Staying engaged – promoting and fostering the Commonwealth

Who we are

The Commonwealth Association is the staff alumni association of the Commonwealth. This network of skills and influence draws its members from those who have previously served in the Commonwealth Secretariat or Commonwealth Foundation, or in any other Commonwealth organisation in a salaried post. It was established in London in 2001 not only as a means of keeping in touch with former colleagues socially (meeting from time to time in the Commonwealth’s Headquarters, Marlborough House) but also as a way of supporting the Commonwealth in a variety of practical ways.

The Commonwealth Association’s founder and first Chair was Patsy Robertson (from Jamaica) who was one of the first staff members to be recruited by Canadian diplomat Arnold Smith, the Commonwealth’s first Commonwealth Secretary-General, when he set about creating the Commonwealth Secretariat after 1965. Previously, the Commonwealth had been administered by the UK Government (through the Commonwealth Relations Office) but, by the early 1960s, there was growing pressure from member governments for an independent intergovernmental organisation which would serve Commonwealth members equally and impartially. The Commonwealth Foundation, which is also an intergovernmental body, was founded at the same time but with the task of developing the Commonwealth’s extensive non-governmental and cultural linkages.

Members of the Commonwealth Association can now be found in all walks of life and many Commonwealth countries. A number are Ministers, Members of Parliament, diplomats or government officials while others are academics, lawyers, doctors and journalists, among other callings. All share a common commitment. Each has served the Commonwealth in some capacity or other and in doing so has been asked to leave his or her nationality at the door and to be loyal to the Commonwealth, first and foremost. This is a bond which endures, and Association members often go on to work for the Commonwealth in other ways, in either a professional or voluntary capacity. This might be in the field of development and international affairs in major inter-governmental Commonwealth organisations, non-governmental and professional bodies, and in civil society. They have considerable experience in legal, economic, political, diplomatic, technical assistance, gender and youth affairs, education, health and communication matters. The Association sees this skills network as an important resource available to the Commonwealth.

The establishment and evolution of the Commonwealth Association

L-R: David Sagar, Dharani Rethnam, Stuart Mole, Sir Peter Marshall, Sir Don McKinnon, Madhuri Bose, Arvind Barve, Hammad Ali
(Photo: Madhuri Bose)

The Commonwealth Association (CA), an alumni organisation of the Commonwealth with wide-ranging skills and influence, was formally launched on 8 June 2001 at the premises of the Royal Commonwealth Society, London. The Association’s primary aims are to stay engaged with the Commonwealth in order to support and foster its values and objectives and also to provide a social forum for former Commonwealth colleagues. Prior the establishment of the Association, there was no structured platform to facilitate such engagement and communication. Background information about the Association’s establishment and its evolution are elaborated below.


In 1999, a group of former Commonwealth Secretariat staff, who were interested in keeping in touch with developments within the Commonwealth and with other Commonwealth colleagues, looked at how other international organisations, and the United Nations in particular, had succeeded in maintaining channels of communication with past employees.

Recognising that the Commonwealth alumni constituted an important resource of knowledge and institutional memory for the Commonwealth, the group had its first consultative meeting in December 1999 after which an Interim Management Committee (IMC)[1] was set up to consult with colleagues across the globe. A questionnaire, (Attachment 1), designed to seek the views of former employees of the Commonwealth, was sent to 250 colleagues.  Their enthusiastic response confirmed that there was an overwhelming support for setting up a Commonwealth alumni organisation.

As a passionate supporter of the concept of establishing such an organisation, Bill Montgomery, who was dedicated to the Commonwealth and had managed the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation for several years, prepared the first draft Constitution for the Association.  Sadly, he passed away before the launch of the Association.

At the IMC’s second consultative meeting in May 2000, it was agreed that the new alumni organisation would be called The Commonwealth Association and an Aide-Memoire setting out its objectives was endorsed. With critical support and cooperation extended by Stuart Mole, the then Director-General of the Royal Commonwealth Society, it was possible to found the Association whose first official address was c/o The Royal Commonwealth Society.

Former Commonwealth Secretaries-General Sir Shridath Ramphal and Chief Emeka Anyaoku, as well as the then current SG, Sir Don McKinnon, agreed to be patrons of the Association. Mr Kamalesh Sharma, who succeeded Sir Don, is also a patron.

Launch of the Commonwealth Association

In launching the new Commonwealth Association on 8 June 2001, Sir Don McKinnon endorsed that ‘such an Association representing a wealth of knowledge and expertise on the Commonwealth is well placed to further promote its principles and objectives’.

L-R: Stuart Mole, Sir Don McKinnon, Sir Peter Marshall, Madhuri Bose (Photo: Madhuri Bose)

Sir Peter Marshall, the then Deputy Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, chaired the inaugural session of the CA. On behalf of the IMC, Madhuri Bose pledged full and active support of the Association to the Secretary-General and the Commonwealth in implementing its mandate and strengthening existing ties among member states.

Members of the Commonwealth Association
(Photo: Madhuri Bose)

Early activities of the CA

Since its establishment, the Commonwealth Association has continued to support and foster the Commonwealth through its activities. Recognising the importance of such a skills network, Don McKinnon gave approval for the Association to hold its meetings and other events at Marlborough House.  It is a tradition that subsequent Secretaries-General have been pleased to continue, in particular for special occasions.

At its first Annual General Meeting (AGM) in August 2002, Patsy Robertson, the Association’s founder and first Chairperson, reported that its membership had expanded rapidly and stood at 100 fully paid-up members. Members comprised those who had previously served in the Commonwealth Secretariat, Commonwealth Foundation, or any other Commonwealth organisation in a salaried post.

Early activities, organised in collaboration with the Royal Commonwealth Society, included:

L-R: Indrajit Commaraswamy, Ms Sandra McIntyre-Trotman, Max Gaylard (Photo: Madhuri Bose)
L-R: Indrajit Commaraswamy, Ms Sandra McIntyre-Trotman, Max Gaylard
(Photo: Madhuri Bose)
  • a panel discussion on Globalisation, Politics and Summitry: Prospects for Brisbane chaired by Ms Sandra McIntyre-Trotman, Acting High Commissioner of Trinidad and Tobago. Panellists included Maxwell Gaylard, former Director of Political Affairs and UNDP Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, as well as Indrajit Coomaraswamy, Director of Economic Affairs.
  • a meeting on Commonwealth after the Coolum Summit: A New Vision? chaired by Mr Derek Ingram, a distinguished journalist and founder of Gemini News Service, and a passionate supporter of the Commonwealth. The speakers were Amitav Banerji, Director of the Office of the Commonwealth Secretary-General and Colin Ball, Director of the Commonwealth Foundation.
  • A talk on The Challenges of Promoting the Commonwealth and Europe by Mr Geoffrey Martin OBE, Head of Representation of the European Commission in the UK.
L-R: Dharani Rethnam, Madhuri Bose, Patsy Robertson, Stuart Mole (Photo: Madhuri Bose)

Evolution of the CA

Under the very capable leadership of Patsy Robertson, who remained at the helm of the CA as its Chairperson from 2001 until her demise in August 2020, as well as Dr Stuart Mole who remained the Vice-Chairperson from the organisation’s inception until his election as Chairperson in 2021, the CA has continued to foster and support the Commonwealth through its annual lectures and other activities.

In recognition of Patsy’s contribution to the CA, in 2021, the annual lecture which follows the Association’s AGM has been named the Patsy Robertson Memorial Lecture.

Information about the CA’s governance as well as its activities, including AGMs and annual lectures, is available on the website.

[1] The IMC comprised:  Chairperson – Patsy Robertson; Vice-Chairperson – Stuart Mole; Secretary- Madhuri Bose; Treasurer – Dharani Rethnam;  Members: David Sagar, Hammad Ali, Arvind Barve, K B K Rao.

Attachment 1