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National and global resilience

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) takes place this week in Perth, Australia. Malta will take its place alongside the other 53 member states, spanning every continent and containing a quarter of the world’s governments, representing over two billion people.

Why is this relevant?

The Arab Spring is a reminder that the basic human right to live a life of dignity and respect is as universal and relevant today as it has ever been. This same principle is central to the Commonwealth family. Championing democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as well as supporting development and facilitating trade, are the organisation’s core values. Malta’s exceptional response to the crises in North Africa, particularly Libya, is a clear and unmistakable sign of its own commitment to these values. It is this kind of commitment which brings the Commonwealth together and enables it to make a real difference on the world stage.

CHOGM 2011 takes place at a time when the challenges we face as an international community are significant. It is therefore fitting that the theme for CHOGM 2011 is Building National Resilience, Building Global Resilience. It captures one of the Commonwealth’s key strengths – its enduring resilience. Greater resilience prepares us for challenges and lets us respond to shocks and rebound from difficulties. CHOGM 2011 is a valuable opportunity to build and strengthen our resilience – as individual nations, as an organisation and as part of the wider international community.

Global economic turmoil and slow growth continue to affect Commonwealth members in different ways and to varying degrees. However, the Commonwealth network is an ideal platform for doing business. The opportunities in trade and investment are huge. Trade within the Commonwealth is worth over $3 trillion every year. Its combined GDP nearly doubled between 1990 and 2009. It contains several of the world’s fastest-growing economies that will shape the global economy of the future, including India, South Africa, Malaysia, Nigeria and Singapore, and five members of the G20.

Australia and the United Kingdom share a mutual ambition for the Commonwealth to remain a central platform on the international stage, playing an active role in shaping world affairs. However, the Commonwealth needs to keep pace with global developments by modernising and focusing on its core values and on where it can really make a difference.

CHOGM 2011 is key to this process. Heads of government will respond to the Eminent Persons’ Group’s recommendations of championing Commonwealth values; advocating for small and developing countries by taking collective interest in issues such as debt relief and climate change and ensuring that Commonwealth institutions are focused and working to Commonwealth strengths.

The Commonwealth must also connect with its people – its best, yet still largely untapped, resource. Empowering women and youth is vital. This will have a transformational effect on economic and social development. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard will host a major event to highlight the role of women in the Commonwealth under the heading Empowering Women To Lead, encouraging Commonwealth members to work together to improve gender equality and identify and overcome barriers to women’s participation and leadership. Enabling young people to play full and active roles in society, for instance through the Commonwealth Youth Forum, will help build the capacity of nations to develop economically and spread economic participation. This is especially significant in the Commonwealth, where half the population is under the age of 25.

As host government, Australia will be announcing a series of initiatives to be implemented throughout CHOGM and beyond, offering practical assistance on areas such as climate change, food security, sustainable agriculture and resource management. The key objective of this effort is to mitigate these risks and deliver outcomes that address the needs of Commonwealth members, especially the most vulnerable.

We are confident that the aims of the Eminent Persons’ Group – to upgrade and reinvigorate the Commonwealth and bring it to its own standards of strong commitment to human rights, parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and good governance – will be seen to be the values of the future that make the Commonwealth what it is.

The Commonwealth has led the world in achieving great successes in the past. CHOGM 2011 is an opportunity to ensure that the Commonwealth can deliver on this great promise once again.

The authors are British High Commissioner and Australian High Commissioner respectively.

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