People of the Commonwealth

Critical Conversations

Frank and fresh perspectives on questions that really matter to the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion citizens

About the Critical Conversations virtual event series

Our world is in a state of instability and change unprecedented in human history. This is creating unimagined opportunities but also causing great disruption and uncertainty.

We need much better ideas—and more powerful, diverse voices—to hold ourselves and our governments to account. We need these voices and ideas to lead the transformation of systems and attitudes that entrench inequality and marginalise so many.

Critical Conversations will ask—and try to answer—the big, important questions of our age. How do we harness the best of humanity—the forces of love, compassion, equality, and justice—to advance our common future and protect our planet? How do we acknowledge the past in ways that advance a common vision for the future? How do we work together to build or re-fashion our institutions so that they support a world that leaves no one behind?

The online series will bring together dynamic and diverse speakers to deliver frank and fresh perspectives on questions that really matter to the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion citizens. While the series will cover a broad range of topics, the central themes come back to the core values and principles of the Commonwealth including democracy, human rights, participatory governance and the rule of law.

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2:00 pm, 25 Feb 2021 to 3:30 pm, 25 Feb 2021 GMT
Virtual Event

Equality and Justice in Covid-19 Responses

People of the Commonwealth: Critical Conversations

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed weaknesses in governance throughout the world—from health service provision to international aid.

Lessons from past epidemics confirm the importance of incorporating a gendered analysis to mount an effective and inclusive response. For example, during the 2014–16 West African Ebola outbreak, gendered norms meant that women were more likely to be infected by the virus, given their predominant roles as caregivers within families and as front-line health-care workers. And, as they were less likely than men to have decision-making power regarding the response, their needs remained largely unmet.

The Covid-19 pandemic appears to be playing out in a similar way with clear indications emerging that women are experiencing the pandemic differently to men—despite a relatively lower mortality rate. Overall, the vulnerabilities that reflect women’s gender roles and unequal social status are exacerbated. We see the results in higher rates of violence, faster economic decline and continued exclusion from decision making and policy development.

The issue of differentiated needs arises between as well as within countries. Responses to Covid-19 have largely been ‘boilerplate’—a one-size-fits-all approach that reflects both the urgency and the novelty of our situation. But it is becoming clear that policies and approaches which might work well in one part of the world will not necessarily work well elsewhere. For example, support to the informal economy may be a minor policy issue in a developed country but is a critical question of human survival—one with special resonance for women—in many developing countries. How do we make sure that these differences are recognised and taken account of?

This Critical Conversation will bring together a range of stakeholders to discuss responses to the pandemic so far, the challenges these reveal, and the ways in which we can ensure more just and equal responses to Covid-19 and future crises.

This event has taken place. You can watch it here:

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Moderator Hilary Gbedemah
Panellist Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr Obe, Sierra Leone
Panellist Musu Bakoto Sawo, Think Young Women, The Gambia
Panellist Joyce Bawah Mogtari, Ghana
Panellist REP Nnena Elendu Ukeje, Nigeria
Panellist Hon Nourane Foster, Cameroon
Panellist Fatmata Sorie, L.A.W.Y.E.R.S, Sierra Leone
Panellist Comfort Mussa, SisterSpeak237, Cameroon
Panellist Nana Afadzinu, West Africa Civil Society Institute, Ghana / Regional
2:00 pm, 26 Jan 2021 to 3:30 pm, 26 Jan 2021 GMT
Virtual Event

The People’s Voice: Protecting Media Freedom Throughout the Commonwealth

People of the Commonwealth: Critical Coversations

The decline of media freedom in the Commonwealth has been identified by Commonwealth Member States, institutions and civil society as an issue of growing concern. Threats to media freedom are contributing to an erosion of democratic culture and diminished government accountability at a time when such accountability has never been more important—or more urgent.

All Commonwealth Member States have publicly committed themselves to upholding ‘peaceful, open dialogue and the free flow of information, including through a free and responsible media’. But across the Commonwealth, assaults on media freedom are becoming more commonplace and more severe.

While there are many events looking at these issues, this event will focus on issues unique to the Commonwealth’s position: asking what can be done by and with Commonwealth institutions, what can civil society do to work against the multiple forces that are seeking to close down the free flow of accurate and truthful information and the role the Commonwealth needs to play if it is to remain true to its own principles.

This event has taken place. You can watch it here:

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Moderator Julie Posetti
Speaker Clare Rewcastle Brown
Speaker Manasseh Azure
Speaker Steffon Campbell
Speaker Guy Berger
Speaker Rana Ayyub
Speaker Shahidul Alam
Speaker Zoe Titus
Speaker Caroline Muscat
3:00 pm, 8 Dec 2020 to 4:30 pm, 8 Dec 2020 GMT
Virtual Event

A Commonwealth for All: Young Leaders Speak

People of the Commonwealth: Critical Conversations

How can the Commonwealth be a positive force for change? Join young leaders from across the Commonwealth as they share their vision for the Commonwealth and use examples from their own lives and work to inspire advocacy and action for change.

The destiny of the Commonwealth is in the hands of the next generation. Of the 2.4 billion Commonwealth citizens, over 60% are under 30. Not only are young people the majority, they are taking action on the most pressing issues of our time—from gender equality to racial justice and climate change.

We will explore young people’s perspectives on the Commonwealth’s complex past. What big lessons have been learned, especially from recent activism around racial justice and climate change? How can Commonwealth institutions support youth movements that are pushing for change and help them to do and deliver more?

In collaboration with the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust and the Commonwealth Youth Council, the third event in the Commonwealth Foundation’s Critical Conversations event series puts young leaders’ views and desires at the heart of discussions about the Commonwealth’s legacy, and more importantly its future.

We’re asking young people to come to this conversation with their ideas about what is important, what must change and what support they need to lead the Commonwealth into the future.

This event has taken place. You can watch it here:

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Moderator Alicia Wallace
Panellist Darrion Narine
Panellist Lisa Rapley
Panellist Kakembo Galabuzi Brian
Panellist Kavindya Thennakoon
Panellist Emmanuelle Andrews
Pop up expert Nondumiso (Noni) Hlophe
Pop up expert Lance Copegog
11:00 am, 25 Nov 2020 to 12:30 pm, 25 Nov 2020 GMT
Virtual Event

Reimagining ‘Women, Peace and Security’

People of the Commonwealth: Critical Conversations

Join leading women peace advocates from across the Commonwealth as they reimagine what ‘women, peace and security’ might mean for our future.

Twenty years ago, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, part of a global effort to highlight the impact of conflict on women and the need to bring the voice of women into peace processes.

After two decades, it is clear that much remains to be done. In this second event in the Commonwealth Foundation’s Critical Conversations series, peace advocates will ask how Resolution 1325 can be reimagined to better serve the needs and aspirations of women and communities across the Commonwealth. Are mainstream approaches to women’s leadership in conflict resolution actually working? How can women’s participation in peace processes be made more meaningful? How can women peace advocates secure better access to the forums and institutions where decisions are being made?

Speakers will draw on their front-line experience to tackle these questions; sharing concrete examples of what has worked well and their perspectives on what needs to be done differently.

This event has taken place. You can watch it here:

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Moderator Avila Kilmurray, Northern Ireland
Speaker Hannah Bond, United Kingdom
Speaker Helen Kezie-Nwoha, Uganda
Speaker Ruth Ochieng, Uganda
Speaker Shreen Saroor, Sri Lanka
Speaker Monica Mary McWilliams, Northern Ireland
Speaker Maria Hadjipavlou, Cyprus
Contributor Biran Mertan, Cyprus
Contributor Emma Johnston, Northern Ireland
Contributor Nomathamsanqa Masiko-Mpaka, South Africa
2:00 pm, 20 Oct 2020 to 3:30 pm, 20 Oct 2020 BST
Virtual Event

A Commonwealth for All: Acknowledging the Past – Reimagining the Future

People of the Commonwealth: Critical Conversations

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought pre-existing inequalities within and between our societies into sharp relief. But now is also a chance for us to pause, converse and build a collective will for change.

In our first-ever conversation we will aim to openly address the reality of the Commonwealth’s legacy; the impacts of that legacy; and, critically, to challenge the Commonwealth to realise its potential to contribute to a more positive and just future.

This event has taken place. You can watch it here:

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Panel Chair Olivette Otele
Panellist Phyll Opoku-Gyimah
Panellist Zareer Masani
Panellist Guy A. K. Hewitt
Panellist George Ayittey
Panellist Harshan Kumarasingham