As the largest event in the CSC calendar, the Welcome Event is a key opportunity for all Commonwealth Scholars studying in the UK to celebrate their community together. Held on 23 November at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London, approximately 390 PhD and Master’s Scholars from 36 countries attended this special event. It was a day of great minds coming together, sharing their ambitions, aspirations and dreams.

The annual Welcome Event has several key objectives including: to recognise and celebrate the different identities and achievement of Commonwealth Scholars; to continue to build a community of Scholars and encourage participation throughout their time in the UK and beyond; and to provide an opportunity for Scholars and the CSC to engage with partner organisations.

Excitement and celebration

The event soon displayed the wide range of cultures and identities in attendance. There was a great deal of interaction between the new Commonwealth Scholars even before the programme started. This over-spilled to the CSC twitter account @commschols where our Commonwealth Scholars expressed their excitement and showcased their celebration of the day for everyone to see.

“In sharing our culture with each other, we actually change the world.”

The event was officially opened by a welcome speech from Richard Middleton, Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK. Richard Middleton encouraged our new Commonwealth Scholars to embrace every moment of the day where new, meaningful connections will be made. He advised our Commonwealth Scholars to “work hard on your studies, but also enjoy every moment of your stay in the UK”.

The new Commonwealth Scholars were inspired by our first guest speaker, Professor Stephen Toope, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Cambridge. A CSC alumnus, Stephen Toope shared his experience as a Commonwealth Scholar 35 years ago. It was a moving speech that motivated everyone even further with their studies, placing their scholarship in the greater scheme of things as he told everyone in the room that,

“In sharing our culture with each other, we actually change the world. No matter how similar we are, we are still different. Yet, no matter how different we are, we are similar in our humanity.” Definitely food for thought for our Scholars.

Questions and even bigger questions!

Every Commonwealth Scholar attended one of six topical panel discussions with each discussion centring on a development theme. The new Commonwealth Scholars are aware of these themes as all scholarships and fellowships are offered under six development themes such as Science and Technology for Development, and Access, Inclusion and Opportunity. The topical panel discussion was facilitated by guest speakers including Dr Hannah Bargawi, Development and Gender Economics lecturer at SOAS, Professor Funmi Olonisakin, Vice President & Vice-Principal (International), King’s College London, and Professor Vince Emery, Senior Vice-President, University of Surrey. Each discussion centred on a question such as the following: ‘Are technology and globalisation destined to drive up inequality?’ Questions like these soon plunged our Scholars into even bigger questions!

The Scholars took a well-deserved break from the discussions for lunch and the Scholars took this as a perfect time to take group country photos with our professional photographer Michael White.

What will your contribution be?

The Scholars broke out in their home country groups for their next activity, discussing how best to maximise their scholarship experience in the UK and how best to apply the skills and knowledge they will gain following the return to their home country. Specifically, scholars identified the development aspects of their particular research projects and discussed the ways in which each would be able to tackle the sustainable development challenges facing their home country/region. In addition, they also thought about the types of activities they could undertake, and the distinct networks that they could cultivate whilst in the UK, as well as the most effective means to measure their success and impact as alumni.

“You will walk the Commonwealth walk even more proudly now”

The Welcome Event at the QEII centre ended with speeches from two inspiring and aspirational women. The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Commonwealth Secretary-General delivered a speech about what Commonwealth Scholarships can offer to them as individuals and to the Commonwealth too, expressing her pride in our new Scholars.

“This is the Commonwealth in action – here and now. And because of the opportunities your Commonwealth Scholarships offer, you will walk the Commonwealth walk even more proudly now and productively wherever you go.”

The last speaker of the day was Professor Shaheen Sardar Ali, Director of Postgraduate Research at Warwick University. Shaheen Sardar, another CSC alumnus, served as the first female Cabinet Minister for Health, Population Welfare and Women’s Development in the Government of the Khyber Pukhtunkhwa Province of Pakistan (formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province) and the first Chair of the National Commission on the Status of Women of Pakistan. Shaheen Sardar Ali inspired the new Commonwealth Scholars by sharing her personal experience as a Commonwealth Scholar. Reflecting upon her time as a Commonwealth Scholar, she stated that it was an “an eye-opening experience”, and she feels “blessed” with how the scholarship has contributed to her accomplishments. Shaheed Sardar Ali ended the speech with a reminder that this an opportunity to help the world by saying “The experience and skills you acquire as a Commonwealth Scholar can easily be transferred to your home country”.

To see more from the CSC Welcome Event, visit the CSC Flickr page