A new round of Commonwealth reform proposals commenced at the Commonwealth
Heads of Government Meeting of 2009. An ensuing report, titled A
Commonwealth of the people: time for urgent reform, contained a long list of proposals
that eventually resulted in 2013 in the adoption of the Commonwealth Charter.
Many classic international organizations are in need of reform, but this is, of
course, challenging. This new Commonwealth reform process will not lead to
satisfying changes and will not make it a more relevant actor in global governance.
The year 2015 marks the Commonwealth Secretariat’s first half-century.
We take this symbolic marker to push for a forward-looking exercise, arguing that
because the true nature of the Commonwealth is often misunderstood, a better
understanding of the organization is essential before embarking on any successful
change-management project. In the article we identify four different kinds of
Commonwealth: three of a ‘formal’ nature (the official, bureaucratic and the
people’s Commonwealth) and a fourth ‘informal’ one (Commonwealth Plus). By
describing the potential of these four different kinds of Commonwealth, we can
anticipate better the challenges with which the Commonwealth network is faced,
both internal (including its mandate, its British imperial past and dominance, the
organization’s leadership and its membership) and external (other international
organizations, other Commonwealths, rivalry with regional organizations and the
rise of global policy networks). Consequently, this should lead to a better and more
sustainable debate about the Commonwealth’s future role in global governance.