Mandela the Public Servant

What is Mandela Day?

“What counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead” – Nelson Mandela 

Nelson Mandela International Day was launched in recognition of Nelson Mandela’s  birthday on 18 July, 2009 via unanimous decision of the UN General Assembly. 

It was inspired by a call Nelson Mandela made a year earlier, for the next generation to take on the burden of leadership in addressing the world’s social injustices when he said that “it is in your hands now”. 

It is more than a celebration of Madiba’s life and legacy. It is a global movement to honour his life’s work and act to change the world for the better.

What others are doing to commemorate the day



The message behind Mandela Day is simple – each individual has the ability and the responsibility to change the world for the better.

If each one of us heeded the call to simply do good every day, we would be living Nelson Mandela’s legacy and helping to build a country of our dreams.

The baton of leadership has been handed over to us. It is in our hands now to make a positive difference.

2014 is particularly symbolic as we work to honour a great statesman and make every day a Mandela Day as we mark South Africa’s 20 years of democratic freedom.

The message

Nelson Mandela followed three rules throughout his life, which he did at great personal sacrifice: 

  1. Free yourself.

  2. Free others.

  3. Serve every day.

Mandela Day is a global call to action for citizens of the world to take up the challenge and follow in the formidable footsteps of Madiba, a man who transformed his life, served his country and freed his people. Its objective is to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better and in so doing, to build a global movement for good. 

The question we must ask ourselves is what we are doing to make the world a better place; what are we doing to make every day a Mandela Day?

Mandela Day is dynamic and ever-changing: it belongs to everyone and can take place anywhere, at any time. We urge everyone to find inspiration for their contribution in the legacy of Nelson Mandela and to serve their fellow humans every day.

Thought leaders on Mandela Day

How to serve every day

For the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Mandela Day actions, no matter how big or small, should consistently focus on the realisation or restoration of dignity and empowerment through contributions. For the Foundation the following focus areas have particular significance:


Food security

All people, at all times, should have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious foods to maintain a healthy and active life. 

This is a crucial social support measure for effective development and growth.

Feeding activities, whether food parcels, food gardens or feeding schemes, that provide long-term access to food security can transform world hunger.

Education & literacy

In a world where knowledge truly is power, education and literacy are the basic building blocks that unlock the gates of opportunity and success.

We all have a responsibility as parents, as caregivers, as educators, as leaders and as citizens, to instil in individuals, children and communities the critical drive for literacy and learning so that we can give them the chance to fulfil their dreams.

Let’s lead through education.

Shelter & infrastructure

There is no greater indignity than the absence of a place to call home. Sadly, the cycle of inadequate shelter and infrastructure can only be broken if people join together and take action to make a change. 

This action brings people together to build homes, communities, cities, continents and a future.


In an age of industry and technological innovation, taking care of our world becomes increasingly important. What kind of legacy do we want to leave for our children, grandchildren and loved ones? Becoming environmentally conscious starts with one small action, and one small action can go on to inspire global change. Let us work together to restore and maintain Mother Nature's majesty.


Madiba was the quintessential public servant.

Let us emulate the servant leader we loved by all becoming servant leaders ourselves.

Lead by example.

How are you serving every day?

Mandela Day guidelines

What guidelines govern Mandela Day actions?

What is the ethos behind Mandela Day?

Can fundraisers use Mandela Day as a call to action for their initiatives?

Find out more about what Mandela Day is, and what it isn't.

View the the Mandela Day Ethical Framework

Read our FAQs