Foundation Director, Vijay Krishnarayan, eagerly anticipates the prospect of the Commonwealth People’s Forum (CPF) returning to Malta.
It will be a pleasant return to Malta to attend the upcoming 2015 Commonwealth Summit. I went for the first time in 2005 as a participant at the Commonwealth People’s Forum and was introduced as the Commonwealth Foundation’s new Deputy Director so it will feel like a homecoming for me.
That 2005 meeting was also significant for the Commonwealth as a whole as it saw the introduction of a formal meeting of Foreign Ministers in addition to Heads of Government. It was then that we started thinking of this biennial coming together of the Commonwealth family as so much more than a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
The involvement of Foreign Ministers in 2005 provided the first real opportunity for dialogue between the “official” and the “unofficial” Commonwealth The involvement of Foreign Ministers in 2005 provided the first real opportunity for dialogue between the “official” and the “unofficial” Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Foundation, the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society organised this dialogue and it has remained a feature of CHOGMs ever since.
Civil society organisations first recognised the opportunity afforded by CHOGM for learning and advocacy long before 2005. They organised themselves in the run-up to the 1991 Harare CHOGM and since then the Foundation has worked with civil society and successive host governments to establish space for the unofficial Commonwealth to meet alongside Ministers. This is what we call the Commonwealth People’s Forum.
For over 20 years civil society organisations have valued the opportunity to come together and learn from each other but the 2005 CHOGM gave a hint that they might expect more. There is a sense that civil society has been talking to itself or “singing to the choir” with questions as to whether anyone is really listening.
These concerns have shaped thinking about this year’s CPF which will take place at the Corinthia Hotel in St George’s Bay from 23-26 November. On-line registration for CPF 2015 opens on 4 June. Over four days the CPF will consider the question “What Makes Societies Resilient?” One of the points that civil society organisations will be making is that resilience can be a strategy for sustainable development if it draws on civic assets such as participation, diversity and innovation.
There will be three strands of discussion: Transformative societies – how can people’s potential to contribute be realised? Inclusive policies – how can diversity be reflected in strategies? Transparency and accountability – how can institutions be more open and responsive?
CPF 2015 will place greater emphasis on dialogue between civil society organisations and the institutions that shape people’s lives This year at the CPF we want to bring citizens and people who make policy together. CPF 2015 will place greater emphasis on dialogue between civil society organisations and the institutions that shape people’s lives. These policy dialogues will take the form of roundtable discussions and panel presentations on issues that feed into our central theme of resilience. There will also be opportunities for learning and exchange using case studies, workshops and film.
The CPF occurs at a significant moment on the development calendar and provides an opportunity for civil society to reflect on and plan for several important global forums taking place this year. In July, the Third International Conference on Financing for Development will convene to agree an intergovernmental compact in support of funding the post-2015 development agenda. September will see the culmination of more than two years of discussion and deliberation when the global community meets to adopt the new development agenda. Then days after the Commonwealth Summit the Paris Climate Conference will convene with the intent to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate with the aim of keeping global warming below 2°celsius.
CPF 2015 provides a unique opportunity to consider the implications of these global processes and their application on the ground so that society is strengthened and people are able to fully participate in the pursuit of sustainable development. It feels appropriate that Malta should be the place to have this discussion. It is a key player on the international stage, for example assuming the Presidency of the European Union in January 2017. At the same time as a small state it is representative of the majority of Commonwealth member countries. It is also the place where much of the thinking on resilience as a development strategy started.
Above all of these one can appreciate the ways in which Maltese society has changed since the 2005 CHOGM, evidenced for example in its commitment to achieving equality for all. Having engaged with civil society organisations in Malta I can see that they have plenty to offer their counterparts across the Commonwealth in terms of success stories, while acknowledging that there is still plenty to do and learn from others. I know that both they and the Government of Malta look forward to welcoming the Commonwealth family in November for what promises to be a productive forum.