The Commonwealth and Ageism

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As people living in Britain, we often underestimate the influence that the Commonwealth has in setting the agenda internationally. Perhaps it’s our natural reticence of seeking to continue to trail the lost glory of empire and the Commonwealth somehow reminds us of all the negative associations that have been built into our culture around empire. The Commonwealth can again and again set the international agenda. The Queen’s Singapore Declaration redefined the Commonwealth as a set of peer-to-peer relationships, rather than something defined by relationships of power and control. The Commonwealth has a specific commitment to younger people and empowers participation by younger people in democracy and non-governmental organisations. Now we have a strategic appointment of the first Commonwealth advocate for ageism.

Special Envoy for Ageing Well

In 2024, Professor Dame Carol Black was appointed as the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Ageing Well and is currently chairing The Centre for Ageing Better. This a UK think tank, supported by Business in the Community and others. It consistently advocates and campaigns, for better recognition of older people by policy makers, whether that is corporate, government, or third sector.

So, what exactly is the remit she’s been given? This is how it is described by the Secretary-Genearl in the article the Commonwealth website published in January 2024: “With only six years left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that, despite all efforts, we are not on track. There is a significant gap between where we are and where we need to be. “I am confident that the relentless drive, exceptional talent and considerable experience of these special envoys will help us fill that gap more swiftly and effectively.

“Together with their support, we will now provide more comprehensive assistance to our 56 member countries as they accelerate efforts to achieve the SDGs and transform the lives of the 2.5 billion people who proudly call the Commonwealth their home.”

UN Sustainability Goals

Look at Ageing Well in the context of the UN sustainability goals, it can impact a number of them, but what will it really mean in practice? The role of a Secretary-General’s Special Envoy is still evolving, but I do think this appointment is a significant declaration of intent by the Commonwealth. It shows more of what they stand for and what they are prioritising. Other Commonwealth priorities include the celebration of youth and initiatives to support faith.

Perhaps, it makes sense for you to send your thoughts to the Commonwealth’s Special Envoy for older people? Perhaps, if your heritage is from outside the UK, you should reference members of the Commonwealth diaspora to build on this Commonwealth Initiative.

There are signs of hopefulness around the whole ageism agenda but it will only happen with groundswell support, bottom up. It is not enough for these top-down initiatives to create significant change in attitudes and culture, across the world.

How will you contribute to this movement for change?


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.