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The modern Commonwealth and development

The interrelated ideas of trade, aid, development and progress were central to Commonwealth ideas and practice in the post-war period. Through lectures, events and tours organised by the Royal Commonwealth Society, the Society supported this modern vision of the Commonwealth.

The Nigerian High Commissioner is the guest of honour at a Trade Seminar about Nigeria at the Royal Commonwealth Society

The Nigerian High Commissioner is the guest of honour at a Trade Seminar about Nigeria at the Royal Commonwealth Society in January 1964 RCS IV (a) 181

The 1950s and 1960s marked a new period in British capital investment in the decolonising Empire with a readjustment of corporate strategies bringing multinational companies in line with discourses about post-imperial partnership and the demands of newly independent governments, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia. At the Royal Commonwealth Society a Trade and Industry group was set up in 1963 and begun organising seminars, lectures and conferences that aimed to allow ‘company representatives [to] hear speakers and engage in questions and discussions on various aspects of Commonwealth trade and development’ (Tate, 1966 p85). Debates over the economic relationships between Britain, the Commonwealth and Europe also began to take place at the RCS from the late 1950s onwards. Macmillan’s attempt to take Britain into Europe pitted European integration against Commonwealth, with opposition to the move coming not only from those wedded to the idea of Empire, but also from those who saw any decision to join with rich, white Europe as a rejection of the poorer multicultural Commonwealth. Against this backdrop, British trade with Commonwealth partners could be imagined as part of a more enlightened and less selfish approach to the poorer parts of the globe. It was in this way that Commonwealth trade was discussed at the Society.

A Trade Seminar about Pakistan  at the Royal Commonwealth Society

A Trade Seminar about Pakistan at the Royal Commonwealth Society, 6th April 1964. Also visible are the Empire Medallions on the balcony, part of Herbert Baker’s imperial design for the building
RCS IV (a) 199

Trade and industry connections with the Commonwealth were performed as just one of a raft of links, of which aid, friendship, professional associations, personal and technical exchange and individual service were others. Thus trade was joined by a focus on aid and professional exchange. Most of Britain’s development aid went to the Commonwealth, and this was ‘a very essential and very important part of the Commonwealth relationship’ (Prentice, 1969 p145). The Commonwealth Foundation was established in 1965 with the aim of ‘increasing interchanges between Commonwealth organisations of the skilled or learned professions or skilled auxiliary occupations in order to maintain and improve standards of knowledge, attainment and conduct’ (

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RCS Curator
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