The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries.

It is home to 2.5 billion people, and includes both advanced economies and developing countries. 32 of our members are small states, including many island nations.

Our member governments have agreed to shared goals like development, democracy and peace. Our values and principles are expressed in the Commonwealth Charter.

The Commonwealth's roots go back to the British Empire. But today any country can join the modern Commonwealth. The last country to join the Commonwealth was Rwanda in 2009.

Our history

Commonwealth facts

Organisations

The Commonwealth is often described as a 'family' of nations. At the heart of this family are three intergovernmental organisations:

  • The Commonwealth Secretariat supports member countries to achieve the Commonwealth's aims. This website is run by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
  • The Commonwealth Foundation supports people's participation in democracy and development.
  • The Commonwealth of Learning promotes open learning and distance education.

The international headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth Foundation are located in Marlborough House on Pall Mall in London.

Commonwealth member countries are also supported by a network of more than 80 intergovernmental, civil, cultural and professional organisations

About the Commonwealth Secretariat

How we are run

The Commonwealth

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries.

How countries can join

Head of the Commonwealth

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is Head of the Commonwealth.

The role:

  • is an important symbolic one
  • has no maximum fixed term
  • is not hereditary, and future Heads will be chosen by Commonwealth leaders.

The Commonwealth Secretariat

The Commonwealth Secretariat is the intergovernmental organisation which supports member countries and co-ordinates Commonwealth activities.

Commonwealth Secretary-General

The Commonwealth Secretary-General is responsible for representing the Commonwealth publicly, and is the Chief Executive Officer of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Board of Governors

All member governments are represented on the Commonwealth Secretariat Board of Governors by their High Commissioners. The role of the Board of Governors, which usually meets once a year, is to approve the Secretariat’s strategic plans, work programmes and budgets.

The Chairperson of the Board of Governors and the representative of the Chair in Office also sit on the Executive Committee. The Executive Committee is a sub-committee of the Board of Governors that can make policy recommendations to the Board and oversees budgets and audit functions. The Executive Committee includes the eight largest contributors to the Secretariat’s total resources, with additional member countries from each region elected to serve two-year terms.

Commonwealth Chair-in-Office

  • The United Kingdom's Prime Minister Boris Johnson is the current Commonwealth Chair-in-Office.

The Chair-in-Office represents the Commonwealth at high-level international meetings and reinforces the Good Offices role of the Commonwealth Secretary-General. The term ‘Good Offices’ refers to the Commonwealth's conflict prevention and resolution work.

The Chair-in-Office is the leader of the Commonwealth country that hosts a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). The two-year role comes into effect at the start of the CHOGM. The next CHOGM is in 2022 in Rwanda, when the Rwandan President Paul Kagame will become Chair-in-Office.

Staff

Staff at the Commonwealth Secretariat are structured around areas of work and a Senior Management Committee (SMC).

Senior Team Organogram (PDF)

The establishment of the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1965 emphasised the equality of all members, and gave final discouragement to the lingering sentiment that one member had a right to some predominance over others. It has enabled the Commonwealth to develop along independent lines in accordance with the interest of all its members. 

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Julius Nyerere
, President of Tanzania (1973)