Many of the challenges we face today are either too big or too small for individual governments to confront. Whether it’s climate change, rapid urbanisation, food insecurity, water scarcity, or terms of trade, institutions are looking for answers.
There was an assumed consensus that these things were best tackled by states working together on a regional or international basis. Those assumptions are being questioned. This is a moment for institutions to take a good look at the part they must play in delivering a sustainable future.
‘There is a brighter future ahead and we are part of it.’
This is as true for the Commonwealth as it is for any other system in the multilateral world. Shridath Ramphal famously said ‘The Commonwealth cannot negotiate for the world but it can help the world to negotiate.’ With its emphasis on mutuality, collegiality, and diversity—you can see how the Commonwealth can add value to a global system that aspires to work for all.
The Foundation is a cog in the Commonwealth wheel. We were established more than 50 years ago because the Commonwealth is as much an association of peoples as it is of governments. These pages show that premise remains true but they also illustrate how we have applied ourselves in a contemporary context. Since 2012 the Foundation has focussed on strengthening civic participation in governance, which now resonates with the Sustainable Development Goals.
‘The Foundation is a cog in the Commonwealth wheel. We were established more than 50 years ago because the Commonwealth is as much an association of peoples as it is of governments.’
The Foundation is showing that in addition to convening member states, the Commonwealth can bring diverse voices together, particularly the less heard so that better decisions are made. That’s how we contribute to ‘leaving no one behind.’
At a time when citizens are questioning whether institutions can deliver in the face of global challenges the Foundation has lit a candle. With our new publication we show that we are not alone and that the movement for inclusive development continues to grow. There is a brighter future ahead and we are part of it.
Editor’s note: Vijay Krishnarayan finished his second term as Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation on Friday 28 June 2019. Our current Director-General is Dr Anne Therese Gallagher.
Over the last seven years, we have consistently reflected on our work, asking ourselves about the value we are adding to governance and development. We are committed to adaptive learning and management and have dedicated ourselves to strengthening civic voices to constructively engage in policy processes and contribute to shaping public discourse.
‘Building trust is imperative in successful engagements and partnerships in governance.’
One of the major learnings from our 2012-2017 strategy was that we must be better at integrating gender in our programme. Under the new strategy we have a stronger focus on gender equality underpinned by the framework of gender and its intersectionality. In keeping with our systems approach, this framework allows for an understanding of the different intersecting systems of oppression and recognises the different ways that gender inequality is shaped by these intersections. The direction, speed and acceptance of change in a complex social and political system are difficult to predict. We have been more mindful that using a longer-term timeframe is critical to the success of the Foundation’s strategic priorities. Strengthening civic voices means change over the long term.
Our planning now factors this in. The highest degree of change can be observed when projects are based on the partners’ own assessment; taking the lead in determining and articulating the change they want to achieve, the capacities they want to strengthen, and the effective approaches to be taken. Customising support and taking into consideration the cultural and political context is fundamental.
‘Under the new strategy we have a stronger focus on gender equality underpinned by the framework of gender and its intersectionality’
There are no short cuts for anchoring the work on local ownership and supporting a process beyond enhancing existing knowledge and skills of individuals whereby civic voices strengthen, create, adapt and maintain their capacity over time and realise their own agency. We accompany partners, acknowledging that one size does not fit all and we facilitate processes in prioritising and planning instead of imposing outside analyses and interests. We have learned that support to civic voices must address individual needs and consider how skills and abilities materialise in organisational and institutional processes. We recognise that structures and processes are influenced by system-wide issues. We have found that initiatives and programmes require a wide range of adult learning approaches that are better adapted than traditional training and workshops. These include learning by doing, peer to peer mentoring and on-site coaching. Combined with these, research, technical assistance, pilot projects, training, and evaluations have proven useful.
We have also seen how individual strengths organised in and working as a part of coalitions or alliances have demonstrated the effectiveness of collective efforts in engaging in policy advocacy and campaigning. One ingredient that features in our work is partnering with effective and strong local resource partners who know the local context and have credibility in-country to deliver the gamut of support. This approach contributes in the long term to strengthening the local enabling environment. And finally, building trust is imperative in successful engagements and partnerships in governance. One way that civil society is able to build trust is to demonstrate its technical capacity and willingness to constructively engage in policy processes in governance.
The pages of our new publication, Stronger civic voices across the Commonwealth, will give you a sense of what these lessons look like. They help us to be defiant in hope in such a time as this.