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The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth: Necessary Lessons. New Directions.

By Nicola Brentnall, CEO of The Queen's Commonwealth Trust.

Our vision at QCT is a world where young people are equal partners in driving change. Our focus is forward, looking to the future and the role young people play in shaping the world we all want to see. Our Values - Respect, Collaboration, Integrity, Responsiveness and Optimism – drive everything we do.

Kavindya’s letter, with its heartfelt and direct challenge to leaders like me, could mean only one thing. We had to respond and quickly or our vision, our mission and values would mean nothing. With the help of Frances Brown, our Head of Network Development, we invited young people from around the world to help us take this forward.

The letter is an invitation to the institutions of the Commonwealth. Many organisations working in the Commonwealth arena are doing work of considerable value. The Commonwealth as a movement and family of nations working together has brought much that is good. As a youth organisation, we know that the worldview of young people will be shaped by the experience of their families and communities.

For me to do my job properly, I have to understand our shared history more. I had no real understanding of the experience of people from the Black British community or of people of colour or any meaningful understanding of colonialism. Beginning to do this, with the support and encouragement of the group of young people, has been profound, shocking and more valuable to me than I can say.

We have started a conversation in The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust about how the Commonwealth’s past – of colonialism, of the subjugation of peoples and the on-going legacy of such historic injustice – can and should shape the identity of the organisation, how it develops its offer and how it works in the future.

COVID19 hit us and our discussion turned rapidly to the response and how this should be shaped. The Trust wanted to respond with grant-making – new grants to those not helped before and increased support for those in our portfolio who are pivoting to disaster relief – alongside a hugely expanded digital communications programme.

We developed a rapid response grant-making fund that prioritises those whose life experience, as a result of the legacy of the past, has left them at a potentially fatal disadvantage.

We could not have done this without starting this work on historic injustice. The work is already helping - and there is so much more to come.

We will share news from our team as we go and we hope that others may see this and start their own reflection, too. We know we have a long way to go, of course, but we will keep going – learning, encouraging and supporting each other, every step of the way.

Article published: May 2020

Main article asset: Unsplash/Eric Ward

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