Monday, 30 November 2009

The Commonwealth at 60 and the Commonwealth Factor

The role and significance of the Commonwealth is a perennial topic alongside every Heads’ meeting. As CEO of the Commonwealth’s business association, which links hundreds of vibrant companies across the 53 countries I find that the Commonwealth is often both undervalued and underappreciated. My concern is not that the association will wither into obscurity, but we need to always need to keep the association relevant for today. What is its greatest strength?

The Commonwealth’s unique selling point or usp is not in its institutions but in its networks, values and the more elusive, but potent, ‘Commonwealth Factor’. This derives from of a common historical experience reflected in the similar administrative, legal, financial and business practices that members share, as well as the use of the English language. The Commonwealth Factor when leveraged, as CBC does to promote trade and investment, with Commonwealth values of multi party democracy, human rights, the rule of law, good governance, free press, and socially responsible market orientated policies, is when real results are seen.

The Commonwealth Secretariat, the inter-governmental organisation of the Commonwealth, can’t be a leading development organisation, its budget is too small, a fraction of the larger NGOs. However, in my 25 years of experience with the Commonwealth it has been through more assessments than the UN and many other international organisations, all of which are very many times larger than the Secretariat. Unfortunately the Secretariat is undervalued, underfunded and over-assessed, and nothing much will be achieved by yet another assessment exercise.

Nurturing, leveraging and promoting the ideals and the values at the core of the Commonwealth, is the key to CBC’s success and has lead to greater investment opportunities in Commonwealth countries. Commonwealth member states are increasingly being seen as ideal locations for doing business, thanks in a large part to this ‘Commonwealth factor’. Intra-Commonwealth trade has increased from $2 trillion to $3 Trillion over the last 10 years, Investment flows have reached over US$180 billion and Commonwealth trade and investment accounts for over 20 per cent of the world total. The Commonwealth Factor, we believe, can decrease the cost of doing business by anything up to 15%. The Commonwealth is the home to some of the most dynamic and successful new global companies in fields critical to development – ICT, technology and energy, finance, and agriculture. Increasingly the modern Commonwealth is defined by the emerging economies – for example India, Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia, Trinidad and Tobago – these are new economic centres of excellence growing in importance alongside the UK, Australia and Canada. The association is certainly not lacking in innovation and success.

Another aspect of the Commonwealth Association which is valued greatly across by member countries is skills development and education. I am disappointed by the NGO’s who are ‘so called’ advocates of the Commonwealth but dwell on the association’s past and are not looking to its future. The Commonwealth could obviously use greater resources, but of even greater import is sustained commitment to and recognition of the Commonwealth factor and networks, that can be leveraged to enhance the lives of so many across the association.

The future of the Commonwealth must focus on enhancing the characteristics I have mentioned, its values and networks so that more and more of Commonwealth Citizens can take advantage of their shared heritage.

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