To write that we are living in strange and extraordinary times would have felt like hyperbole even a week ago. No longer. I hope and trust that you and your families are keeping well in mind, body and spirit. Our thoughts and sympathies go out to those who are especially vulnerable, and whose lives and livelihoods have been so terribly affected. Above all, we must unite to ensure that the pandemic is kept away from the countries and communities that do not enjoy the protection of strong health and welfare systems.
‘We must unite to ensure that the pandemic is kept away from the countries and communities that do not enjoy the protection of strong health and welfare systems’
The Foundation’s team has been working remotely for the past week, and Marlborough House is closed until further notice. Despite these challenges—and the need to cancel several scheduled activities—we are seeking to operate with a ‘business as usual’ mindset. This means, for example, that our grants programme is continuing apace: applications received during our most recent call are being reviewed as planned; the schedule for the 2020-2021 round will remain unchanged; and all grant payments will be processed as normal. (Grant partners with specific issues and requirements are encouraged to reach out to their assigned Grants Officer.) Our Commonwealth Short Story Prize is also operating on schedule, with the 2020 shortlist due to be announced shortly. With regard to the Commonwealth People’s Forum I refer you to our website where regular updates will be posted. In the next few weeks, we will launch a platform for our partners to share their stories and insights on the pandemic. Please keep an eye on our website for this as well.
‘The political and cultural polarisation that we have all become used to over recent years could well be a thing of the past, as our differences fade away before a common threat.’
We will have time to reflect, over the coming weeks and months, on what COVID-19 has revealed to us—about ourselves, our world, and our relationships with each other. Undoubtedly this will lead to some hard questions. For example, have our civil society structures and networks proved sufficiently resilient to sustain our countries and communities through these difficult times? Have our governments provided the courageous leadership that we have a right to expect? And have we, as individuals, demonstrated the compassion, generosity and gratitude that we would want to receive from others?
I am not alone in expressing the belief that we will emerge from adversity into a better, fairer world. The political and cultural polarisation that we have all become used to over recent years could well be a thing of the past, as our differences fade away before a common threat. Our assumed dominion over the planet will have received another sharp wake-up call, breathing new energy into a global commitment to address widespread degradation of our natural environment. The unevenness of the virus’s economic impact may also cause us to finally question the way in which ‘work’ has been reshaped in the service of profits—and the insecurity and indignity that has accompanied this sustained, worldwide trend. And we have good reason to hope that once the worst is over, hyper-individualism will give way to an acceptance that adequate investment in society and public goods—including health and social services—is the true hallmark of a decent, inclusive society.
Perhaps most importantly, it will be the many acts of human empathy, altruism and love we are witnessing and hearing about that will help repair the damage—not least by reaffirming our faith in community and our belief in a shared humanity.
Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.