Enterprising theme for 2013

Rt Hon. Sir Alan Haselhurst MP

This year’s Commonwealth theme is ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’. Sir Alan Haselhurst explains what this focus could mean to the nations that participate.

Over the last few years, I have been greatly heartened to see the renewal of focus and energy given to the unique Commonwealth family of nations. And in all the comment, praise and constructive criticism in relation to the Commonwealth, I am delighted with the consistent theme of the Commonwealth’s key strength – the vast and rich diversity of its membership and citizenship.

Nowhere is this more evident than in this year’s choice of Commonwealth theme, ‘Opportunity through Enterprise’, which was launched on Commonwealth Day, Monday 11 March. Each year, the Commonwealth selects an area of focus for its educational activities surrounding Commonwealth Day. Last year’s was ‘connecting cultures,’ and in 2011 it focused on ‘women as agents of change.’ This year’s theme celebrates the Commonwealth’s vast human potential, and, as Commonwealth Secretary-General HE Kamalesh Sharma has put it, “the ways in which talent and innovation can be supported and put to the best use possible”.

With a collective population of two billion citizens, or approximately one third of the world’s population, the Commonwealth is unique. Its membership is not restricted to highly economically developed nations, to one region or to shared geographic features. It equally represents countries with booming economic growth, economies dominated by agriculture, small island nations whose very existence is threatened by climate change and some of the poorest countries in the world.

Over half its citizens are under the age of 25, with a colossal number yet to enter the workforce. These young people have an unimaginable amount of talent, energy and innovation to contribute to whatever endeavours they devote themselves. This year’s theme is a timely reminder for the generation currently in leadership and decision-making positions that there is no sounder investment than nurturing this future. Universal access to high-level education must be a priority for all governments, as must seeking solutions to youth unemployment and lack of engagement in the political process.

The 2013 theme also urges us to look around us for new avenues of investment and growth. In a year when the global economy continues to show only wavering signs of recovery at best and traditional economic alliances – such as the UK’s with Europe and the US – are no longer as dependable as they once were, it is fairly natural to look to new trading partners to bolster a long-term return to economic security.

The Commonwealth links some of the world’s fastest-growing, most resource-rich economies including Papua New Guinea, Zambia, Ghana, Mozambique and India, as well as several others that have emerged from the global crisis relatively unscathed – Australia, Singapore and Canada spring to mind. Furthermore, similarities in legal systems governing contracts and shared language make doing business with these countries far cheaper than many others. While we should by no means ignore our more traditional economic links, and talk of a Commonwealth free trade area seems far-fetched, greater variety in economic partners can only be beneficial, both to us in the UK and to our international partners. The UK’s Prime Minister, Rt Hon. David Cameron MP, may be putting this into practice by his recent comments in India concerning possible changes to visa allocation for Indian investors.

Despite great cause for optimism, there are obstacles to progress and development. To highlight but one example of the challenges faced by Commonwealth member states, we can look at its large number of small island nations, in particular in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific. Although geographically and culturally different, almost all these countries are at risk from climate change and associated rising sea levels; they have economies highly dependent on tourism, financial services and fisheries; and are suffering the effects of high levels of emigration – their young people leave to chase broader horizons. For these countries, diversification of their economies is an obvious priority, but is far more easily identified than achieved.

With its specific mention of ‘enterprise’, the theme also directs us to examine economic engagement at all levels of society, and in particular the importance of microenterprise. Microenterprise is a crucial factor in bottom-up economic development and sustainable, inclusive growth. In particular, it is a means of giving women the opportunity for economic empowerment and involvement in economic decision-making at a local level.

I warmly welcome this year’s theme. I very much hope that all Commonwealth activists and citizens will join me in applauding this as a statement of some of the Commonwealth’s aspirations for 2013 and the CPA’s efforts to promote and achieve these.

About the author:

Rt Hon. Sir Alan Haselhurst MP is Chair of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association International and UK Executive Committees


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