Secretary-General’s Message 2012

Cherishing and celebrating culture

‘The unique gift of being able to draw together a group of nations and people so diverse, and yet with a shared sense of belonging and vision, along with a dedication to universal global welfare, is our greatest strength.’

This Commonwealth Yearbook for 2012 must rightly begin by acknowledging with the deepest appreciation and gratitude the leadership, inspiration and enduring service of HM Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth, who celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year.

Throughout the past 60 years, the Queen has personified and exemplified all that is positive, admirable and important to the Commonwealth. Her Majesty has been selfless in her consideration and concern for others; active in working to bring together and reinforce the Commonwealth’s rich diversity, potential, values and principles; and committed to it in an exemplary way.

The Queen’s role has been to symbolise the free association of all those members that join the Commonwealth. Her Majesty has done that and more: by her actions and words the Queen has been the keystone in an ever-expanding Commonwealth arch which had eight members when she assumed the role of Head in 1952 and which today has 53 members spanning the globe and representing one-third of all humanity.

This year our Commonwealth theme is ‘Connecting Cultures’. Our aim is to celebrate and cherish the cultures of others that are brought together in a Commonwealth tapestry of diversity, and also to explore how we can use culture to build bridges of understanding, mutual respect and opportunity between us.

Culture gives us an insight into the range of characteristics that make up each individual Commonwealth citizen. We seek to avoid looking at people simplistically or only in terms of their faith, or gender, or through some other single lens. Each of us is far more complex than that. We recognise that all individuals can be seen through a multitude of lenses at the same time: nationality, faith, gender, family status, musical preferences, sporting passion and so on. Our challenge is to find the common points in all this complexity and to build on those first, rather than on the differences.

This Yearbook gives us a snapshot of the scope and practical engagement of our global family. Together we share values, pursue goals and strive for objectives that we have set for ourselves through our shared commitment to the good of one another – and that of future generations.

Our values include a commitment to the rule of law, human rights, democracy, good governance, development and growth, gender equality, freedom of expression and a vibrant civil society. Our principles embrace inclusiveness, common action, accountability and transparency.

At the last two Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, in 2009 and 2011, decisions were taken to raise the standards expected of our members. The 2009 Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles lifted the bar for our member governments by setting out with renewed clarity the commitments by which, of their own free will, leaders have agreed to abide. Then the 2011 CHOGM in Perth, Australia, gave impetus and a sense of urgency to reform and renewal. Now, 2012 will be the year when the expectations of a higher level of commitment to our values and a more dynamic and contemporary Commonwealth are demonstrated – when word becomes deed.


Evolution and reform

As the Commonwealth continues to evolve and reform itself, it works hard to ensure that the voices of our citizens at all levels are taken fully into account. Events around the world during the past year have reminded us of the aspirations and impatience of youth in particular for participation in the processes that shape the societies in which they live and the world in which they will earn their livelihood and pursue their ambitions.

One of the most striking impressions of today’s Commonwealth is the high proportion of the population in Commonwealth countries that are in their 20s or below: the future does belong to the young. It is their good that our myriad Commonwealth organisations and bodies seek to serve.

Youth empowerment, through encouraging opportunities for youth leadership, engagement and entrepreneurship, is a high priority for the Commonwealth. Where a culture is created that encourages investment in youth enterprise, jobs are generated and economic benefits multiply for the wider community. The very adult financial institutions, and industry and trade bodies, need to become partners in achieving this great goal.

The overarching goal is to lay a strong foundation on which national and global resilience can be built. There can be no better way of doing this than by endowing our youth with the spirit of optimism, skills, self-belief and the spur of personal responsibility.

Our approach is also to draw on a multiplicity of networks and resources, always seeking to make the best use of any means available to advance towards a particular goal. We may rely on ministers, or officials, or any of our numerous Commonwealth professional associations, or civil society at large, or on any combination of these. The new Commonwealth Connects portal ( is providing a platform for modern networking, resource sharing and exchanging best practice.

Yearbooks inevitably focus on the period of 365 days in hand. The Commonwealth, however, has always collectively sought to be forward-looking over a longer timeframe, fitting itself to the changing context of the contemporary world and addressing emerging challenges. Our dynamism comes from striving together with shared ambition for the future.

The global wisdom function of the Commonwealth is needed more than ever in these times of widespread economic stress and uncertainty. As this Yearbook shows, the unique gift of being able to draw together a group of nations and people so diverse, and yet with a shared sense of belonging and vision, along with a dedication to universal global welfare, is our greatest strength.

February 2012