- Civil society in the Commonwealth
Civil society in the Commonwealth
Since its inception the Commonwealth has increasingly come to be recognised not just as an association of nations but as an association of peoples. This sense of a Commonwealth ‘family’ is manifest in the diverse network of associations, organisations, charities, initiatives, societies, institutions and funds that exist in the Commonwealth space. This network brings together people from an eclectic and rich mix of nations, cultures, creeds, races and economic backgrounds, enabling participation at all levels in the Commonwealth arena.
Civil society participation in the Commonwealth space takes on many forms and occurs at many levels. Organisations such as the Commonwealth Trade Union Group, Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council and Commonwealth Action for Human Settlements (ComHabitat) are just a snapshot of the diverse range of organisations found representing civil society throughout the Commonwealth. Such associations provide an arena for all forms of civil society organisations from across the 54 member nations to come together in the advancement of common interests.
Large international civil society organisations are also encouraged to participate in the Commonwealth space and many of these organisations can trace their origins back to Commonwealth states. The interface between the Commonwealth and these groups occurs at several levels, from local grassroots community support to collaboration in the international sphere.
The Commonwealth continues to provide a space for civil society organisation from across the globe to come together, influence governments and each other, and ultimately provide the people of the Commonwealth with the opportunity to have their voices heard and unite around common goals that aim to fashion a better world.
The creation of the Commonwealth Foundation in 1965 by Commonwealth governments demonstrated the Commonwealth’s understanding of the importance of civil society. Initially established as an autonomous trust tasked with funding “interchanges” between professional organisations, the Commonwealth Foundation has since blossomed into a nexus between governments and civil society, helping to support the realisation of Commonwealth goals of democracy, human rights and sustainable development.
There are several events in the Commonwealth calendar that provide an interface between civil society organisations and governments. Held to coincide with the governmental Commonwealth meetings, events such as the Commonwealth Peoples Forum and Commonwealth Education Stakeholders Forum bring together hundreds of civil society organisations. These fora provide a unique platform for civil society organisations to collaborate in carving out agendas that aim to advance the lives of people throughout the Commonwealth.