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Global issue 12

commonwealth network Commonwealth in Action Engaging with the voice of the people As the intergovernmental organisation responsible for representing the interests of the people, the Commonwealth Foundation is uniquely placed to encourage governments to engage more closely with civil society, writesVijay Krishnarayan Those who work closely with the Common- of Mauritius and the Commonwealth Secre- wealth are often guilty of seeing it primarily tariat to convene civil society organisations as an association of governments. But to with a purpose of presenting their views to those on the outside, one of the hallmarks of the ministers. This resulted in specific refer- the Commonwealth is its civil society. The ences to the importance of civil society or- Commonwealth Games, that most high pro- ganisations in the ministers’ final communi- file of Commonwealth events, is not only a qué, which in turn helped pave the way for celebration of sport, but also a manifestation collaboration between sectors in pursuit of a of the power of the Commonwealth to bring Commonwealth education agenda. people together. The Commonwealth misses The Foundation’s new strategy iden- a trick if it fails to move beyond celebration tifies the forthcoming Women’s Affairs and recognise the need to bring these two Ministers Meeting in Dhaka as an oppor- strands – the governmental and the non-gov- tunity to bring civil society voices together ernmental – together. around the Commonwealth Plan of Action There are certainly plenty of opportunities. on Gender Equality. This will require close The Commonwealth calendar is in part de- collaboration with Bangladesh as the host fined by gatherings of ministers in particular country, setting the tone for the meeting as sectors. Every year, Commonwealth health well as the strategy for the Commonwealth ministers meet in the wings of the World Women’s Affairs ministers will work with civil Secretariat, the custodian of the meeting’s society in Bangladesh Health Assembly, and finance ministers con- processes and procedures. vene around annual summits of the World mental mandate. In the Commonwealth The concept of dialogue between civil Bank and the International Monetary Fund Foundation, the association has at its dis- society and governments is an important (IMF). Ministers also meet in their own right; posal an agency ideally suited to address one for the Foundation, and clearly has ap- the Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Minis- this need. The Foundation was established plications beyond the Commonwealth. The ters come together every three years, while as an intergovernmental organisation by debate on the future of the Millennium De- the Conference of Commonwealth Education heads of government to mobilise civil soci- velopment Goals has started in earnest, and Ministers, first convened in 1959, had their ety in support of Commonwealth principles if ever there was a need for constructive ex- most recent meeting this August. change between sectors, it is now. The Foun- These meetings are highly idiosyncratic, Institutions working dation is playing its part and has already with each of them bearing certain sectoral joined with the UN’s Millennium Campaign characteristics. The benefit of this is that towards development to bring civil society and parliamentarians they provide an opportunity to discuss is- together. It will also take civil society voices sues of common interest in a practical set- outcomes have an on the post-2015 development agenda to ting. However, their divergent formats also obligation to engage in the Commonwealth Heads of Government make them difficult to reform, and change Meeting in Sri Lanka next year. is necessary if civil society is to be given an meaningful dialogue with Institutions working towards develop- opportunity to engage with these processes. ment outcomes at the national, regional It is acknowledged that these meetings, civil society and international level have an obligation by definition, belong to Commonwealth to engage in meaningful dialogue with ministers, but governments themselves civil society. There is no blueprint as to have sent clear messages on the need to and priorities. In its new strategic plan, the how this should be done, but the Common- open up to civil society. For example, the Commonwealth Secretariat identifies the wealth provides a framework for sharing 2007 Kampala Communiqué included the need to enable people’s participation and experiences in this field. With its ability to following: “Heads of government wel- engagement with the institutions that shape strengthen the relationship between gov- comed progress involving civil society in their lives. Commonwealth political proc- ernment and civil society, the Common- all aspects of the Commonwealth’s work. esses are a good place to start. wealth Foundation has the opportunity to They noted that a number of ministerial This is not to say that the Foundation work alongside others in improving these meetings now included provision for dia- will be starting from scratch. This year, the institutions as they seek ways of achieving logue with civil society and called for this 18th Conference of Commonwealth Educa- development goals. to be extended where possible.” tion Ministers took place in Mauritius. The The Commonwealth Secretariat is tasked ministers’ meeting was the centrepiece, but Vijay Krishnarayan, Director, Commonwealth with the management of these ministerial several forums took place around it. The Foundation meetings as it has an exclusively govern- Foundation was asked by the government 88 lwww.global-briefing.org fourth quarter 2012global


Global issue 12
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