New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation of 53 countries - most with a shared history as part of the former British Empire.

About the Commonwealth

The Commonwealth of Nations was formed in 1949 to maintain an association between countries that had once been part of the British colonies, but which were considered 'free and equal'.

Commonwealth countries span the globe and, with a combined population of 2.2 billion, include almost a third of the world’s population. It’s a diverse group with members among the largest, smallest, wealthiest and poorest countries in the world. Sixteen members have the British monarch as their head of state (including New Zealand), six have their own monarch and 33 are republics.

Despite our differences, Commonwealth countries have a sense of kinship and unity and are often described as a ‘family of nations’. We share many cultural elements that come from our colonial past, including the English language, sports, and similar systems of law, education, government. Current Commonwealth countries accept the British sovereign as the 'Head of the Commonwealth'.

What does the Commonwealth do?

The Commonwealth works on behalf of member countries to promote peace and prosperity. This includes helping countries with small business development, legislation, and human rights, particularly promoting the role and rights of young people and of women. There are a large number of organisations and networks under the umbrella of the Commonwealth that carry out and support this work.  

The Commonwealth Charter

In 2012 the Commonwealth adopted a charter setting out the values of the organisation and the commitments members are expected to make. Central to the charter are the beliefs in democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Read the full Charter of the Commonwealth (external link) 

Commonwealth governance and organisations

Commonwealth Secretariat

The Commonwealth Secretariat in London manages the work of the Commonwealth and is the central point for all member governments. The Secretariat can provide governments with policy advice and practical assistance. It also works to find solutions to sensitive political and economic issues faced by members. MFAT regularly liaises with the Secretariat through our High Commission in London.

The current Secretary General is Kamalesh Sharma, from India. New Zealand’s former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sir Don McKinnon served as Secretary General from 2000 to 2008.


Every two years, leaders from each country come together for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), to decide the policy and activities of the Commonwealth. The first CHOGM was held in 1971. New Zealand hosted the meeting in 1995 and the 2015 CHOGM will be held in Malta in November.

Read about the 2015 CHOGM meeting in Malta (external link) 

The Commonwealth Foundation

The Commonwealth Foundation is a development organisation that helps non-government organisations work together and learn from each other. The foundation also supports more than 250 Commonwealth professional associations and organisations involved in areas such as sports, youth development and education. 

MFAT attends foundation governance meetings and provides funds for some projects such as the Commonwealth Local Government Forum in Suva. The current chair of the Commonwealth Foundation is New Zealand’s former Governor General Sir Anand Satyanand.

How is New Zealand involved?

New Zealand is a founding member of the Commonwealth and we're actively involved in many of its activities. We've hosted many Commonwealth meetings and consultations.

We're currently one of eight members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, which was set up at a meeting in Queenstown to decide ways to deal with members that violate the Commonwealth values (as set out in the Harare Declaration (external link)). We're also active in the Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Small States.

Since 1992, New Zealanders have participated in many Commonwealth missions to observe elections in member countries.

Our contributions

New Zealand is currently the sixth largest contributor to the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Foundation. Contributions are set by the Secretariat according to each country’s ability to pay. In 2014 New Zealand contributed $7.5 million to Commonwealth organisations. This includes our voluntary contributions to a number of Commonwealth organisations including:

  • The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CTFC) – this fund supports technical assistance to developing countries. Many New Zealand experts and consultants have worked on CTFC projects. 
  • Commonwealth of Learning – helps developing nations improve access to quality distance learning through appropriate technologies
  • Small States Office – we are the largest donor to the small states offices in New York and Geneva that look after the interests of small countries and provide office space for delegates attending UN meetings
  • Commonwealth Scholarships – we offer scholarships for undergraduate and graudate study in New Zealand, supporting the development of education across the Commonwealth
  • The Commonwealth Local Government Forum - an organisation that strengthens good governance at the local level

Find out more about New Zealand Commonwealth Scholarships

Small states

Almost two thirds of the Commonwealth’s members are classified as "small states", which are defined as countries with a population under 1.5 million. These countries, many of them islands, are particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the global economy and to natural disasters.

New Zealand takes a particular interest in small states as almost a third of the Commonwealth’s small state members are in the South Pacific. We appreciate the challenges of being relatively small and geographically isolated. New Zealand also has a direct interest in ensuring the Pacific region is economically prosperous and environmentally secure.

We work to raise the profile of issues facing small Pacific countries (in particular) during meetings and conversations with Commonwealth officials. The Commonwealth acts as a collective voice and advocates for small countries, and helps raise international awareness of issues affecting them. It engages with the World Bank, the UN, the OECD and other international organisations on behalf of small sates.

The Ministerial Group on Small States meets during every CHOGM to discuss issues of concern to small states and raise international awareness. The Commonwealth Secretariat organises the Global Biennial Conference on Small States which was set up in 2010 so small states could share experiences and best practice in building resilience and sustainable growth.

Read more about how the Commonwealth helps small states (external link) 

Commonwealth members

There are 53 members of the Commonwealth:

Caribbean and Americas

Sierra Leone
South Africa
United Republic of Tanzania

Brunei Darussalam
Sri Lanka
Antigua and Barbuda
Bahamas, The
Saint Lucia
St Kitts and Nevis
St Vincent and The Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
United Kingdom
New Zealand
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands