building on - Royal Commonwealth Society

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THE MODERN COMMONWEALTH The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of sovereign states encompassing many ethnicities and faiths. Each is committed to upholding shared values and principles to promote and protect Democracy, Human Rights, the Rule of Law and Equality for all citizens in accordance with the Commonwealth Charter 2013.

The modern Commonwealth spans the six regions of Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and the Pacific. The total population is assessed at 2.4 billion, approximately one third of the world, of which 1.5 billion are under 30 years of age. The relevance and strength of the modern Commonwealth lie in its network of diaspora, cultural and sporting links, the widespread use of a common language and a strong shared legal heritage. These values, characteristics, and interests have engendered a common

interest and trust between the peoples and communities of this unique and widely diverse association of independent countries. Outside of the core of inter-governmental agencies, the Commonwealth benefits from a number of civil society and professional bodies that represent the evolution of the modern Commonwealth and the many links between peoples, communities and interests upon which it is built. The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) is a leading body within this group of independent bodies.



BUILDING ON 150 YEARS WORKING TO IMPROVE THE LIVES AND PROSPECTS OF COMMONWEALTH CITIZENS ACROSS THE WORLD. The RCS is an extensive network of selfgoverning branches, affiliated societies and individuals throughout and well beyond the Commonwealth, all of which spread the influence and global connectivity of the Commonwealth while promoting the Society’s intent to improve the lives and prospects of Commonwealth citizens across the world. Now in its 150th year, the RCS works at the forefront of Commonwealth affairs to promote the value of the modern Commonwealth and the values upon which it is based. Our particular strengths lie in our independence and an exceptional ability to make connections to final consensus. This gives us the freedom to work at the forefront of contentious and politically difficult issues.


Our influence in bringing people, governments, the diplomatic community and business together enables us both to champion best practices in social well-being as well as to highlight the barriers that inhibit prosperity and civil rights, limiting opportunities. In the past the RCS has been a key influence on the anti–apartheid movement providing a platform for leaders such as Nelson Mandela; in recent times, it has played a central role in addressing gender equality prejudices and the challenges of corruption and good governance. Encouraging youth participation and leadership is integral across the work of the RCS. Our networks and programmes serve to engender confidence, encourage leadership skills and raise awareness of roles and responsibilities for young citizens. By enabling youth empowerment and engagement, as a practical force for change at all levels of the community, the Society helps to invigorate and bring relevance to the modern Commonwealth and to its future well-being.


The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition The RCS has a rich history of nurturing written communication skills and the creative talents of young people around the Commonwealth. Run by the RCS since 1883, The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition is the world’s oldest and largest international schools’ writing contest. Recent sponsors have included Cambridge University Press. The competition annually attracts some 13,000 entries from over 600 schools in 49 countries. The annual themes offer entrants an opportunity to develop critical thinking, to express views creatively and to explore global issues. The competition encourages the development of young peoples’ creative writing skills.

Programme delivery is a key aspect of the RCS’ charitable work and we aim to engage all Commonwealth citizens. The Society’s education and youth outreach programmes seek to make relevant the fundamental values of the Commonwealth and to enable young people in particular to address contemporary challenges by networking with their peers in other countries. RCS Associate Fellows


In recognition of the work and achievements of young people, RCS Associate Fellows were introduced in 2015. Granted to those who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to promoting the values of the Commonwealth and to improving the lives of Commonwealth citizens, alumni of The Queen’s Young Leaders programme (2014 -2018) are invited to join. The RCS contributed to the design and delivery of The Queen’s Young Leaders programme using its unique Commonwealth knowledge to support programme partners, The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Trust and Comic Relief. RCS branches will continue to nominate young individuals from across the Commonwealth ensuring the continued support of the network for years to come.

The Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN) The RCS has used its convening power and expertise in youth networks to fill a gap in youth voices on gender issues in the Commonwealth. The Society has brought together young professionals and experts on a range of gender-related issues, from employment and entrepreneurship to sexual health and rights, to form the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network. CYGEN has utilised the Society’s connections and resources to advocate for the achievement of gender parity in Commonwealth youth structures and to ensure young people are heard in high-level deliberations, including the Commonwealth Heads of Government

Meeting and the United Nation’s Commission on the Status of Women. The initiative has gained renewed support from the Australian Government in recognition of its achievements to date.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy dedication to the Commonwealth. The project links Commonwealth countries through the conservation of all types of natural forest and indigenous vegetation for future generations, demonstrating the capacity of the Commonwealth to act collectively, to share best practice and to create new initiatives. The project aims to raise awareness of the inherent goodness of trees and indigenous vegetation for current and future generations as a way of supporting more wide-ranging and global environment campaigns. The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) is an initiative designed to create a network of forest conservation projects throughout the nations of the Commonwealth to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s service and

The RCS utilises connections throughout the Commonwealth to lead this project in partnership with the Commonwealth Forestry Association and Cool Earth.

POLICY AND CAMPAIGNS The RCS uses its inherent strengths to bring profile and substance to matters of mutual concern and contemporary interest that are not being addressed or that cannot be addressed, for reasons of disagreement or sensitivities, by the inter-governmental processes of the Commonwealth. For this reason the focus and emphasis of projects change over time as contentious matters are brought to mainstream attention. The RCS bases its work and outcomes on well considered and accurate research, reports and analysis and seeks to liaise with expert organisations.

Brexit Following the UK referendum on Brexit, the RCS has undertaken policy work to reflect on the consequences and opportunities for Commonwealth nations. The Society has convened, for High Commissioners and Ambassadors, a series of roundtable meetings, drawing on experts in international relations, trade and business. Equality The Commonwealth has long attracted controversy over the state of LGBT rights among its members. 36 member countries still criminalise consensual adult same sex relations in some way. Working with Kaleidoscope and Human Dignity Trust the RCS has facilitated new dialogue on the issue moving the conversation away from condemnation towards consensus. It has established a role in connecting civil society and governments with policy good practice as well as setting LGBT rights within the broader contexts of gender equality and economic well-being. Commonwealth Visas and Visitors The RCS has highlighted the current inadequacies of the visa position between the UK and India and the UK and South Africa with its impacts on business, tourism and broader relations. We are proposing simple measures to be introduced to strengthen connections, by establishing agreement on the movement of people between Commonwealth countries.


The branch network of the RCS reflects the diversity of the Commonwealth. The 60+ branches are independent but voluntarily subscribe to the promotion and relevance of the modern Commonwealth and to upholding the principles upon which it is based. The RCS maintains contact with branches providing direction as appropriate and liaison through its volunteer Regional Co-ordinators. An International Meeting of branches is organised on a biennial basis.

PUBLICATIONS The Royal Commonwealth Society publishes reference books, in partnership, such as the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Report and the Ministers Reference Book, in partnership with Henley Media. The Society’s popular magazine, Commonwealth Voices, is published three times a year.

RCS PARTNERS The RCS is keen to establish effective and proactive partnerships with organisations with shared interests and objectives. It presents a range of opportunities for collaboration, partnership and sponsorship and welcomes enquiries.

THE ROYAL COMMONWEALTH SOCIETY The history of the RCS dates back to 1868; it is the oldest and most broadly based civil society organisation devoted to the modern Commonwealth. Constituted by Royal Charter, the Society has charitable status; Her Majesty The Queen is its Patron. The RCS has responsibility for a range of ceremonial activities and long-term programmes that were initiated in the early history of the Commonwealth. It organises the biggest celebration of the Commonwealth and its values each year, the multi-faith Commonwealth Service in Westminster Abbey, organised on behalf of the Council of Commonwealth Societies and held in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen, Commonwealth VIPs and school children from a wide range of backgrounds.

The Royal Commonwealth Society is a registered charity in England and Wales (226748) @TheRCSLondon