Nabeel Goheer and Patricia Scotland on the podiumCommonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland and Assistant Commonwealth Secretary-General Nabeel Goheer launch the Commonwealth Innovation Hub. [photo: Debbie Ransome]

The start of an agenda-packed Commonwealth Week got underway with an avalanche of announcements on day one.

Before the first forum had officially opened, royal family media officials announced that Prince Harry had been appointed Commonwealth Youth Ambassador. Prince Harry opened the Commonwealth Youth Forum with an announcement that the Commonwealth Scholarship Scheme is to be expanded from 2019 to provide 150 new scholarships with a rebranding as the Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships.

Prince Harry’s announcement received applause for this but he won the loud cheers of his young audience when he also announced that his fiancé Meghan Markel would be joining him in his Commonwealth Youth Ambassador work.

Commonwealth initiatives then came thick and fast across the series of opening sessions for the Business, Women and People’s Forums.

In opening the Business Forum, incoming Commonwealth Chair, UK Prime Minister Theresa May announced the “She Trades Commonwealth” initiative during the two years of the UK time as Chair-in-Office. The £7m initiative will seek to provide training and other support to boost and connect women in business.

Prime Minister May’s other initiative announcements dealt with a proposed Commonwealth Standards Network to set up a common language for goods and services and a trade facilitation programme to boost trading across the Commonwealth.

“With its unique scope and global voice, such a Commonwealth can set a powerful example to the world, one that demonstrates and underlines the importance of protecting free trade and the rules-based international order,” Prime Minister May told the Business Forum opening.

The Women’s Forum, under the theme ‘An Empowered future for Women and Girls’, discussed plans to get more women into education, business and political leadership. The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) announced that it has committed £1.6 million to supporting women to play an active role in resolving conflict worldwide.

Boosting Commonwealth trade

The emphasis from ministers representing the incoming UK Chair remained focused on trade. The UK Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, announced additional support to build the trade and human rights capacity of the Commonwealth Small States Office in Geneva.

He told a plenary session at the Business Forum that “we will also provide dedicated trade advisors to increase the meaningful participation of Commonwealth Small States in international trade and facilitate their integration into the multilateral trading system.”

Mr Fox added that “As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union we have the opportunity to reinvigorate our Commonwealth partnerships and usher in a new era harnessing the movement of expertise, talent goods and capital between our nations in a way that we have not done for a generation or more.”

Speakers at the plenary session on the Global Economic Outlook explored ways to boost Commonwealth trade as a way to counter anti-globalisation developments, such as growing protectionism and nationalism.

Digitising the Commonwealth

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland held the week’s first news conference to announce details for the new Commonwealth Innovation Hub which will place the organisation’s archives on a digital platform.

The new hub will provide information, toolkits, the Commonwealth’s library archive,  as well as share and index innovations taking place in member countries. It will work in partnership with the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO), its annual Global Innovation Index (GII) and the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Assistant Commonwealth Secretary-General Nabeel Goheer, called parts of the offer “the Facebook of the Commonwealth innovation”, “the Commonwealth tube of stories” and the “treasure trove of information which we had in our libraries”.

Secretary-General Scotland said “this is the Commonwealth at its very best…this sharing”.

The Commonwealth’s “loud noise”

During a first day which felt like athletes sprinting at the sound of the starting gun, speaker after speaker pointed to their desire to feed more innovation and new projects across the Commonwealth.

Outgoing Chair, Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, described the world as being at a “critical juncture” where growing protectionism could undermine international trade.

In announcing the Commonwealth trade ministers’ scheme which will be launched in Malta in 2019, he told the Business Forum that a better trading system within the Commonwealth “has never been of greater relevance”.

Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), Lord Marland, told the Business Forum that two-and-a-half years ago, the Commonwealth had been at a crossroads with “little leadership” until the Malta CHOGM provided a “springboard” for a host of initiatives.

“The word ‘Commonwealth’ was a whisper and it is now a loud noise,” Lord Marland told the Business Forum, “within the 53 countries, lights are going on.”

At a “Welcome to the UK” event held at the end of day one, Prince William told delegates that they were a part of the “mother of all networks”. Prince William said that the Commonwealth leaders’ gathering represented “a shared desire to make our world a better place”.

The Forums run until Wednesday when Heads of Government arrive for their main deliberations on Thursday and their retreat on Friday.

Related articles

Commonwealth leaders could choose the next head after the Queen this week – The Guardian

Lord Marland – The Commonwealth won’t replace pre-Brexit trade (CNBC)

The Commonwealth offers counter-point to protectionism – The Hindu

UK wants India to take on more important role in Commonwealth, says diplomat – The Hinustan Times

Commonwealth Forums 2018 – People, Women, Youth and Business

The Commonwealth – View the new Innovation Hub

The 2015 Malta CHOGM – Malta Notebooks by the Commonwealth Round Table Editorial Chair Stuart Mole

Find out more about the Commonwealth Round Table