As reported elsewhere on this website, the 2016 International Meeting of the RCS was held in London on 5-7 October (preceded by a two day youth programme on 3-4 October). I offer here some personal reflections on this event.
At the outset, I wish to recognize the hardworking efforts of the small but committed team at the London office towards the organization of the Meeting - the first held since Kuala Lumpur in May 2011, which was acknowledged to be a marked gap from previous practice. Since then, the central operations and approach of the RCS have changed a great deal and, while the gap reflected the difficult and indeed distressing circumstances being addressed in London in the interim, this Meeting was very welcome and, in my view, much needed.
In a dispersed and disparate organization like the RCS, such meetings are indispensable if Branches are to stay well informed, engaged and supportive of the RCS’ broader agenda. As was well argued and emphasised at the Meeting, the Commonwealth has a most promising future in the networking opportunities of the digital age but personal, face-to-face relationships still have value, as continues to be recognized at the highest political level by Commonwealth Heads of Government through their own biennial Meetings. In its attractive mix of a formal program of presentations and discussions plus memorable social events, our Meeting certainly fostered new relationships across the RCS which will hopefully yield dividends for the organization in the future.
The fact that representatives from some 30 Branches attended the 2016 Meeting, often at considerable personal expense, was very encouraging as a demonstration of the depth of goodwill in the Branches towards the wider organization and the strength of their desire to remain meaningfully connected with it. Personally, I was struck by the diversity of circumstances faced by the various Branches represented. Some are evidently flourishing, while others are clearly struggling – however, all are challenged by the insistent demands of social and technological change. The cross-fertilisation of ideas and experiences was, to me, one of the major achievements of the Meeting.
As self-governing entities, Branches have a lot of autonomy to develop their own solutions to challenges which reflect their unique circumstances, but the knowledge that the Meeting gave us of how others are dealing with their challenges was invaluable. Similarly, presentations on the last day on how some other voluntary organizations based in the UK are dealing with their own challenges were, to me, particularly worthwhile.
A distinguishing feature of the Commonwealth of Nations amongst international organizations is the extent of its civil society network. The RCS has a central role to play in this regard. As a step towards ensuring it continues to do so effectively, it is pleasing to know that there is an intention to reinstate the biennial nature of International Meetings, with the next one possibly to take place away from London.
The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Royal Commonwealth Society.
Photo by Catherine Clunies-Ross.