The previous year brought with it many successes for the Royal Commonwealth Society. Amid undeniable change in the global political landscape, advances were made by the RCS for the value and values of the Commonwealth. Here, we outline the achievements of 2016 and some opportunities to come in the New Year.

The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC)

Numerous dedications, 38 committed projects across 20 countries, and a successful event at Buckingham Palace highlighted just how far the QCC has come in its inaugural year. From Canada to the Caribbean, projects were unveiled across the Commonwealth by members of the Royal Family to promote the protection of forests. With the upcoming Commonwealth Forestry Conference in April and a number of projects in the pipeline, 2017 will be another year of growth and success for the QCC.

New Approaches: The Commonwealth Hub

In November 2016, the Royal Commonwealth Society joined the Commonwealth Local Government Forum and the Commonwealth Games Federation in a move to Commonwealth House, located on Pall Mall in London. Already this move has seen increased attention paid to joined-up work between organisations, with much more expected in 2017. From An Inclusive Commonwealth to A Peace-building Commonwealth, the organisations will work together to create a cohesive strategy for communicating our work across and outside of the Commonwealth.

Leading Research and Policy Recommendations

SA Launch photo 2016 review blog

2016 was an important year for the Royal Commonwealth Society in producing high-quality policy work and research. April saw the release of ‘A Commonwealth Toolkit for Policy Progress on LGBT Rights’, part of a positive move towards building an inclusive Commonwealth in 2016. LGBT rights will continue to be a policy priority for the RCS in 2017. Two report-backed recommendations urging freer movement between the UK and India and the UK and South Africa gained momentum and added to the RCS’ proud portfolio of work to promote the continuing value of Commonwealth ties. In 2017, the campaign for visa-free travel to South Africa continues, as does high-level work to promote ties with India. 

The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition

In 2016 a record-breaking 13,500 young people chose to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboards to express their views on An Inclusive Commonwealth in 2016. This proved to be the most successful year to date for The Queen’s Commonwealth Essay Competition, drawing praise and revealing important insights into the youth of the Commonwealth. The RCS is expecting an even more impressive year in 2017, as the competition explores A Commonwealth for Peace.

The Commonwealth Service and Commonwealth Week

Every year Commonwealth Week is the highlight of the Commonwealth calendar, and 2016 was no exception. The Commonwealth Service, held on 14 March 2016, was shown live on BBC One and attended by HM The Queen, the UK Prime Minister, High Commissioners and other specially invited guests. The attendance of 800 young people made up an audience of 2,000, filling Westminster Abbey. Commonwealth Week also played host to the High Commissioner’s Banquet, a prestigious annual event held for the first time in 2016 at the Guildhall, London. With the renewed focus on the Commonwealth that has been enjoyed since late 2016, Commonwealth Week 2017 is expected to be bigger than ever before.  

Strengthening our Networks: Branches International Meeting

A highlight of 2016 was October’s International Meeting, which brought together RCS branch members and contacts from across the Commonwealth to discuss the progress and direction of the Society. The week was a chance to reflect on history as well as plan for the future, but also importantly reconnect with some of those who make the Society the long-lasting success that it is.

Looking Forward

The RCS looks forward to another year of successes and opportunities to promote the value and values of the Commonwealth in 2017. Director Michael Lake, CBE has described 2017 as ‘a year when we will work with our Hub partners and other organisations and individuals sharing our objectives, to bring attention to the relevance and unbounded potential of the modern Commonwealth.’ The coming year will be an important opportunity to build momentum before the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which will be held in the UK in early 2018. The RCS expects to play a leading role amongst Civil Society to ensure that CHOGM is as successful as possible in achieving the goals of the Commonwealth.

Also in 2018 will be the Commonwealth Games, hosted by the Gold Coast in Australia. After the well-received Glasgow 2014 event, the 2018 Games should not only be an exciting sporting event, but a chance to reconnect the Commonwealth family. With family in mind, the RCS also looks forward to 2017 as a chance to organise celebrations for the Society’s 150th anniversary in 2018. Preparations are soon to begin on what will be a landmark year for the oldest civil society organisation in the Commonwealth. 

Our work in 2016 would not have been possible without the generosity of our supporters. If you would like to become a supporter of the Royal Commonwealth Society or give us a donation you can do so here.

Photo: RCS Director of Policy and Research, Tim Hewish with representatives from the South Africa Chamber of Commerce - UK, Brand South Africa, Sable Group and UK - South Africa Diaspora United to launch the campaign to restore visa-free travel for South Africans visiting the UK.