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Global heavyweights pay tribute to the Commonwealth’s unity and strength

17 April 2018

Heavyweights from across the world of politics, industry and activism today paid tribute to the strength, unity and diversity of the Commonwealth at the start of ‘Super Tuesday’.

Bill Gates, Malala Yousafzai, UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness joined Secretary-General Patricia Scotland for an event that brought together the Business, People’s, Women’s and Youth forums on day two of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

Addressing hundreds of delegates at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, Secretary-General Scotland said the Commonwealth drew on “the wisdom and inspiration” of the many facets of the Commonwealth, including business, youth, women and civil society.

The Secretary-General then emphasised the unity of the Commonwealth. She said, “We are joined together, not by treaty, but by will. We are choosing to be members of this Commonwealth, conjoined by our values which are precious, hard won and durable.”

She concluded with the words of Nelson Mandela, whose call to action continues to inspire Commonwealth citizens, by saying, “Vision, without action, is just a dream. Action, without vision, just passes the time. But vision with action can change the world.

“This is what we are doing together now: changing the world. And our Commonwealth, our one third of the world can, if we choose, lead the way for a common future not just for our Commonwealth but for everyone.”

Bill Gates, who founded Microsoft before setting up the Gates Foundation, talked about the success of the Commonwealth and the positive future it has with more than 60 per cent of its citizens being under the age of 30.

He said, “As a Commonwealth, you are young. Young people are also critical because they are innovators and innovation changes what’s possible. The entrepreneurs driving change are young in age and outlook.”

Mr Gates, whose work to tackle polio has seen the disease eradicated in Africa, said that there were other health challenges ahead specific to the Commonwealth, whose countries account for 90 per cent of malaria globally.

He went on to talk about the important role of women across the Commonwealth. He said, “The Commonwealth Women’s Forum has mirrored what the development community is coming to realise. That, when women are healthier and more educated, they are more prosperous.”

In her speech, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said she was committed to a more sustainable Commonwealth, and praised the Blue Charter that leaders will discuss later this week. She said, “Let us begin by making this a more sustainable Commonwealth. That’s why, this week, I want us to agree a landmark Blue Charter which sets out the principles to sustainably protect our oceans.”

Following the devastation caused in the Caribbean by hurricanes Irma and Maria, Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness stressed the importance of tackling climate change. He said, “The Issue of climate change is not a philosophical one, and we don’t have time to defend the credibility of whether or not it is real or fake. It is an existential threat for the small island states, many of whom are part of our Commonwealth.”

He then turned to the future of the Commonwealth and the important role that young people could play. He said, “It’s very important that we pay attention to our young people. Focusing on education and training is the most important way of giving access to economic opportunity for young people.”

This echoed the words of Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai. In a video address she emphasised the role that education must play going forward. She said, “My message to young people of the #Commonwealth is: fight for the future of the #Commonwealth where every boy and girl can have access to quality education.”