The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 53 member states, most of which are former British colonies.

Commonwealth countries are home to nearly 2 billion citizens (about 30% of the world's population) living in four continents and including a range of faiths, races, cultures and traditions. The Commonwealth brings together countries at every stage of economic and social development. It includes 13 of the world’s fastest growing economies and 14 of the poorest.

The principal inter-governmental organisation of the Commonwealth is the Commonwealth Secretariat (ComSec) whose mission is to work as a force for peace, democracy, equality and good governance, to be a catalyst for global consensus building, and a source of assistance for sustainable development and poverty eradication.

Commonwealth heads of government meet every two years. The last meeting was in Trinidad and Tobago in 2009.

The UK is the biggest funder of the Commonwealth, providing 30% of its funds. The next biggest donor is Canada, at 19%. The UK supports many Commonwealth countries through:

  • direct bilateral development programmes
  • funding the Commonwealth Secretariat’s development activities
  • funding a number of autonomous Commonwealth bodies.

One of these autonomous bodies is the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC). Established in 1971, the CFTC is the principal means for providing technical assistance to Commonwealth countries. It is a voluntary fund and its members contribute resources according to their ability and draw on them according to their needs. CFTC’s annual budget of around £24 million is supplemented by external resources through strategic partnerships. DFID contributed £8,750,700 to the CFTC in 2009/10.

In addition, DFID funds:

  • Commonwealth Scholarships, £15 million
  • The Commonwealth of Learning, £1.1 million
  • The Commonwealth Youth Programme, £750,000
  • The Commonwealth Foundation, £250,000