Excellencies, colleagues, partners, and friends of the Commonwealth Foundation,
The festive season is a time to pause and reflect on our changing world. One event that loomed large for the Foundation in 2022 was the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who, as head of the Commonwealth, dedicated her life to serving its people. We pay tribute to her steadfast and devoted service.
‘COP27 in Egypt presented a valuable opportunity to advance our strategic agenda on climate change and the interests of the Commonwealth’s small and vulnerable states.’
In terms of our own work, the past year has been an exciting one, with a major highlight being our hosting of the Commonwealth People’s Forum in partnership with the Government of Rwanda. We were thrilled with the level and quality of engagement: over 250 delegates from across the Commonwealth were involved, including civil society leaders, government officials, lawyers, journalists, academics, and activists. The Foundation team developed a short outcome video that was shown to Foreign Ministers in Kigali. You can watch it here. We are already planning for the next People’s Forum that will be held in Samoa in 2024: looking at ways that the Foundation can bring the people of the Commonwealth together (in person and online) to discuss and debate the issues that matter most to them.
The Commonwealth Short Story Prize has continued to grow this year, attracting new writers from more Commonwealth Member States. The 2022 prize was won by Ntsika Kota for his story ‘and the earth drank deep’. Ntsika is the first writer from Eswatini to be shortlisted for the prize, and the second overall winner from Africa. In a record year for entries, he saw off competition from 6,729 entrants worldwide to take the £5,000 prize. A hitherto unpublished author with extraordinary talent, Ntsika’s success reminds us of the power of the prize to unearth world-beating literary talent in all corners of our Commonwealth.
Finally, COP27 in Egypt presented a valuable opportunity to advance our strategic agenda on climate change and the interests of the Commonwealth’s small and vulnerable states. The Foundation hosted three online events as part of our Critical Conversations series in the lead-up to—and immediately after—COP27. These events—which brought together a wide range of activists and decision-makers—considered how to advance the needs and interests of those most affected by climate change. We were delighted that over 7000 people registered to attend online.
‘The issues that are at the heart of our work: climate, health and freedom of expression, continue to require urgent attention.’
The Foundation also hosted two in-person events at COP27: bringing together the President of Vanuatu, the Prime Minister of the Bahamas, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, and leading figures in international law and climate advocacy to consider how the tools of international law can be used to secure climate justice for some of the Commonwealth’s smallest and most climate-vulnerable countries. Attendance at both events was at full capacity and drew widespread media attention ahead of the historic agreement to establish a funding mechanism for loss and damage.
The issues that are at the heart of our work: climate, health and freedom of expression, continue to require urgent attention and the Foundation has begun planning in earnest for the year ahead. We were delighted to receive a record number of applications to our open grants call. Much work has gone into simplifying our grant-making to improve access and we are confident that these changes will help ensure that smaller civil society organisations in smaller Commonwealth countries benefit from this funding stream. We are also in no doubt that, among the thousands of submissions made to the 2023 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, a new cohort of world-beating writers will emerge to claim the regional and overall prizes that will be announced mid-year.
‘Member-State commitment to the Charter is critical if the Commonwealth is to survive and thrive.’
The Foundation is also gearing up to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Commonwealth Charter: a bold and forward-looking statement of Commonwealth values and principles. Member-State commitment to the Charter is critical if the Commonwealth is to survive and thrive. The Foundation will be doing its bit to bring the voice of Commonwealth civil society into anniversary celebrations for the Charter. Please sign up to our mailing list to receive updates on these plans.
Once again, thank you to all those who have contributed to our work, most especially our governors and the Foundation’s expanding network of partners. I look forward to working with you in the coming year as we join forces to advance the principles and values of our Commonwealth.
Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.