On Monday 6 February the CSC welcomed over 300 Master’s and PhD Commonwealth Scholars to the Connect and Collaborate Event 2023 at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre in London.

The Connect and Collaborate Event is the largest event in the CSC calendar and is an important opportunity for Commonwealth Scholars studying in the UK to come together for a day of talks, workshops, and networking.

Minister Andrew Mitchell delivering keynote address at the Connect and Collaborate Event 2023

Minister Andrew Mitchell

This year’s event provided a vibrant forum for Scholars to discuss their studies, research, and plans for development impact and hear from a range of guest speakers including academics, policymakers, international development practitioners, and thought leaders. The event featured several panel discussions and an exhibition space for Commonwealth organisations as well as keynote talks by Minister Andrew Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa at the FCDO, Dr Titilola Banjoko, and Professor Rolph Payet.

The CSC was very pleased to welcome special guests from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Officer (FCDO), UK Parliament, and UK higher education to this year’s event.

A warm welcome to Scholars

The event opened with welcoming words by the CSC Chair Professor Robin Mason who highlighted the impact that Commonwealth Scholars past and present had made to their countries and communities. Professor Mason celebrated the diversity of expertise within the Scholar community and the importance of coming together to share knowledge and work together to achieve goals.

“If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together” – African proverb 

Dr Titilola Banjoko delivering keynote address at the Connect and Collaborate Event 2023

Dr Titilola Banjoko

The morning keynote address was delivered by Dr Titilola Banjoko, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Foundation for Women’s Health Research and Development (FORWARD) and the International Rescue Committee UK (IRC-UK) as well as a Fellow of the Nigerian Leadership Initiative. Her inspiring address explored themes of leadership, collaboration, capacity building, and networking in the modern Commonwealth, against the backdrop of her own career journey and efforts to build of social capital.

After her address, Dr Banjoko responded to audience questions from Scholars and spoke about the opportunities for capacity-building which she had made of the most of as a leader. Dr Banjoko’s address was one of the highlights of the day and clearly resonated with the Scholars in attendance.

Development in focus: exploring challenges in the panel discussions

After the morning talks, Scholars attended one of six development theme panel discussions which each focused on a contemporary development challenge and corresponded to the CSC development themes.

Chaired by CSC Commissioners and ACU staff, the panel discussions brought together guest speakers from academia and the development sector as well as Commonwealth PhD Scholars to address a series of probing questions related to sustainable science and technology solutions; global health outcomes; security, democracy, and governance in the Commonwealth; LGBT+ advocacy and rights; finance and climate finance; and entrepreneurship for sustainable economic development.

The sessions produced some fascinating insights and perspectives and allowed Scholars to raise questions and discuss their own work in relation to global development challenges.

Networking in focus: connecting, learning, and sharing

Commonwealth Scholars at Connect and Collaborate 2023

Commonwealth Scholars at Connect and Collaborate 2023

In the afternoon session, Scholars participated in a workshop on Networking for Impact where they were encouraged to develop their communication skills and strengthen their networks across knowledge sectors and country contexts.

The session was led by trainers from AccessEd and enabled Scholars to identify areas of connection and shared experience in order to propose new ways to address challenges and work collaboratively.


A call to action for leadership and international collaboration

The afternoon talks began with an address by Minister Mitchell, Minister of State for Development and Africa at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office.

Minister Mitchell expressed his hope that Scholars would be inspired by the opportunity to come together at the Connect and Collaborate Event. As the future leaders in their countries, Minister Mitchell emphasised how Scholars had an important role to play in shaping the Commonwealth for the better and taking on the era-defining challenges of our time.

Professor Rolph Payet delivering keynote address at the Connect and Collaborate Event 2023

Professor Rolph Payet

Following Minister Mitchell’s address, Professor Rolph Payet, Executive Secretary of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions and an international policy expert and researcher on environment, climate, and island issues, spoke about his own journey as a Commonwealth Scholar. In a thought-provoking keynote address, Professor Payet offered words of inspiration and advice to Scholars and reiterated the enormous value they would bring to their countries and the world in the future through research, innovation, and international collaboration.

Final words of thanks

The event concluded with words of thanks from Dr Joanna Newman, Executive Secretary of the CSC and Secretary General of the ACU, to the all the speakers and guests who had contributed to the event, and to Scholars for their continuing hard work and commitment to improving the lives of others.