make a difference? See the interview with Mary Robinson (Ireland), John Kufuor (Ghana) and José Maria Figueres Olsen (Costa Rica) - three former presidents who are leveraging their influence and experience from their time in office to sound a call for action on global challenges.

Mary Robinson highlights broader movements as drivers for global change, particularly when it comes to safeguarding those who are most vulnerable to climate change. “We need civil society, business, young people, and faith communities; we need to build a movement that recognizes the injustice of climate change.” Today she is the chair of the Mary Robinson Foundation for Climate Justice and Member of The Elders, working particularly with global climate justice.

José Maria Figueres Olsen agrees that having held office inspires holistic, and perhaps more realistic, approaches to global challenges, emphasizing that governments cannot provide solutions all on their own. We need coalitions between governments, civil society and business, and in that respect he says “the EAT Forum comes at a very opportune time – the world is just beginning on its journey of the SDGs, and we have just come out of COP21.”

“Now is the time to walk the talk’ says John Kufuor. Throughout the decades there has been numerous pledges and promises, but now is the time for action. His foundation, the John A. Kufuor Foundation, promotes effective development governance, and Mr Kufuor says his time as president of Ghana exposed him to the necessary connectivity between people and government. He describes the world as moving into an “era of humanity”, and is hoping we will now see delivery on multilateral pledges.


Mary Robinson


  • Former President of Ireland (1990-1997)
  • Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002).
  • The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice is a centre for thought leadership, education and advocacy on the struggle to secure global justice for those people vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.


John Kufuor


  • Former President of Ghana (2001-2009).
  • Global Ambassador against Hunger for the UN World Food; Chairman of the UN Interpeace Program; Chairman of the Sanitation and Water for All Partnership; Global Envoy for the Neglected Tropical Diseases
  • Alliance: Lead Advocate for the Partnership for Child Development.
  • Previously: Chairperson of the African Union (2007-2008); Chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (2003-2005); one of 10 global leaders tasked with reforming the World Bank and the IMF. Nominated by Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN) as a co-UN Special Envoy on Climate Change (2013).


José Maria Figueres Olsen


  • Former President of Costa Rica
  • President of the Carbon War Room – an organization that works to accelerate adoption of business solutions that reduce carbon emissions at gigaton scale and advance the low-carbon economy.
  • First ever Chairperson of the United Nations ICT Task Force (1999); first person to become CEO of the World Economic Forum (2003); CEO of Concordia 21 (2006).