Baroness Patricia Scotland wrote for the Round Table Journal in October 2015 about her vision of the Commonwealth. Her opinion piece appeared ahead of elections for a new Commonwealth Secretary-General. Baroness Scotland was elected the following month and will start as Secretary-General in April.
This November, Commonwealth heads of government will select a new Secretary General. Theirs will be an existential choice. The Commonwealth can either be left to wither on the vine as an irrelevant relic of a colonial past, or rejuvenated as a unique family of nations where diversity is strength, understanding builds tolerance, and partnerships create platforms for all our citizens to prosper.
In this crucial election, what really matters now is leadership—strong, honest, experienced, visionary, collaborative and, ultimately, transformational leadership.
The future of the Commonwealth is deeply personal to me. As much as I am a proud daughter of Dominica, I am also a proud child of the Commonwealth.
Mine is the story of many thousands of Caribbean people: born in Dominica, to a Dominican mother and an Antiguan father, my destiny was determined when I was two years old and my father moved his family to the United Kingdom in search of a better life and affordable educational opportunities for his 12 children. My journey, I know, is shared by countless immigrants from all parts of the Commonwealth.
My father imbued in me two beliefs that have remained fundamental throughout my life. The first is that even though we are all unique, 99.9% of our genes are in fact the same, so we should focus not on our differences, but on what we have in common. As a black Dominican girl growing up in 1960s Britain, that was an important concept to hold on to. The second belief is that our greatest duty is to contribute—to make the most of our talents in the service of society and for the common good.
Raised with the strong ethical grounding of that pioneering Caribbean generation, I was fortunate to build a career that allowed me to participate in public life in the United Kingdom, rising to Cabinet rank, while simultaneously using the opportunity my positions afforded to contribute to the region of my birth and work with partners across the Commonwealth and beyond. As Dominica’s candidate for the post of Secretary General, it is my sincere hope that I will now be able to place my experience, knowledge and global reach at the service of the Commonwealth as a whole.
The Commonwealth as an institution has reached a defining moment. In the changing dynamic of global relations its member states have many groupings and many like-minded alliances to choose from. The Commonwealth will only merit their continued support if it makes a meaningful difference to the quality of their people’s lives. Securing the Commonwealth’s future, therefore, means concentrating on its core strengths and unique characteristics, on what it does better than others, and what it does that no other agency can.
To achieve real change the next Secretary General must have the ability to:
|•||use the convening power of the Secretary General to bring countries together to identify and deliver tangible benefits to all member states;|
|•||reform the Commonwealth’s institutions to ensure they have the capacity to deliver;|
|•||champion the Commonwealth and project its values—and its value—to the world;|
|•||do so in a cost-effective, transparent and balanced manner.|
My vision is to build a Commonwealth of all our talents, coordinated by a high-functioning Secretariat that enables each member country to contribute to and benefit from the Commonwealth in ways that are meaningful to its unique context, heritage, talents and needs.
My approach to revitalising the Commonwealth is built on the following five strategic platforms.
- Reform the Commonwealth Institutions and Processes
For the Commonwealth to deliver greater benefit to its members, the Secretariat and its other institutions must be reformed and infused with purpose and energy. If I am given the honour to lead I shall review the operational effectiveness of the Secretariat and reconfigure roles so that the organisation is resolutely focused on outcomes. I shall also work to create a dynamic, transparent and consultative environment—with fair assessment processes and leadership development—that can attract the best and brightest talent from across the Commonwealth.
I shall bring to the table the successful experiences I have had in reforming large-scale organisations and systems, including the operations of the UK’s consular service from flawed and failing to best-in-class and the Trinidad and Tobago Family Court system, which is now recognised as an exemplar of global best practice.
- Focus the Commonwealth on Action and Tangible Outcomes
I shall focus the work of the Secretariat on actions that produce tangible results in areas of priority concern to Commonwealth nations. Using best practices and shared experiences, and harnessing the power of communications technology we can enhance member states’ capacity to respond to their most pressing challenges, whether on climate change, economic development, trade, debt, or global insecurity and transnational crime. Significant economic benefits can also be derived through the strengthening of governance and the building of resilient and robust legal systems, and the empowerment of our women and our young people.
Applying a holistic, systematic approach maximises cost-effectiveness, as I was able to prove when, under my leadership, domestic violence in the UK was reduced by 64% and its cost to the economy by more than £7 billion.
- Build Effective and Lasting Partnerships
The strength of the Commonwealth lies in its ability to bring member countries and peoples together to promote peace and prosperity through genuine partnership, to find common ground among countries of diverse backgrounds, sizes and stage of development. The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) was an early example of true north–south, south–south and even south–north and triangular cooperation, whose pioneering spirit needs to be rekindled.
Sadly, as I write this, my country, Dominica, is reeling from the effects of disastrous flooding caused by the passage of Tropical Storm Erika, a single extreme event that has set its development back by 15 years. Ironically, it is tragedies like these that show the value of international partnership. The Rapid Response Mechanism coordinated by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency is an impressive example of a best practice at the regional level whose experience and expertise I would seek to share with the wider Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth’s incredible convening power must be more systematically tapped also to encourage external actors, such as corporate interests and international foundations, to partner with the Commonwealth and support our programmes. To make this happen we need a Secretary General with extensive global reach who can proactively identify the opportunities, convene the right actors and produce synergies that deliver meaningful change. In my career I have always sought to create solutions based on partnership, most recently at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Trust, where we pooled Commonwealth expertise and brought in international partners to develop and deliver an effective plan to eradicate the five forms of curable blindness.
- Champion the Commonwealth Across the World
The Commonwealth has too often been too gentle an organisation, not adequately projecting the power of its work, the power of its member states or the power of the values it represents. The next Secretary General must be an effective champion for the Commonwealth and an advocate for the concerns of its member states, particularly those who would otherwise have no voice in the corridors of power. Both in my public life and in my non-governmental organisation work, I have successfully championed a range of causes to every audience, whether energising a crowd of thousands or advocating discreetly to heads of government. I know that I can make the Commonwealth more effective in communicating its story and engaging the world, especially the young people, the decision-makers of the future.
- Unify the Commonwealth
It is no secret that there have been significant tensions within the Commonwealth family. There are sharp differences in policy priorities and a demonstrable waning of interest and financial support. The most pressing task for the next Secretary General therefore will be to rebuild trust, to restore the frank and collegial dialogue that was once the hallmark of the Heads retreat, and to give new purpose and direction to the relationship with Commonwealth High Commissioners.
I encourage my Commonwealth colleagues to see my multicultural heritage and dual work and life experiences as unique assets at a time when what the Commonwealth most needs is a consensus builder in the creation of a shared vision for its future. Finding common ground has always been my strength. I know first-hand the challenges and vulnerabilities of the Commonwealth’s smallest member states, yet I also understand the perspectives and concerns of its more developed constituents.
I believe deeply in the potential of the Commonwealth. I hope to be the catalyst for that potential to be fully realised.
The Round Table conference to look at the Commonwealth after Malta
Britain’s House of Lords looks at the outcomes from the Malta Summit
Malta Notebook – Electing a Secretary-General
Kamalesh Sharma thanks Commonwealth accredited organisations
From Baroness Scotland’s website