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Tag: Social inclusion

Power to the People: the Commonwealth Foundation at CHOGM 2022

After two years of delay and postponement, of anticipation and frustration, the Commonwealth Heads of Government meetings (CHOGM) finally took place in Kigali in late June.

For the Foundation, this was the culmination of years of preparation and planning, most especially for the People’s Forum—the largest gathering of civil society in the Commonwealth system that has been a fixture of the CHOGM calendar for almost two decades.

The Foundation also took the lead in convening a half-day of roundtable discussions between Foreign Ministers and members of Commonwealth civil society. An outcome video of the Forum, which was broadcast at the official CHOGM Foreign Ministers Meeting, and also played at the Roundtable itself, can be accessed here.

‘What role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?’

The People’s Forum 2022: Our Health, Our Planet, Our Future

The People’s Forum 2022 set itself the ambitious task of asking—and trying to answer—the biggest and most 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 work together to build or re-fashion our institutions so that they support a world that leaves no one behind? And what role could—or should—the Commonwealth of Nations play in these vital steps towards a better world for all its people?

Along with our partners at the Rwanda Governance Board, the Foundation took advantage of the two-year delay to shape a strong and streamlined programme that focused on what is front and centre for so many people of the Commonwealth: health, climate and freedom of expression. The Critical Conversations online event series, launched by the Foundation in 2020 after the first CHOGM postponement, proved to be a gamechanger: giving us experience and confidence in new formats and approaches and expanding our network of activists and leaders across all Commonwealth regions.

‘In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC?’

In relation to developing the Forum sessions on climate for example, the Foundation was able to draw on several different events  organised as part of the Critical Conversations series, including one on small states and climate justice held in September 2021 just before COP26, and another on the difficult issue of reparations for climate damage, held in February of this year. Our main climate session at the People’s Forum was explicitly practical: looking ahead to COP27 in November and to what the Commonwealth could and should be doing to advance the interests of those most affected.  Leaders and advocates from the Commonwealth’s small island developing states left the Forum in no doubt about the urgency of the challenge and the moral duty of the Commonwealth, its member countries and its institutions, to demonstrate genuine solidarity through concrete commitments.

The Forum’s sessions on health also benefited from multiple Critical Conversations events the Foundation has convened since early 2020 which shed a bright light on the parlous state of so many national health systems and the apparent incapacity of international systems and institutions (including, disappointingly, the Commonwealth itself) to deliver practical support. At the Forum, the issue of universal health coverage (UHC)—the guarantee that people can access quality health services without facing financial hardship—was front and centre, with panellists interrogating the role that civil society might play in pushing for UHC and the strong, resilient, and equitable health systems that must be at its heart.

Any useful discussion around health and climate must address the thorny question of finance: how do we get the money needed to fund desperately overdue measures aimed at protecting countries and communities from the worst effects of climate change? In a time of growing debt burdens, especially across low and middle-income countries, who should be paying for better primary health care and the other elements of UHC? In the case of climate, Forum participants strongly took up the cause of the Commonwealth’s smaller and more vulnerable Member States, for whom the loss and damage caused by climate change is presenting unique—and in some cases existential—challenges. Across both issues participants were united in their conviction that the Commonwealth has a unique role to play in bringing together those who hold the power to deliver support, relieve debt burdens, and provide restitution. A failure to take up that role with determination would be, in the eyes of Commonwealth civil society, a clear rejection of the very ideas that the Commonwealth stands for.

‘a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens’

The Commonwealth Charter affirms that freedom of expression—including media freedom—is essential to the flourishing of democratic societies and a basic condition for development. Sadly, this is an area where too many Commonwealth countries are slipping behind. Building on a previous Critical Conversations event, the Forum engaged in a vigorous, at times tense discussion of freedom of expression: why does it matter and how can it be protected? What can the Commonwealth, its member states and institutions, do to support and advance free and responsible media? There was clear agreement that no country can afford to be complacent: direct threats to journalists and freedom of expression are real and growing. Civil society has an important role to play in championing the proposed Commonwealth Principles on Freedom of Expression that could help shore up freedom of expression and break the culture of silence that provides cover for its steady erosion.

The final session of the Forum, A Commonwealth for All’, set itself the ambitious goal of provoking deep discussion and personal reflection about where we are now, and how the Commonwealth—its Member States, its institutions, and its people—can help inspire real and meaningful change. It was aimed at all those who care about the Commonwealth; those who have a perspective on its past; and those who have a stake in its future. The Forum Chair participated in the event alongside the Commonwealth Secretary-General. Both were asked to comment on a provocative video of highlights from the Foundation’s three-part mini-series on the future of the Commonwealth. The passion and conviction of speakers at this final event—and of the many participants who contributed to the discussion—left no doubt that a vibrant and principled Commonwealth is critical to the future of its citizens. The ten-year anniversary of the Charter, which will be commemorated next year, was singled out by many as an opportunity to galvanise action for a reinvigorated Commonwealth.

Weaving together all Forum sessions was the idea of participatory governance: the idea that the involvement of people in their governance is critical to democracy and democratic legitimacy; the idea that citizens have a central role to play in helping to shape policies and decisions that affect their lives. Forum participants acknowledged that participatory governance is a work in progress right across the Commonwealth. We can learn from examples of innovation that have delivered tangible results. But we must be brave in pushing for more meaningful involvement of citizens across every area of public life.

‘How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?’

Civil Society and the Foreign Ministers’ Roundtable

The roundtable between participants of the People’s Forum and Foreign Ministers is now an established fixture on the CHOGM calendar: a powerful embodiment of the Commonwealth identity as an organisation of people—and not just of states. For the Foundation, it is an unambiguous exercise in participatory governance—the unifying thread of the People’s Forum.

The 2022 Roundtable was widely proclaimed to be a huge success with the largest-ever number of Ministers in attendance, including a substantial contingent of Foreign Ministers and excellent representation from Commonwealth civil society and accredited organisations. The event was Chaired by the Rwanda Foreign Minister and moderated by me. The seating arrangement, large round tables where government and civil society sat together, and the moderator’s insistence that each take turns in contributing, guaranteed a lively and at times passionate debate. Among the wide range of matters discussed, gender equality and freedom of expression stood out as issues that everyone in the room—government and civil society alike—cared deeply about.

Towards the Future

On the current schedule, we now have less than two years to go until CHOGM 2024. While our future is uncertain, we must brace ourselves for the likelihood that many of the challenges discussed in Kigali will be unresolved. How can we measure progress? And how can we push for meaningful action as global economic headwinds turn against us?

The CHOGM communique—which sets out a bold and ambitious plan of action—should be front and centre. However, many participants in the Forum pointed out the danger of the Communique becoming irrelevant unless Member States commit to measuring their actions against the goals they have set before reporting to CHOGM 2024. Our analysis of the sentiment coming out from the Forum indicates that progress on climate could be usefully measured by the practical steps that Commonwealth countries and institutions take to protect small island developing countries. Progress on freedom of expression is even easier to measure: the Commonwealth must take the final step to adopt a robust set of principles on media freedom that comply with current international human rights standards and put in place mechanisms to monitor implementation. Progress on health requires concerted action to break the debt deadlock that is strangling efforts to deliver universal health care in so many of the Commonwealth’s low and middle-income countries.

So much more could and should be done. But we must start somewhere if the Commonwealth is to hold its head high. Let us decide to hold ourselves—and each other—to account. The people of the Commonwealth deserve no less.

Dr Anne T. Gallagher AO is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Message from the Directorate

 


Vijay Krishnarayan

Director-General

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.

 


Myn Garcia

Deputy Director-General

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.

Seasonal message from the Director-General

As we start to look forward to a seasonal break, we pause to reflect on the year that’s passed.

For the Commonwealth Foundation, one of the highlights of the year was the Commonwealth Summit held in London. This biennial gathering of Heads of Government, Foreign Ministers, civil society, and business naturally focusses the system’s energies. We played our part, convening diverse civic voices at the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF 2018), which placed inclusive governance at the centre of Commonwealth renewal.

Creative expression helped to animate the discussions and dialogues at CPF 2018 and made a real impact on the delegates. Seeing Karlo Mila deliver the poem that she wrote for the occasion to more than a thousand people was electric. She used the form to bring issues from Oceania to London, including colonial legacy, inequality, and climate change.

We were able to take some of those messages from civil society to the climate change talks taking place in Poland. Indeed, I write from Katowice, where 33,000 people are gathered at COP24. Here the Foundation is driven by the need for international processes to listen to and hear less heard voices. We gathered 40 of these in Barbados earlier this year in partnership with UNDP Global Environment Programme to explore the intersectionality between gender and climate change.

Our grant making continues to illustrate the ways in which participatory governance shapes people’s lives. Since 2012-13 we have invested nearly £6 million in projects that span a wide range of sectors but have one theme in common. They show how people’s participation in a wide range of governance processes can enhance development outcomes. We were able to add a further five projects to the portfolio this year.

One of the Foundation’s defining characteristics is a commitment to South to South and South to North knowledge sharing and learning. We saw a good example of this in action at the learning workshop that we convened for new grant projects in October. This annual activity aims to help project leaders to refine their approach to monitoring and assessment. This year we included sessions on gender sensitivity and its intersectionality, which helped underline the importance of holistic and integrated approaches.

These highlights give a sense of the busy and productive year that we have enjoyed at the Commonwealth Foundation. On behalf of staff I would like to thank our member states for their sustained support as well as our civil society stakeholders for continuing to walk with us.

Vijay Krishnarayan is Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation.

Pursuing change through the power of storytelling

The Commonwealth Foundation (CF) spoke to Erato Ioannou, Cypriot writer, during the Commonwealth People’s Forum 2018 on 16-18 April.

This semi-structured interview enquired into storytellers’ experiences working with the Commonwealth Writers programme and explored the way in which less-heard voices can be brought to the forefront in order to influence public discourse.

CF: Erato, thank you for joining us. How did you come across Commonwealth Writers and did it change your approach to story-telling?

Erato: I have to say, I stumbled onto Commonwealth Writers while searching the internet for literary competitions to enter. As you can understand, Cyprus has limited publication outlets. The Commonwealth Foundation, through its projects for writers helps less heard voices from around the world to be heard all over the world. So Many Islands Anthology is one such project; through which myself and 16 other writers from the islands of the Commonwealth embarked on a journey.

‘So, in our work even though we negotiate universal issues and themes, we have a common point of departure—our individual, local, cultural, historical identity.’

It was an important moment for me as a writer, since the story I featured in the anthology, Something Tiny, was given the chance to be read all over the world. The anthology was distributed in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific, the Caribbean, the United States of America and Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe. Who would have thought?

So Many Islands Anthology features writers from islands in every region of the Commonwealth

Now, in regard to my approach to story-telling…I’ve always felt that stories come together in an ever ending dialogue. Stories connect people and peoples. They create a network of narratives that is our shared humanity. Commonwealth Writers plays an important role in this process by acknowledging and supporting the polyphony of the Commonwealth; by helping us share our stories with the world. Now, I know, that it is possible for my stories to be read by a wider, international audience.

CF: What are writers in Cyprus writing about? What are some of the issues?

Erato: Topos—place—has a crucial impact on a writer’s work. It’s inevitable. Even when the work itself does not refer directly to it, Topos is haunting it. It reverberates silently against the words, and the reader will, in the end, sense its vibrations. It’s certain. Topos, interwoven with History, is part of the author’s identity. It’s embedded in her every molecule.

‘Stories have qualities that are immeasurable and possibilities that are limitless.’

So, in our work even though we negotiate universal issues and themes, we have a common point of departure—our individual, local, cultural, historical identity. For many-many years, violence, war, displacements, refugee issues, missing persons, were central to the literature of Cyprus. These issues persist today, I would say, through the inherited trauma, through our everyday experiences as we still live in a violently divided island.

At the same time, our world, and I mean the whole world, has gotten smaller. Technology has brought us closer. And as this coming together of the human race happens, we now create a common history—the history of our planet. And Cypriot literature and the literatures of the whole world cannot remain unaffected by this.

CF: What areas of support do writers need?

Erato: There’s this famous essay by Virginia Wolf: a writer, in order to write, needs to have money and a room of her own. I am a mum of two, I have a wonderful husband and a demanding job. So whatever writing I do, I do it on the break from family and work. Life does not spare you. A writer has to sacrifice a lot. She has to be dedicated. She has to be self-disciplined. She has to make time. Ways to help this process should be sought. Maybe stipends for a writer to escape for one week from home to write? There are some creative writing hubs in the US and the UK that I know of but they last for two, three, six months. That’s a very long time to be away from your family.

CF: How important is it to hear from storytellers outside of the mainstream, the less heard voices? And can short stories impact the dominant narrative?

Erato: Stories have qualities that are immeasurable and possibilities that are limitless. That’s why it’s important to hear from storytellers outside the mainstream. Our voices, the less heard voices, contribute to the polyphony of literature, to its multiple dimensions. A tale unfolds from the writer’s imagination to speak a universal language to the world; to reveal one layer of meaning after another. Our stories do impact the dominant narrative. In one way or another, they do affect existing perspectives and prevailing perceptions. So yes! It is important to let the voices of storytellers from outside the mainstream to be heard. One has to understand, one has to learn, one has to know before she can change. Our stories explore our unique realities, which in the case of small islands, are physically small and geographically distant, but they contribute to a better understanding of human nature and of the whole world.

So Many Islands is available for purchase here.

Commonwealth Foundation: keeping an eye on results

The Commonwealth Foundation completed the first year of its Strategy 2017-21. The results of this first year were presented to the Foundation’s Board in June 2018. It was received well with an affirmation of the demand for the Foundation’s work in amplifying civic voice in governance across the Commonwealth.

The delivery of the Commonwealth People’s Forum 2018 in London in advance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting was widely praised. And the increased prominence of the integration of gender and its intersectionality with disadvantage was particularly welcomed.

Continuous improvement is a consistent feature of the work of the Foundation. Every year, planning is undertaken and this time in May, we covered the programmatic priorities, their design and implementation for the next three years from 2018 to 2021.

So what will the next three years look like for us?

The Foundation will remain focused on the pathways for advocating and supporting SDG 16: peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development. This is the specific interest of the Foundation. Success in achieving SDG 16 could not be more relevant than now and arguably would ‘unlock’ the rest of the goals, particularly in the midst of an increasingly contested space for people’s participation in governance.

As part of continuous improvement, we will keep an eye on results; cultivating deeper what has been established and building on outcomes to date into the next three years. Processes and partnerships that are bearing fruit will be nurtured; and new ones that make sense will be established.

We are committed to enhance the integration of gender and its intersectionality in all the programmes and organisational aspects of the Foundation’s work.

We have also benefited in cultivating flexibility to adapt by taking learning more vigorously, which means connecting the dots and promoting an integrated approach to our work.

With results on people’s participation in governance at hand, the Foundation is increasingly intentional in raising the visibility, not only of the brand, but more importantly of the range of outcomes being advanced. This is seeing progress in areas such as:

  • Women’s inclusion in political and democratic processes including peacebuilding
  • Environmental governance as it relates to climate change
  • Legislative reform
  • Coalition building for policy advocacy
  • Inclusion of persons with disabilities
  • Citizen-led social accountability
  • Enhanced and inclusive service delivery
  • Localisation of global multilateral conventions such as CEDAW
  • SDG 2030
  • Universal Periodic Review and creative expression as entry points to raising awareness of policy issues among many others.

Commonwealth Writers, the cultural initiative of the Foundation, will continue to support the transformative power of creative expression and will provide platforms for less heard voices and narratives across the Commonwealth, in countries with little or no publishing infrastructure, from places that are marked by geographical, geopolitical or economic isolation and where freedom of expression is challenged. The 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner will be announced in Cyprus in July 2018. The Prize brings unpublished writers and stories to the attention of an international audience.

As we look to the next three years, we will persist to ask the question: where can we add value given the relatively modest contributions the Foundation can make in the wide spectrum of participatory governance?

Myn Garcia is Deputy Director-General of the Commonwealth Foundation. 

Download the Commonwealth Foundation Annual Report 2017-2018

Waste pickers discussed on the John Maythem show

Recycling in Johannesburg has become compulsory as of last year due to persisting landfill issues. However, the new separation at the source initiative is threatening the livelihoods of thousands of informal waste pickers, whose contribution has gone unrecognised.

Listen to John Maytham’s discussion below on the impact this is having on the income of waste pickers.

The value of a thousand narratives: reflections on the Commonwealth People’s Forum 2018

There I was, pacing the streets of one of the most impressive cities in the world. I was running late for an 8am meeting with a half-filled stomach, and my only concern was making sure I was well prepared.

For what? One of the most important political events on the Commonwealth calendar. More than 350 delegates from Commonwealth nations representing civil society were about to convene at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in central London for the Commonwealth People’s Forum 2018.

Civil society is one of the biggest pillars of democracy. Through civil society those who have been repressed, violated, silenced and erased find a channel where they can tell their side of the story and hold governments to account for their commitments or lack thereof. Civil society is all about creating an enabling space for dissent which encourages multiple voices to be involved in policy-making processes. The governments may have the power, but the people collectively have a voice and policies that can be used to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing development problems. Therefore, it’s very important that as many people as possible can be involved in creating solutions and as the saying goes ‘if you’re not around the table, you’re on the menu’.

A delegate asks a question during a panel on Legislative Reform in the Commonwealth
Photo©vickicouchman

For as far as I can remember I’ve always been an advocate for inclusion. When I’m not fighting for women’s rights to be recognized and a space to be created for them in political and economic processes, I’m challenging a system that has seen many young people being locked out of politics and other decision-making processes. So as per my self-appointed role, I was ready to scan the room and make notes on who had been left behind at this auspicious event.

‘The governments may have the power, but the people collectively have a voice and policies that can be used to develop innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing development problems.’

The opening could not have been more perfect. Ben Okri offered a satiating talk that allowed us to clean the palettes of our minds and hearts in preparation for the forum ahead. I say this because most of the time, especially when you have been to similar settings numerous times you start to feel that they are all the same. We start to look forward to the mistakes and what could have been done better instead of opening up ourselves to the possibility of having life and nation changing conversations.

Acclaimed author and poet Ben Okri opened the forum with a keynote on ending exclusion in the Commonwealth
Photo©vickicouchman

Many of us have struggled with the idea of a Commonwealth. The name suggests a common and shared wealth but this can be misleading considering that many of the citizens within these nations live below the poverty line. So what then is common amongst us? Mr Okri made me realise that what is common is our history and history has an invaluable amount of wealth, because of this we share a common story of how our nations came into being. We share a common language and also share similar future prospects.

‘The Commonwealth People’s Forum represented a dinner where everyone I could think of could be found at the table and for once instead of having the poor and marginalized on the menu, we had issues of corruption, sexism, racism and gender inequality to discuss.’

The Commonwealth People’s Forum was filled with people from all spectrums of life. Those who have attended many forums and those who were attending it for the first time. Like myself. Those who cared about the wellbeing of the elderly to those who were defending LGBTQI rights. Listening in on every session I got to walk in the shoes of the panelists as they shared their stories. This gave me a valuable insight on the challenges of inclusion and injustice others were facing across the Indian and Pacific Ocean.

From left to right: Patrick Younge, Rod Little, Rosanna Flamer-Caldera and Marchu Girma
Photo©vickicouchman

I always say the personal is political. Politics is not a choice. Often we use ourselves as the point of reference for our activism but this narcissistic approach to dissent can be reckless. The Commonwealth People’s Forum made me appreciate the value of a thousand narratives.

I come as one but stood for thousands that are unemployed in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). I speak for women that are violated and marginalised culturally, economically and politically. Making sure that the experiences and voices of all the ten thousand people and more that I represent are acknowledged is important to me. This made me notice another magical thing about the Commonwealth. We are a kaleidoscope of different hues, views, cultures and beliefs that are in conversation with one another. The Commonwealth People’s Forum represented a dinner where everyone I could think of could be found at the table and for once instead of having the poor and marginalised on the menu, we had issues of corruption, sexism, racism and gender inequality to discuss. Together we created solutions that have the power to drive the Commonwealth nations in the direction that the rest of the world should be going in.

Ian Mangenga is a youth activist and member of the South African chapter of the Southern African Alliance for Youth Unemployment

Ben Okri’s electrifying keynote on ending exclusion

Inclusion is at the heart of Sustainable Development Goal 16, but exclusion has become accepted across the Commonwealth.

How can institutions and civic voices ensure that inclusion, rather than exclusion, becomes the norm?

Ben Okri, one of Africa’s foremost authors and poets, opened the Commonwealth People’s Forum 2018 with an address on how civil society can breathe new life and purpose into the Commonwealth by ending exclusion. View his electrifying keynote below.

The inaugural Festival of Commonwealth Film

Something amazing happens when I watch a film. I sit down, it begins, and if it’s any good, I’m transported to another world.

The screen is a window, and through it I can see into any situation, any character’s experience, any culture. That’s why I find myself so frustrated with the state of cinema most of the time. The offering at the multiplex is often uniform and bland, not to mention bad as well. The story-lines are cut frequently from the same pattern. There is even a book called Save The Cat that explains the methodology, if you can call it that, for writing a ‘good’ script. Most of the films I see are in the English language, and sadly, when I travel, the local cinemas are stacked with Hollywood films, and if there are British films on offer, they are usually costume dramas.

I Am Not a Witch, witch features in the inaugural lineup, won the BAFTA for ‘outstanding debut’ in February 2018

But what about all of the other stories? What about the voices of the people from the Commonwealth countries that don’t speak English as a first language? Each with its own rich and unique language, culture, and heritage.

That’s why I’m so honoured and excited to be co-ordinating the first-ever Festival of Commonwealth Film, at the British Museum on 14 and 15 April. Over two days, we will be showing seven feature films, as well as a short film programme and a 360º virtual reality film. We have films from the Bahamas, India, Malta, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Tonga, United Kingdom and Zambia. Directors from nearly all of the films will be coming to meet the audience and answer their questions. In one very special case, we’re hosting the UK Premiere of a documentary on human trafficking, Not My Life, which will be followed by a Q&A not only with the director but also Sanjoy Hazarika, the Director of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, about the scourge of modern-day slavery.

We’ll be sharing stories about transgender activists in Tonga, fishermen in the Mediterranean and Caribbean, modern women struggling to reconcile tradition and modernity in India, sisters fighting to protect their land in Pakistan, and an eight year-old girl accused of witchcraft and threatened with being turned into a goat.

Through the immersive magic of virtual reality, we have the powerful story of a woman imprisoned for twenty years despite being entitled to release, who is ultimately freed through the persistence, tenacity, and love of her son.

So many stories, so many windows looking in on places, situations, and people that I simply would never see anywhere else. All brought together with the support and commitment of the Commonwealth Foundation, Commonwealth Writers, and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. For two days, the British Museum  will be where we bring the richness and diversity of the Commonwealth to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.

When I’m exposed to a good piece of cinema, I leave feeling like I’ve had a good meal. Whether it’s a drama, where I’ve been emotionally affected, or a comedy, where the endorphins from a good therapeutic laugh are still coursing through my system, the end result is the same – real cinema acts on me, and in its way it changes me somehow, so that I’m different when I leave.

With a cafe open all day to relax in and talk about what’s been seen, and early bird prices at £7 (2 tickets for £10) with 50% off for concessions, it will be an incredible weekend of cinema and culture that we sincerely hope will become a regular event bringing the best cinema from across the Commonwealth together in one place.

Now please forgive me, but I have to go back to making sure it all comes off without a hitch – see you in April!

Mike Freedman is Festival Co-ordinator for Festival of Commonwealth Film 2018.