The British Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 49 independent states that have been or still are ruled by Britain. Independent states are "full members of the Commonwealth". Among these states are Barbados, Australia, Kenya, Nigeria, India, Singapore, New Zealand, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Cyprus, etc.
Dependent territories (colonies + protectorates) are "Commonwealth countries", among them are Bermuda, Falkland Island, British Antarctic Territory, British Virgin Islands and other.
The new Commonwealth has grown out of the old British Commonwealth and British Empire. In the days of the old Commonwealth the only self-governing nations were Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The population of Australia, New Zealand and Canada (except for the French-speaking Canadians of Quebec) was almost entirely of people of British descent.
When the old British Commonwealth and the British Empire came to an end with the 2nd World War, the new Commonwealth was born. It was born after Britain granted independence to India and Pakistan in 1949. The Commonwealth has no charter, treaty or constitution. The Commonwealth people are drawn from all the world main races, from all continents. The Commonwealth people confess many different religions. Among Commonwealth countries are those in which the dominating religious confessions are Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism.
The queen is recognized as head of Commonwealth; she is also head of state in 18 countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand.
The Commonwealth Secretariat is in London. It is headed by a Secretary-General appointed by the heads of governments of member states. In 1990, for example it was headed by Emeka Anyaoko from Nigeria. The Secretariat promotes consultations, spreads information on matters of Commonwealth interests, organizes meetings and conferences. It coordinates Commonwealth activities related to economic, social and political affairs including youth programs, food, production, technology, science, law and health.
Britain plays an active part in the Commonwealth activities, it values the Commonwealth as a means of consulting and cooperating with people of different cultures and perspectives.
Britain plays an active part in the work of the Commonwealth Fund for Technical cooperation, established within the Secretariat to provide technical assistance for economic and social development in Commonwealth developing countries, and Britain contributes almost a third of its income. The Fund provides experts to undertake advisory assignments or fill specific posts. It has a special program to help countries develop their exports, production and rural development. This fund also contains a small technical assistance group to give advice in key areas.
Britain is a major contributor to the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, a system of awards for people of high intellect organized in order to make them study in Commonwealth countries. It was agreed in 1984 that the number of awards would be increased to about 1700 of which Britain would provide some 800.