From India to Grenada, the 53 members of the Commonwealth of Nations (informally known as the Commonwealth) encompass 2.4 billion people across some of the world’s richest and poorest, smallest and largest, countries. A legacy of the British Empire, the Commonwealth now forms a significant economic and political network.

Intra-commonwealth trade currently amounts to £560bn ($700bn), a figure that is set to rise to £700bn in 2020, and potentially hit £2000bn by 2030, Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland tells fDi. She has spearheaded a digital agenda to facilitate economic growth, trade and investment that features two major initiatives, the Innovation Hub and Meridian.

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Opened earlier in 2019 by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Innovation Hub is a public data service and source for Commonwealth members. “When I said I was going to create the hub, people laughed, saying I had no money and a tiny organisation,” says Ms Scotland. “[This may be true], but we can create partnerships and [use] data. We have huge power if we bring the Commonwealth together as a multilateral agency. Integrating and aggregating data is of critical importance, because it helps our member states make better policy.”

Rich data pool

With assistance from Bloomberg and Infosys, the hub pools a huge amount of data sets from and for all Commonwealth nations, highlighting private and public sector trends.

"We’ve created a ‘Match.com’ for Commonwealth trade. Our countries can better see what, and with who, they are trading, and where opportunities and blockages exists. [If it wasn't public], this data would be worth millions. Our countries are very excited by this real-time info,” says Ms Scotland.

Even before the Innovation Hub, intra-Commonwealth trade was 19% cheaper and 20% easier to do business than outside the Commonwealth, due to shared language, legal systems and parliamentary structure, according to the Commonwealth Trade Review.

Ms Scotland says that thanks to their shared legal landscapes, they are creating Commonwealth best practice framework contracts for energy, infrastructure and mining that will encourage foreign investment, adding: “If in the coming years our 22 Commonwealth benchmarks for addressing corruption are adopted, it could be a real game changer for inward investment.”

Digital debt

One of the crown jewels of the Secretariat is its debt management system, which it has run since 1985, for non-Commonwealth members as well. The system recently moved to a new state-of-the-art digital platform, Meridian, launched in June of this year, and unlike its predecessor, it covers both public and private debt.

Meridian's data helps countries better plan for the shocks, especially Commonwealth countries with debt-to-GDP ratios of 60-80% or Caribbean nations who are particularly to natural disasters, says Ms Scotland. “If you’re a debt manager, it’s a very exciting time. It’s more than just figures, it’s how we are going to get the right hospitals, schools, infrastructure system and how we are going to reach our sustainable development goals. And if we don’t deal with this debt, we are not going to survive.”