Commonwealth Foundation gives culture top priority

November 2008 -

The Commonwealth Foundation has issued a report on culture and development titled Putting Culture First. With this report, the Commonwealth Foundation has now also recognised the importance of culture in sustainable development. The report was presented during an international seminar in London on Thursday, 6 November 2008.


The Commonwealth Foundation was established by the various governments of the states within the British Commonwealth. The foundation’s objective is to stimulate development, democracy and cultural understanding within the Commonwealth, focusing on social, political and cultural organisations. With 53 member states, including the United Kingdom and many former British colonies, cultural diversity is large within the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, culture was always considered a marginal issue. That attitude is changing now, and the report offers a framework for a new approach.

In the past year, the Commonwealth Foundation asked not only governments but also civil society and the culture and development sector to explain their views on culture and development. Naturally, perspectives varied considerably within these sectors. Artists often fail to realise that their work can be of social importance, while development workers are quicker to understand the need for a well than that for a stage performance. The definition of the concepts of culture and development also differed between the countries in the North and those in the South. However, the Commonwealth Foundation moved beyond a discussion on the exact definition, preferring to see this wide variety of perspectives as a unique opportunity.

In the report, culture is considered cultural expression. The report also goes further than the simple conclusion that there is a relationship between culture and development: it describes that relationship. On the one hand, culture is a development tool. Street theatre in India, for example, is used to warn people of the risks of HIV. On the other hand, the process of development can be viewed from the cultural perspective. A study in Uganda, for example, indicated that development workers basically consider culture to be “primitive” culture that obstructs development. They fail to recognise the positive aspects of that same culture. The report discusses a total of seven perspectives, with examples from actual practice and practical recommendations in each chapter.

Download the report Putting culture first  [Pdf]