International Branches Meeting October 2016


Delegate comments:

‘I congratulate you on the excellent meetings in London which were very interesting and useful.’
Peter Mann, Chair of RCS Hong Kong Branch.

‘…salute to the job well done!’ Salome Reynolds, RCS Toronto Branch

‘…thanks for being an effective bridge between old, new and the future RCS.’ John Apea, Regional
Co-ordinator for Africa

‘The International Meeting in London was a great success …a great learning experience as well as a
cultural exchange.’  Judith Elson, Chair RCS Canada National Branch

‘I cannot remember when I enjoyed meeting so many dedicated individuals. The youth participation was so important and it was so good to know that they are interested and will carry the flag onwards.’ Heather MacKinnon MD, President RCS Nova Scotia Branch

‘The Branch Leaders and members, with their valuable wisdom, encouragement and warmth were outstanding and made us feel like a big joint Commonwealth family.’ Hari Om Dahiya, President and Youth Chairman, The Commonwealth Students Welfare Group of India (CSWGI)

‘It was indeed a pleasure to have met you all and a great opportunity as a young person to be involved and play my part in helping to advance the work of the Royal Commonwealth Society.’
Ryan Brathwaite MSA, Chair of the Sports Committee, RCS Barbados Branch

‘I wish to recognize the hardworking efforts of the small but committed team in London’ Colin Milner, Council Member, RCS ACT Branch.

A Contemporary Commonwealth – Lord Howell, President of the RCS

Request a t ransc ript  of L ord Ho well’s open ing  speec h  .

Developments and Current Priorities – Claire Whitaker OBE, Chair and Michael Lake CBE, Director of
The Royal Commonwealth Society

Michael Lake outlined the recent history of the RCS in London, the need for the structural, financial and governance changes that had been made. There had been two priorities:

    The debt burden, which had been paid off and
    Capacity, which had and continues to have to be very carefully managed

He stated that the RCS in London was stable, solvent, had a number of new trustees and was looking ahead. He made the point that while communication with branches had improved since 2013, most of the Commonwealth and similarly the RCS communication was through email and social media and
that London did not have the capacity for a bespoke approach.

Filling the structural gaps was a priority, hence the creation of new branches. The aim was to decentralise a lot of the London work; to do which it was vital that branches were self-sufficient.
Mike stated there was a difference in 2016, in terms of focus and profile. He said the Essay Competition had been ‘beefed up’ and that 2016 was a record year for entrants and reach across the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Service had been televised by the BBC that year and was established as an annual event. The High Commissioners Banquet was paid for by City of London and time and energy had been put into the QYL/Associate Fellows programme.

On the policy front, ML said that the focus had been on gender equality, child marriage, visas, capital punishment, in fact all priorities the Commonwealth wished to see addressed, including LGBT, which was being addressed in a ‘safe space’.

The question was asked, in how many Commonwealth countries the RCS had no branch; ML
responded that there were no branches in 30 countries.*

NB There are 59 branches of the RCS, some of which are affiliated organisations a few, such as
Brussels, Hong Kong and Japan, are in non-Commonwealth countries.

* The Maldives has since left the Commonwealth so this number is now 29. (Africa 12, Americas 8, Asia
1, Europe 0, Pacific 8).

New Branches panel discussion

Five new branches were represented: Birmingham, Brussels, Malta, Ireland and Singapore; each highlighted their individual aims and structures.

This was followed by comments from individual branches from each region: Barbados, Bristol, Hong Kong, Kenya and South Australia, discussing the obstacles overcome and those still faced by their branches. Overwhelmingly the need to engage youth members was a common challenge. Hong Kong outlined how they had set up their own Young Fellows (no association with Associate Fellows as Hong Kong members have always been called Fellows) and adapted their approach to meet the different requirements of young people. Barbados had introduced sub-committees such as Sport, Bristol had been out canvassing local residents and raising awareness, Kenya was working with Associate Fellows and South Australia had been reaching out to local schools in particular.

Regional discussion sessions

Both Canada and Australia reported that they had National branches, acting as umbrella bodies for their 11 and 9 branches respectively. Both considered a modification to the volunteer Regional Co- ordinator positions desirable; for example there could be a Co-ordinator for Australia and another for the rest of the region ie New Zealand and Fiji. Similarly Canada and the Caribbean. It was agreed that discussions would continue. Suggestions welcomed by email.

Panel discussion: Future Priorities for the Commonwealth

Lord Howell: ‘The power is in the network’.
Alexander Lockwood-Smith: ‘… that trade is bad for ordinary people idea is worrying. It is not, it raises people out of poverty. The Commonwealth can be a voice for real good. The danger is the re- emergence of real poverty.’
Gary Hardgrave: ‘The strength of CW is its diversity. What are we saying to young people? What
values are we imparting?’
Michael Lake: ‘One big challenge is to encourage the Commonwealth Secretariat to engage in a branding exercise to portray what the Commonwealth is about.’

Discussions topics, including challenges and contributions from the floor included CHOGM, CMAG, the challenges, the benefits of trade, education and the long-term goal of the Commonwealth. In response Lord Howell spoke of security and trade in the Pacific and the need for a balance of power in that

Kate Knight-Sands spoke about the UK’s approach to CHOGM 2018 and the setting up of policy delivery mechanisms. She advised that the UK wanted to address CW issues, not simply what the UK was interested in, to get Heads of Government to attend.

On the long-term goal, Lord Howell said it was, must be, the Commonwealth Values and it needed connecting with every day: ‘You can’t eat values for breakfast, but they are very important. The golden thread is there and needs articulating.’
Alexander Lockwood-Smith said that education was not a magic wand but aimed to ensure that people could see the need for change, as the diversity and the poverty of people meant that finding a perfect democracy didn’t necessarily feel of benefit to them.

How to promote mutual prosperity and Commonwealth values – Tim Hewish and Lewis Brooks, RCS Policy team

Tim and Lewis delivered an overview of RCS policy and research work and advised that:

    The RCS was currently developing a new stream of work around the potential challenges and opportunities for the Commonwealth of a UK exit from the European Union, ‘Brexit’. The RCS was examining trade, diplomatic representation, migration, development assistance and upholding Commonwealth values. The RCS policy team was actively welcoming submissions from branches on this work and would keep in touch.
    The general approach to policy and research was outcomes driven, developed a unique RCS contribution to the given issue, and utilised the RCS’ convening power, dialogue-led approaches and the development of practical policy suggestions.
    RCS’ work on the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people used High Commissioners’ roundtable discussions to foster respectful dialogue away from more divisive political discourse while research-based reports drew attention to policy options on the issue undertaken by a range of Commonwealth countries.
    Recent work on visas and migration was currently looking at how to  improve UK-India and
UK-South Africa visas regimes. Future work might examine the eligibility of different countries for the UK Youth Visa. The work built on polling undertaken by the RCS on UK, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand attitudes to freedom of movement.

Delivery of outcomes from the Youth programme – Gideon Commey, Regional Youth Co-ordinator, Africa and youth delegates
‘Youth as a Beacon of Hope’

The youth of the Commonwealth were keen to contribute, diverse and globalised and pointed out that they had skills and energy and were willing to learn. Their potential could be harnessed by engaging with Associate Fellows, the ACU, with local youth and student groups, professional associations, study tours and ideas exchanges and engage them in Model CHOGMs. They planned to engage future generations by lobbying for education about the Commonwealth as an addition to schools curricula;
set up pen-pal programmes and clubs in schools. Most important, they considered were:

1.   Engagement
2.   Networking
3.   Capacity building

The group felt that branches needed to speed up engagement or youth would lose interest. To that end, each branch should have a youth co-ordinator.
Associate Fellows Programme – Rein de Loor, Programmes Officer

Rein outlined the main aspects of the programme, recent developments and future plans. Gideon Commey, Associate Fellows and Regional Youth Co-ordinator for Africa, gave his personal reflections based on his experience of the programme.

    General aims of the programme were set out
o Outline of how AFs are acquired
o Means available to AFs to connect with each other and CW orgs
o Opportunities available to AFs
o Feeding into RCS policy work
    Recent Developments
o Webinars
o Branch nominations
o Peace Campaign
o Essay Competition
o Youth Meeting
    Future plans
o Further engagement with Branches
o Better communications with AFs and Branches
o Mapping
o Utilising the network more effectively (both them and us)
    Questions/Comments from the floor
o AFs MUST become a branch member, otherwise they shouldn’t be AFs (Victoria)
o Stricter screening to test their achievements and knowledge of the CW; certain AFs had been embarrassed to find they had been made AFs when they turned up at a Branch event (Western Australia)
o Data sharing must be smoother; Data Sharing Agreement ‘kerfuffle’ had been very confusing and frustrating (South Australia)

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition – Anja Nielsen, Programmes Officer

Request the presentation covering the competition’s history, annual timeline, 2016 wrap-up, 2017 edition, and Data Protection/Child Safeguarding.

    Goals for the 2017 competition were set, including to:
o Reach every Commonwealth country
o Diversify entries geographically and demographically
    Questions were taken from the audience regarding:
o Branch involvement – some branches felt they were bypassed in the essay submission process. This was explained as necessary for ease of use of the online platform, which was essential given the limited resource capacity in London.
o Contact with Ministries of Education – branches requested to be copied in or contacted directly when the RCS in London reached out to Ministries of Education, as they felt this was circumventing their involvement in advertising the competition. It
was agreed this would become the process, moving forward.

Commonwealth Youth Summits – Helen Jones, Director of Youth and Education

Helen advised that Model Commonwealth Summits operated much like a model UN scenario, with individuals acting as the heads of government of Commonwealth countries and engaging in discussions as their country would. Critically, country representatives in a Model Commonwealth Summit had to reach a consensus on the issues discussed, adding a challenging element that was of
great contemporary importance. This was a fun, active way of demonstrating how the Commonwealth
works and allowed students to actively participate in the learning process. It taught presentation, research and critical-thinking skills, as well as global awareness and cultural understanding. Some students were chosen for roles outside of country representation (media, communiqué-writing), offering a diverse range of skill-building and appealing to a wide range of students.

Helen pointed out that both Canada and New Zealand had a history of running Model CHOGMs, she invited Jenny Stodola to comment on those in Canada.

Recent Model Commonwealth Summits in 2016 in the UK:

Oct 2015: Tower Hamlets Borough

Upcoming Model Commonwealth Summits in 2016 in the UK:

11-12 November: South Wales Youth Summit
3 December: Model Commonwealth Summit, Bath

Step-by-step guidance on the process of organising a model CHOGM can be found in the chapter
‘Running a Commonwealth Youth Summit’ in the RCS Education Resource Pack  Antigua to Zambia: Getting to Know Your Commonwealth.

Communications – Christie Tucker, Social Media and Press Officer, High Commission for Canada

Request the communications presentation

Fundraising, ‘Altruism is not dead’ – Sir Stuart Etherington, CEO of NCVO

Sir Stuart outlined the various forms and choices of fundraising, saying that there were many new initiatives in the UK and worldwide, notable one of which was Crowdfunding, largely used for issue- based campaigns. Social media driven he advised that it was expected to grow hugely according to NESTA ( He also referred to the Just Giving web platform ( through which £1.5B had been given to date.

Sir Stuart said that in recent years it had become apparent that a diversity of income streams was essential including trade. He said: ‘Ask yourselves what you do and whether that can activity be monetarised.’
He followed with an overview of the following different forms of fundraising: Corporate sponsorship, low in the UK @ 1%
CSR for value matched organisations
Major Donor
In kind support – use of buildings/conference facilities, equipment, people’s time
Legacy fundraising
Finally, Sir Stuart stated that there were just three keys to any request:

    affinity with the cause
    the good reputation of the organisation
    appropriate handling, both of the request but also the thanks and subsequent requests to build networks.

Branding – Steve de Wint, Deputy Secretary-General, The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award

Request the branding presentation

The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) – Alan Pottinger, Technical Director, Commonwealth
Forestry Association (CFA)

Alan introduced the key idea that people and forests needed each other and that forests needed people to act in a wise and responsible way.

He referred to the Commonwealth as a ‘sleeping giant in terms of environment’; he said we didn’t have a strong history but that The QCC was a unique project, which could link people and governments around the world. He made the point that one of the project criteria was the
participation of local people, he said that appropriate projects had to be both people and government approved.

He said there were two ways in which countries could get involved, they could:

    Dedicate forest land
    Plant new trees

Request the QCC .ppt  presentation

RCS welcome, Christchurch, Canterbury NZ 8053