Commonwealth Foundation

Commonwealth Foundation
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The Commonwealth Foundation is an intergovernmental organisation that was established by the Commonwealth Heads of Government in 1965, the same year as its sister organisation, the Commonwealth Secretariat. The Foundation is located at Marlborough House in London, a former royal palace which was assigned for the use of these Commonwealth institutions by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth.


Structure and Governance


The Commonwealth Foundation, along with its sister organisation, the Commonwealth Secretariat was conceived at the 1964 Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers. The idea of a Commonwealth Secretariat was first floated by President Nkrumah of Ghana and the concept of the Commonwealth Foundation was proposed by Alec Douglas-Home, the British Prime Minister.[1] The British Government offered to contribute half the proposed annual income of £250,000. Initially, the idea of locating the Foundation in London was dismissed on the basis that the Commonwealth Secretariat would be based there. However, it was later agreed that it should be based in London as many of the professional associations operating throughout the Commonwealth had offices in Britain.[2]

In line with the "Agreed memorandum on the Commonwealth Foundation"[3] a "distinguished private citizen" was to be appointed as the Chairman and a board of Trustees formed with each member government having the "right to nominate one member of the Board". In addition a Director was to be appointed. In 1965, it was agreed that Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet should be the first Chairman and John Chadwick the first Director of the Foundation. The first Board of Trustees comprised both nominations of independent individuals and London based High Commissioners. The independent Trustees were Dr Leslie Farrer-Brown (Britain); Escott Reid (Canada); Richard Campbell (New Zealand); Akintola Williams (Nigeria); Robert Loinsworth (Trinidad and Tobago); Dr Hugh Springer (Barbados); and Dr C Columbos (Malta). All other member countries were represented by their London based High Commissioners.

Whilst the Commonwealth Secretariat was established to support the political endeavours of the Commonwealth, the 'Foundation was brought into being in the hope that it would give further substance to the old truism that the Commonwealth is as much an association of peoples as of governments'.[4]

In 1966, the Commonwealth Foundation was registered as a Charitable Trust under English Law. The trust deed, as registered with the Charity Commission described the aims of the Foundation as, 'To maintain and improve (in the interests of the public) standards of knowledge attainment and conduct in the skilled and learned professions or skilled auxiliary occupations within the Commonwealth'.[5] Based on this, more specific aims were developed which, in 1969, Chadwick[4] summarised as:

(1) To encourage the growth of Commonwealthwide professional associations

(2) To help to create national professional societies as part of a general process of 'deanglicization'

(3) To promote regional professional activity

(4) To encourage the personal interchange of skills and experience

(5) To aid the broadening of experience through the printed word

The Foundation began to implement these aims by focusing on three main areas of work i.e. facilitating the creation of Commonwealth-wide professional associations; disseminating printed information and supporting the professional development of individuals. Given the modest budget of the Foundation, the role of the organisation was defined as being "more catalytic than executive".[6]

In 1979, the Foundation's mandate was extended to include work with a broader range of non-governmental organisations involved in work such as rural development, social welfare, disability, gender and arts and culture.

In 1982, a decision was taken to reconstitute the Foundation as an International Organisation – a process that was completed on 14 February 1983. Since then, the remit of the Commonwealth Foundation has continued to broaden and grow. With the aim of strengthening civil society and enhancing its contribution to development in the Commonwealth, the Foundation now works with non-governmental and voluntary organisations, faith-based institutions, the media and trade unions.[7]

The Commonwealth Foundation was already unique as an intergovernmental body established solely to support civil society, but in 2004, the Foundation took the additional step of revising its governance structure to include civil society representatives. Uniquely for an intergovernmental organisation, five members of civil society now sit on the Board of Governors alongside representatives of member governments.


Today, the Board of Governors comprises all member Governments (usually represented by their London-based High Commissioners) and five civil society representatives. The Board meets annually and is supported by the Executive and Grants Committees which meet twice yearly. In addition, there are two advisory committees namely the Civil Society Advisory Committee, drawn from NGOs and professional bodies across the Commonwealth and Commonwealth Writers' Prize Advisory Committee.

Throughout its history, the Foundation has been led by highly accomplished people. The first Chairman of the Foundation was Nobel laureateSir Frank Macfarlane Burnet and the first Director was John Chadwick. Today, the Chairman of the Foundation is Simone de Comarmond, former Minister and Secretary of State in the Republic of Seychelles, and the Director is Dr. Mark Collins, who joined the foundation from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


Membership of the Foundation is open to all Commonwealth governments. As of December 2009, there were 47 member countries namely Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Brunei Darussalam, Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, The Gambia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, the Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Uganda, United Kingdom, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia. In addition, the Foundation has one Associate Member—Gibraltar (since 2004).

The rest of the Commonwealth Nations are Bangladesh, Fiji, Nauru, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Vision and Mission

The Foundation's vision is of a Commonwealth where citizens are able to give voice to their aspirations, identify their own solutions and fulfil their role in society. It is a Commonwealth where citizens individually and collectively express themselves for the public good at local, national and international levels by facing global challenges, building strong communities and promoting citizens' rights. It is a Commonwealth where civil society organisations realise their full potential, engaging with their governments and the private sector in the shared enterprise of transformational nation-building and international cooperation.

The Foundation's mission is to strengthen civil society organisations across the Commonwealth as they promote democracy, advance sustainable development and foster inter-cultural understanding.

Early Programmes of Work

Professional Centres

In the 1960s, professional networks in many of the newer Commonwealth countries were weak and professional associations lacked recognition. In 1967, following a meeting in Uganda between John Chadwick, the Director of the Foundation, and professionals from various sectors, the idea of a 'Professional Centre' was conceived. A few months later, the Foundation awarded a grant that helped support the development of a Professional Centre in Kampala, Uganda. By 1981, Professional Centres were established, or being planned, in 18 Commonwealth countries. Although there was no blueprint, most centres sought to promote co-operation, professional development and provide professional advice to governments on relevant policy and legal issues.[8]

Today, several of these professional centres, or subsequent incarnations of them, continue to prosper as independent organisations (see external links below).

Commonwealth Professional Associations

When the Foundation was formed, at least two Commonwealth professional associations already existed, namely the Commonwealth Association of Architects and the Commonwealth Medical Association.[9]

With the Foundation's encouragement and support (which included grants for travel and administrative costs), several other professional associations developed—including bodies working in the legal, veterinary and surveying fields. Almost all of these associations continue to function today. According to Chadwick, rather than encouraging 'professional exclusivity' the secretariats of these associations were designed to "collate and disseminate professional views and experience, co-ordinate programmes for Commonwealth wide or regional meetings; stimulate studies on training, curricula, reciprocity, standards, publications and the like."[10] Today, these organisations also have opportunities to influence the programme of work of the Commonwealth Secretariat, and to enter into dialogue with Commonwealth ministries at their various meetings.

Books and Journals for Professionals

Complementing its work with the professional associations, the Foundation provided grants to help with the development of three new professional journals namely:

  • Tropical Doctor, a quartely journal produced by the Royal Society of Medicine was launched in 1973.[11]
  • Appropriate Technology was launched in co-operation with the Intermediate Technology Development Group (now known as Practical Action).
  • Support was given to help produce a French language Dental Journal into a bilingual Anglo-French publication.

In addition, the Foundation supported the cost of subscriptions to some professional journals so that they could be distributed to teaching and professional institutions, for example:

  • For three years the Institute of Engineers in India received copies of various journals which, because of its limited access to foreign exchange at that time, it could not purchase directly itself.
  • The Foundation supported the subscription costs of the Tropical Diseases Bulletin and the Abstracts of Hygiene so they could be distributed to selected teaching hospitals, medical associations and libraries in developing countries.

In recent years, the Foundation has continued to provide financial support for some professional journals. For example, since 1998 it has contributed to the production costs of the Commonwealth Forestry Association's newsletter and Commonwealth Judicial Journal [Commonwealth Magistrates and Judges Association].

Individual Professional Development

During the 1960s the Foundation's third area of activity was to help individual professionals. Small awards were given to individuals so that they could participate in short, specialised, training courses or study visits that would help them update their professional expertise. Within the first 10 years, 'many hundreds of younger, professionally qualified men and women' had benefited from these awards. Over time this approach evolved and funds were increasingly directed towards the cost of supporting insitu training.[12]

Lectureship Programme

Building on its work with individual professionals, the Commonwealth Foundation Lectureship programme was launched in 1967. The programme was designed to enable eminent individuals to travel to another region of the Commonwealth to deliver a series of lectures and meet with governments, students and professionals to debate issues of common interest. The first lecture tour took place in 1968 when Dr V M Hamilton, the Director of the New Zealand Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, travelled to East and Central Africa to lecture on scientific organisation and animal husbandry. According to Chadwick[13] this programme had many benefits—helping generate new ideas that informed policy development and the creation of contacts between individuals—some of which resulted in long term "twinning" between institutions.

Current Programmes of Work

Programme Focus

In 2005 a programme structure was developed that allowed for a more transparent and accountable set of initiatives and in 2008, with a launch of a new organisational strategy, the programme structure was expanded. While continuing to promote traditional Commonwealth interest in professional networks, greater emphasis is now placed on facilitating dialogue between civil society and governments through ministerial meetings and the Commonwealth People's Forum and on enabling civil society organisations in the developing world to play a greater part in national development. In addition, analytical work draws together voices and opinions from across the Commonwealth with information published in many different media.

These changes took root in 1998/99, when a mass consultation process was undertaken involving 10,000 ordinary citizens in 47 countries. Citizens were asked about their view of a good society; what roles citizens and governments should play in such a society and what could be done to enable citizens to play their role more effectively. This consultation process culminated in the publication of various documents including Citizens and Governance: Regional Perspectives[14] and Citizens and Governance: Civil Society in the New Millennium.[15] Building on this, the Foundation's work on governance and democracy has since included 21 action-learning projects designed and implemented by partners in different countries of the Commonwealth and the development of a Citizens and Governance Toolkit.[16]

Broad based consultations with citizens and civil society organisations continues to be a defining feature of the Foundation's work. For example, in 2004, the Foundation consulted with non governmental organisations in 14 countries to generate a report Breaking with Business as Usual which provides civil society perspectives on progress towards the MDGs. The report was disseminated throughout the Commonwealth and has been used by civil society organisations to inform their work and lobby their governments.

Over the years, information has been produced to guide and support the development of NGOs. In 1995, Non-Governmental Organisations Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice[17] was produced. The guidelines were widely disseminated used to assist NGO development throughout the Commonwealth. Having seen the need to update the Guidelines, the Foundation commissioned a scoping study which identified several changes in context and new needs that any new edition of the Guidelines should address (see concept note for more details).

Grant giving programmes continue, supporting the work of Commonwealth Professional Associations and other civil society organisations. Whereas grants used to support the training of individual professionals, the grants programme is now aligned with the Foundation's current strategic priorities, helping build capacity of civil society organisations and promote action on governance and democracy; sustainable development and culture and diversity.


From July 2007 to June 2008, the Commonwealth Foundation allocated a total of £923,843 in grants to a broad range of civil society and nongovernmental organisations across culture and diversity, governance and democracy, and sustainable development. £687,534 was allocated to ‘responsive’ grants programme. This contributed to activities such as training courses, workshops, seminars, conferences, cultural festivals, study visits, exchanges and documentation of case studies. Responsive grants allow civil society organisations to learn and be inspired by exposure to the work of other organisations by developing and building networks to keep abreast of legislation, comparable projects, and regional initiatives. Responsive grants are also important because, through civil society networks, they make a link between community based work and international policymaking. They steer the Foundation’s programmes and inform about innovation, initiatives and debate. In the last year, innovations in the grants programme have included: (i) The introduction of the ‘special grants reserve’ - used in the aftermath of a natural disaster. Five grants were allocated to non-governmental organisations: three to Jamaica for livelihood restoration projects after Hurricane Dean, and one each to Ghana and Uganda to help flood victims. (ii) The introduction of voter education guidelines. These were used to give grants to civil society-led activities raising awareness about elections. Workshops discussed issues such as the monitoring of government budgeting, media reporting on elections, and voter education.

Commonwealth People's Forum

The Commonwealth People’s Forum takes place every two years immediately before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The Forum is organised by the host government, civil society organisations and the Foundation. It gives civil society organisations (CSOs) a chance to network and dialogue with governments. Since the first Forum in 1997, the event has increased in size and the range of activities that take place has expanded.

The first Forum was in Edinburgh, Scotland (1997). Subsequently, it has been held in Durban, South Africa (1999); Brisbane, Australia (2001); Abuja, Nigeria (2003), Malta (2005) and Kampala (2007), Port of Space, Trinidad and Tobago (2009). The 2011 Forum will take place in Perth, Western Australia.

Ministerial Meetings

Ministerial meetings, together with the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings (CHOGM), seek to build consensus on issues of concern to member states. The work of the Commonwealth Secretariat is guided by the outcomes of all these meetings. With the support of the Commonwealth Foundation, civil society participation in CHOGM and Ministerial Meetings has been steadily increasing since the late 1990s. Civil society participation in Ministerial Meetings on finance, women's affairs, HIPC and health has been particularly significant.

Since 2002, civil society organisations have presented statements at the annual Commonwealth Finance Ministers Meeting. Reflecting the themes of the meetings, statements have been published on 'Financing for Development' (2002); 'The Provision of Essential Services' (2003); 'Capacity of International Institutions to Support Pro-Poor Trade Liberalisation in Low-Income and Vulnerable Countries' (2004); and 'Giving Practical Effect to the Millennium Project Review' (2005). Each year, civil society organisations met immediately ahead of the Ministers Meeting to prepare the statements. In 2006, the outcomes of an e-consultation process was used to further inform debate and shape the statement on 'An Agenda for Growth and Livelihoods'.

Meetings of Commonwealth Ministers responsible for Women’s Affairs have been held every three years since 1985. In 2004, ahead of the Seventh Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (held in Fiji), the Commonwealth Foundation organised preparatory meetings, helped establish a Steering Committee and supported Committee members as they consulted civil society organisations in their regions. Uniquely for a Commonwealth Ministerial meeting, civil society representatives were invited to participate in the Minster’s meeting and in the committee that drafted the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality 2005-2015.[18]

Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) are judged to have the highest levels of poverty in the world and are subject to international debt relief measures that seek to reduce their external debt to sustainable levels. Commonwealth HIPC Ministers meet twice a year to discuss issues of common interest. As Hilary Benn (2003) commented, the Commonwealth HIPC Forum provides an important platform for Ministers from HIPC countries to discuss matters of mutual interest, and has stimulated wider debate within the Commonwealth, as well as within the International Financial Institutions themselves.[19] The Commonwealth Foundation supports civil society participation at these meetings, giving civil society representatives an opportunity to share their views with Ministers and take information back to national and regional networks engaged in work on debt and HIPC issues. In 2006, the Foundation worked with Jubilee Zambia to organise a civil society consultation meeting and outcomes were communicated to Ministers at the Commonwealth HIPC Ministerial Forum in Lusaka, Zambia.

The Commonwealth Health Ministers meet annually in Geneva, prior to meetings of the World Health Assembly. Accredited civil society organisations participate in the meetings. In 2006, the Commonwealth Foundation provided funding for a meeting convened by the Dental Association on Oral Tobacco Cessation and supported the participation of Nurses Federation in a roundtable on Human Resources for Health.

Competitions and Awards

As part of its work to promote culture and diversity, the Foundation – often in association with other organisations – runs several awards and prizes.

In 1987, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize was established and has run every year since then. The Prize promotes literary talent in the Commonwealth and encourages reading between cultures. In the same year, the Commonwealth Arts and Crafts Award was also launched. This biennial event aims to promote cultural understanding through art and gives winning artists an opportunity to work with and learn from artists in another Commonwealth country.

The Commonwealth Short Story Competition, established in 1996, is administered by the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. Each year, regional winners are chosen for Africa, Asia, Caribbean and Canada, Europe and the Pacific. One is then selected as the overall winner. The winning entries are recorded and broadcast by radio stations across the Commonwealth. Ellen Banda-Aaku of Zambia, won the 2007 competition with the short story 'Sozi's Box'.

See also


  1. ^ Conference of Commonwealth Prime Ministers, Final Communique (London, 1964).
  2. ^ Chadwick J, 1982, The Unofficial Commonwealth: The Story of the Commonwealth Foundation 1965-1980 pp51–52.
  3. ^ Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Meeting, 1965.
  4. ^ a b Chadwick J, 1969, The Commonwealth Foundation: Progress 1966–1969; Royal Society of Medicine 62 (11P1) pp 1145–1147.
  5. ^ Chadwick J, 1982, The Unofficial Commonwealth: The Story of the Commonwealth Foundation 1965-1980 pp65.
  6. ^ Chadwick J, 1982, The Unofficial Commonwealth: The Story of the Commonwealth Foundation 1965–1980, pp64.
  7. ^ Commonwealth Foundation, 2006, Annual Report: July 2005 to June 2006 pp1.
  8. ^ Chadwick J, 1982, The Unofficial Commonwealth: The Story of the Commonwealth Foundation 1965–1980, pp88-107.
  9. ^ Collard M, 1972, The Commonwealth Foundation: The First Five Years, Roundtable (247):329–336, pp330.
  10. ^ Chadwick J, 1969, The Commonwealth Foundation: Progress 1966–1969; Royal Society of Medicine 62 (11P1) pp 1146.
  11. ^ Tropical Doctor is still published by the RSM,
  12. ^ Chadwick J, 1982, The Unofficial Commonwealth: The Story of the Commonwealth Foundation 196–1980, pp76–77.
  13. ^ Chadwick J, 1982, The Unofficial Commonwealth: The Story of the Commonwealth Foundation 1965–1980, pp80.
  14. ^ This collection of five regional essays was published by the Commonwealth Foundation in 2001.
  15. ^ Summary report published by the Commonwealth Foundation in 1999.
  16. ^ Commonwealth Foundation, Citizens and Governance Toolkit, 2004.
  17. ^ Non-Governmental Organisations Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice, Colin Ball, Leith Dunn, Commonwealth Foundation, UK, 1995.
  18. ^ Commonwealth Plan of Action for Gender Equality
  19. ^ Hansard Written Answers, 12 Jun 2003

External links

Commonwealth Professional Associations

Professional Centres

Other useful links

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