David Miliband says the fact that Sunderland are again blazing a trail should be a source of great pride and inspiration for the club.
The Black Cats have unveiled a world-first partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation, based in South Africa, which is dedicated to improving lives and communities through equality and social justice.
Miliband, a former Foreign Secretary and the club's vice-chairman, attended a special launch event alongside marketing director Mike Farnan and Achmat Dangor, the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.
"For Sunderland to be the only club in the world associated with Nelson Mandela and his foundation is a tremendous honour for us," Miliband said.
"It's a real rocket boost for our drive to spread our message and what we see as a long-term relationship with Africa."
Sunderland will host a number of special events over the next 18 months, with the forthcoming home game against Manchester United designated as Nelson Mandela Day.
The Nelson Mandela Foundation were particularly impressed with the club's own Foundation of Light, which helps more than 42,000 individuals across the north east each year.
And Miliband feels the partnership is a mutually beneficial one, tying into both Sunderland's commitment to the community and their growing association with the continent of Africa.
"The continuing Mandela life story - his commitment to social justice and reconciliation in the face of terrible suffering - is a lesson for everyone," he added.
"The fact is we can use our expertise to help support those ideals.
"It's really humbling to hear from the chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation that they chose Sunderland.
"That is a great honour for us and further inspiration to take our work further in building the kind of club that has deep local roots in the north east of England, but also a global reach."