Secretary-General’s Message 2014

‘Team Commonwealth’: aspirations and collective potential

The Commonwealth Yearbook draws together annually in one publication a rich array of examples of the constructive encounters, collaboration and mutual support that are mobilised through our worldwide networks. These offer positive insights into the broad scope and practical impact also suggested by our 2014 theme’Team Commonwealth’.

In working to serve their citizens in a rapidly transforming world, our member countries build on the essence of any great team: rich inheritances, shared experiences and common goals. Even more, ‘Team Commonwealth’ seeks to harness both the aspirations and the collective potential of our people to shape a future that is socially and economically more resilient, inclusive and equitable.

The layers of Commonwealth connection, that link people as much as governments, derive strength and vitality from the voluntary and organic nature of their origin and development. Like a great tree, the roots go deep and the branches spread wide. Year by year this publication helps us take stock of how we have grown, and gives us a taste of some of the fruits being yielded this season.

In catalysing and measuring progress, our Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGMs) are the most significant markers of Commonwealth achievement and collective aspiration. This year we look back on CHOGM 2013 in Sri Lanka and forward to CHOGM 2015 in Malta. Taking place alongside these gatherings of our leaders, and associated meetings of ministers and officials, there is the rich and immensely rewarding engagement of the Youth Forum, the Business Forum and of Commonwealth civil society organisations at the People’s Forum. A notable outcome of the 2013 Youth Forum in Hambantota (Sri Lanka) was the inauguration of the Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC). As the largest and most diverse youth-led organisation in the world, the CYC is now the voice of more than 1.2 billion young people of the Commonwealth. Another initiative welcomed by leaders at CHOGM – and one which promises to give innovative and practical expression to ‘Team Commonwealth’ – is ‘ComPartnership’, a contemporary platform designed to unlock latent potential for bilateral co-operation and collaboration between our member states. Operating as an online resource, it will be hosted on ‘Commonwealth Connects’ – our secure digital platform for professional interaction and exchange that enables Commonwealth networks of expertise and communities of practice to share knowledge and best practice, develop collaborations and coordinate events.

The Commonwealth’s commitment to inclusion – as reflected in our Charter – is well known. We pursue more equitable access by all to economic opportunity, which is of particular importance to small states and vulnerable states. This year the Third Global Biennial Small States Conference was co-hosted by the Government of Saint Lucia and the Commonwealth Secretariat. Under the theme ‘Building Resilience in Small States’, the conference examined debt, governance and environmental management in the context of building resilience and social cohesion. The conference also carried forward the valuable work of the Commonwealth High-level Mission on Debt and Financing Challenges of Small States, led by Prime Minister Denzil Douglas of St Kitts and Nevis. Our collective commitment to serving the needs of the poorest, smallest and most vulnerable developing countries was also carried forward in practical ways when members of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie held their regular Dialogue in Washington DC with the G20 Development Working Group, facilitated by the Australian 2014 G20 presidency.

Other ministerial meetings this year also continue to advance practical collaboration by member countries on Commonwealth priorities. Among these, upholding the rule of law and protecting the human rights of our citizens are brought together in the theme for the 2014 Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Botswana:’Consolidating the Rule of Law and Human Rights in the Commonwealth’. Pioneering thinking and practical ways of cooperating to achieve further progress on sport for development and peace, and on other sport-related issues, such as transparency, integrity and safeguarding of participants, are among topics being considered by the Commonwealth Sports Ministers Meeting together with the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. The Commonwealth Health Ministers Meeting, which has in recent years tackled both communicable and non-communicable diseases, will this year focus on strengthening national policies and systems, and learn of the growth of the Commonwealth health hub ‘Common Health’. The cumulative wisdom and knowledge acquired through the continuing dialogue of our ministerial meetings also help us to harmonise shared Commonwealth insights that can be carried forward in the Commonwealth’s work on a post-2015 global development agenda.

It is through teamwork in various ways that the Commonwealth makes a difference – for the benefit of our own citizens and for the greater global good. By helping to bring aspects of this work to a wider audience, and making its positive influence better understood, the Commonwealth Yearbook fulfils a most commendable purpose. Growing appreciation of the role played by ‘Team Commonwealth’ in all its expressions – including bringing together governments, legislatures, civil society, institutions that serve the citizens, professional bodies, communities of practice, workplaces, centres of learning and of recreation – helps us progress towards our great goals of democracy, development and respect for diversity. As wider impact is achieved, our values become more deeply embedded and can then increasingly be experienced as realities in the lives of all people in our member countries.