Enterprise in the Abbey

Verity Sharp

This year’s Commonwealth Observance saw dancers, singers, poets, politicians and religious leaders coming together to celebrate enterprise.

On Monday 11 March, stars and emerging entrepreneurs joined His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh to mark Commonwealth Day in Westminster Abbey. The Observance launched this year’s Commonwealth theme ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’.

Braving the unseasonably cold March weather, 2,000 guests – including 1,000 excited school children and young entrepreneurs – congregated for Britain’s largest annual interfaith gathering.

Her Majesty The Queen’s absence, due to ill-health, did not lessen the impact of her traditional Commonwealth Day message which was played in the Abbey. Acknowledging that it “takes courage to launch into the unknown”, Her Majesty spoke about how “ambition and curiosity open new avenues of opportunity” and that at the heart of our Commonwealth approach we will find “individuals and communities finding ways to strive together to create a better future that is beneficial to all”.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir Richard Branson, reinforced this message when he said “Having the will to say ‘screw it, let’s do it’ and make things happen is what sets entrepreneurs apart.”

Founding president and executive director of Avaaz (the world’s largest online activist community), Ricken Patel also spoke. Addressing what he called the “challenge and opportunity of our time”, he said that “deep within ourselves we are realising our power to build the world we dream of”.

Award-winning soul singer Beverley Knight sang a powerful and moving cover of Sam Cook’s A Change is Gonna Come and indie-rock duet The Noisettes entertained the congregation with a lively rendition of Rag Top Car.

Living The Dream Performing Arts Company brought colour and energy to proceedings as their performers fanned out through the Abbey, dancing to a mash-up of popular hits from across the Commonwealth. Set up by Zoe Jackson at the age of 16, the company exemplifies this year’s theme, inspiring and empowering young people from all walks of life to grow in talent and confidence.

Guests were similarly captivated by flamboyant poet, John Agard, who read his poem From Over The Mountain Came News. Specially commissioned for the Observance, the poem reminded listeners that opportunity isn’t made, it’s created through hard work:

Now all that was left for me to do was wait for opportunity to show her face.

I looked at my watch, I paced the floor.

I thought opportunity’s taking her time.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door.

“Come in, opportunity,” I said. “Do come in.”

But the old one who stood there before me said, “there must be some misunderstanding.

“Opportunity is my daughter.

I’m her mother – Enterprise.

Impress me with the talents of your doing.

Wow me with the dreaming of your mind.”

The words were particularly inspiring for the 1,000 young people present in the Abbey, each of whom has won their ticket because of their involvement in enterprise. Hundreds of the students present had taken part in this year’s Commonwealth Essay Competition, which asks participants to explore issues of innovation and enterprise. Other students had taken part in projects such as Young Enterprise of the ‘Ladder for London’ apprenticeship campaign. All of the schools present in the Abbey will be invited to take part in the Commonwealth School Enterprise Challenge, business competition for young people who want to make a difference in the world.

Beyond the confines of the Abbey, Commonwealth Day celebrations were taking place in schools, churches, and community groups across the 54 nation states of the Commonwealth. From Antigua to Zambia, the celebrations revolved around this year’s theme, ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’, promising that 2013 should be one of increased innovation and achievement for this unique association.

About the author:

Verity Sharp is Programmes Officer at the Royal Commonwealth Society


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