The festive season is upon us—and as this extraordinary year draws to a close—I extend my warmest wishes to the Member States and the People of our Commonwealth. This is a time for family, for celebration. It is a time for us to stop and reflect on the many blessings of life and living.
But for many, this time will be tinged with sadness. Too many of our human family are experiencing hardship and loss; too many of us are grieving separation from loved ones. Too many of us know that the road ahead is hard and lonely.
We will get through this, of course. But in the meantime, let us resolve to keep our eyes and our hearts open: to be watchful for the times where a kind deed, a helping hand, a gentle word, can make someone else’s suffering a little less. Perhaps that is the best way we can celebrate the festive season this year.
‘It is the values which lie at the heart of our beloved organisation—human rights, democracy, justice and equality—that must stay front and centre.’
Here at the Commonwealth Foundation, we have strived to adapt our work to this changing world. A special grants call was launched in September, focussed on supporting civil society efforts to recover and rebuild from the pandemic. Funding was approved for sixteen projects across the Commonwealth and implementation will begin within weeks.
Creativity has flourished during this difficult year and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is no exception. Entries for the 2021 prize closed a few months ago and our team of readers is now well into the process of reviewing almost 6500 stories—a record number of entries!
Another innovation of 2020 was the launch of a series of online events: People of the Commonwealth: Critical Conversations. This year has made clear to us all that the people of our Commonwealth have something to say and deserve to be heard. We are thrilled that over 15,000 people signed up the attend the three events held so far. I encourage you to join this growing community of fellow Commonwealth citizens by signing up the Critical Conversations mailing list, where we will keep you updated on the exciting conversations due to be held in 2021 in the lead-up to the Commonwealth People’s Forum in June.
‘Across our Commonwealth, it is civil society groups that are fighting for accountability and transparency’
2020 will soon be a memory. But the threats to our common future that have come to the fore this year: from pandemic disease to climate change, from inequality to injustice, are not going away. As we move forward it is essential to acknowledge that governments and business cannot even begin to address these challenges without the direct and substantive involvement of civil society. Across our Commonwealth, it is civil society groups that are fighting for accountability and transparency; that are on the front lines of service delivery; that are ensuring the people are helping to shape the policies and decisions that affect their lives. The Foundation exists to support this vital work – to nurture the growth of vibrant and free civil societies across our Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth stands tall as a symbol of shared humanity. But it can be much more. As we stand at this crossroads, it is the values which lie at the heart of our beloved organisation—human rights, democracy, justice and equality—that must stay front and centre. It is those values that must guide us into a brighter future.
Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.