Knowledge Hub


Online learning that resonates with the next generation of leaders


Anyone working in the training or education space will understand some of the profound changes online learning has undergone in the past decade. Not only has the demand for online learning grown exponentially, we are increasingly seeing a host of new approaches within the field. Whereas the scope of online learning was once limited to being merely an efficient content delivery mechanism, now, educators are continually developing innovative approaches, from social learning to advanced RPG-style gamification.

The online learning boom has also been significant for the democratization of education –more people than ever are accessing free online education. With the bigger players in the space including EdX and Coursera continuing to widen their offering, we have also seen initiatives like Crash Course (conceived by YouTubers, John and Hank Green) reach new audiences with their accessible style and direct-to-YouTube model.

Perhaps a more nuanced but no less important development in recent years has been the growing demand for online learning that develops so-called soft skills such as leadership. For instance, at Common Purpose, we are continually developing experiential online programmes which increase Cultural Intelligence within organizations. The growth of online learning for leadership looks as if it will be a game changer for the Learning and Development space.

It was against the backdrop of this evolving online learning space, late in 2017, we decided to attempt something new. Working with partners in Commonwealth countries, we identified an opportunity to connect young leaders across the Commonwealth who were looking for a new approach to leadership development – one which resonates with their generation and which gave them the leadership skills they would need in the 21st Century. 

The idea was called Commonwealth100 and was launched in April 2017 at the High Commission of the Republic of Zambia, London with the support of our founding partners: The Scottish Government, Bank of Zambia, and the British Council; Bangladesh.

Commonwealth100 involved two key phases.

  1. Engaging young people from across the Commonwealth to build a new model of leadership that reflected what kinds of leaders they aspired to be, when they would be leading the Commonwealth on its 100 anniversary in 2049. 
  2. Developing an online programme that equipped thousands of young people with the skills to deliver on this.

Over one year on, this is the story of Commonwealth100 – what we have achieved so far, and the lessons we have learned along the way.

Open Source Leadership: co-creating a new model of leadership


Over 60% of the population of the Commonwealth is under 30. That’s 1.2 billion young people. By the Commonwealth centenary in 2049 they will be its leaders. 

The aim of Commonwealth100 is to develop young leaders (aged 18-25) with the skills they will need to lead the Commonwealth in 2049. However, we knew that if the programme was going to resonate with young people who will lead in the future, it couldn’t be based exclusively on the leadership models of the past. 

We began by surveying over 1,000 young people from across the Commonwealth, reflecting different countries, genders, and backgrounds. We wanted to better understand their context, their leadership challenges and their aspirations. With the Commonwealth encompassing such a range of cultures and countries, it was important for us to include as many respondents to represent this diversity.

The research revealed a range of insights. In particular, we were struck by the following:


identified with more than one culture


are excited about Artificial Intelligence


have personal experience of intolerance

This underlined, for us, the importance of developing a leadership model that reflected the identities, experiences and expectations of this generation, which perhaps differed quite substantially with older generations.

We realized the model and programme needed to reflect the diverse cultural backgrounds, and that the vast majority were digital natives. The programme would also have to address the fact that intolerance is a reality faced by people across many demographics and would need to offer tangible ideas and methods to remedy this.

The research also revealed the three things they felt they most wanted to change from the previous generation’s leadership:


Embracing diversity


Adapting to technology


Being trustworthy

Tying in the lived experience of respondents with their aspirations showed a clear confluence between what is and what ought to be. Being inclusive of diversity, working with technology, recognizing and developing integrity in ourselves and others would need to form the crux of the leadership model. 

Following this, we then worked with a number of small focus groups, made up of diverse groups of young people to turn these findings into a leadership model. The result was Open Source Leadership; leaders who are:

Awake to intolerance and determined to counterbalance it


Interconnected to collaborate across diverse networks to empower one another


Trustworthy themselves to rebuild trust


Accessible leaders who communicate at all levels of hierarchy


Quick to adapt to a world turned upside down by Artificial Intelligence

The name for the Open Source Leadership model was inspired by the qualities of its computing namesake where, as with the software, the model is free and meant to grow, develop and improve, the more people use it. We wanted the model to be truly representative of the people it was created by and for. ‘Young people’ as a group is a not a monolith, and it was important for us that, through social learning, different people could unpick what these means for them individually, but also what this means for their generation.

Open Source Leadership was the subject of TEDxLondon talk by Andy Coxall, CEO of Common Purpose Student Experiences. You can watch the talk here.

Building the programme

We designed an online programme that would bring the Open Source Leadership model to life. Through articles, videos, exercises and discussion forums, participants delve deeper into the five key traits of Open Source Leadership. The programme is designed using experiential learning techniques. That means participants don’t just download information, instead, they are encouraged to reflect on their own leadership style and translate this into new behaviours which they can put into practice. Furthermore, the programme is highly social – the participants’ discussion and engagement is an important feature of Commonwealth100. They are able to hear contrasting views and experiences from a diverse group of young people from across the Commonwealth.

The programme also includes self-reflective questionnaires at the beginning and end of the course which are designed to help participants think about and reflect on their current skill set and later to gauge the impact of the course. Other reflective exercises involve participants thinking about what defines them as a leader and then exploring this further, face-to-face, with their own networks.

A key feature of Commonwealth100 has been our accessible certification system. Digital badges are a great way to recognize competency mastery and allow alumni to seamlessly present their learning and skill development across different social and professional media platforms. So far, more than 3000 Commonwealth100 participants have received the Open Source Leader badge.

Over one year on: the programme in numbers


13 cohorts between April 2018 and July 2019
39.9% completion rate


Commonwealth countries represented
45,000+ comments and discussions
49.9% engagement rate

We’ve been delighted by the response to the course. Feedback has indicated that the programme, and the Open Source Leadership model, has resonated with young people, right across the Commonwealth. This is seen in the enrolment rate (the vast majority of which has been driven by word of mouth and advocacy) and the diversity of our cohorts – which have so far been reflective of nearly every Commonwealth country.

We have also been very pleased with our engagement and completion rates. Typical completion rates on platforms such as EdX and Coursera hover around the 15% mark (MOOC Completion Rates; Katy, Jordan, 2017), whereas other platforms record rates as low as 3-5% (Coffrin at al, 2012). Our current completion rate of 38.9% is very healthy and demonstrates that the aims and content of the programme speak to needs of our target audience.

The impact

Over the period it has been running, we have conducted assessments which capture the participants’ learning. 

of participants incorporated one or more of the Open Source Leadership traits in their leadership

have gained new global perspectives from the course

have gained insights on their roles as a new generation of leaders within the Commonwealth

said they have accessed material they would not have otherwise

have worked on their personal brand as a leader as a result of being on the programme

Our own learning

Commonwealth100 has been an iterative process – meaning we have been able to respond to feedback and innovate quickly.  Here are some of the lessons which we, as facilitators, have learned along the way. 

The demand for meaningful connections 

Participants want digital interactions to mimic face-to-face ones. For all the fears that social media is making us more connected but less engaged, feedback from our participants shows that they value connecting with peers through discussion forums and are keen for other opportunities to share thoughts and ideas. Taking this feedback on board, we have begun to facilitate new ways for participants to connect through webinars, which often include contributions and sessions from senior Commonwealth leaders.

The power of cross cultural exchange 

It’s hard to argue that this was a ‘new’ learning – after all, Common Purpose has run powerful leadership experiences with diverse cross sector groups for over 30 years. However, it was inspiring to see this play out in an online space, where participants have been generously sharing insights and are learning valuable lessons from the experiences of others.

Room for reflection 

Commonwealth100 is an experiential online programme. Experiential learning is about more than just exposing participants to new ideas and experiences, in order to translate this into learning, they need to be taken through a structured process which includes periods of reflection. Developing a programme which is more than just a one-way flow of content and encourages participants to reflect on their own leadership behaviours has required a new approach to content and regular iteration.

Young people want to take responsibility for their own future 

From the development of the Open Source Leadership model, to the delivery of the programme, a trend we have seen time and time again is that young people genuinely want to take responsibility for what the legacy of their generation will be, and have the desire to bridge divides in the world in order to do this.

Co-creation method for greater impact and engagement 

The co-creation method of the Open Source Leadership model allows for a leadership model to be inclusive and one that can keep pace with changing needs and times. Our above industry engagement rate could be a consequence of the social and experiential nature of the Open Source Leadership model.

Looking ahead – the growth of Online Legacy Programmes

Commonwealth100 continues to grow and evolve as more young members of the Commonwealth participate, learn from and engage with the programme and each other. The scope of the programme has grown to include masterclasses by senior leaders, participant webinars and alumni engagement through networking groups.

We are also delighted that cities and countries across the world are seeing the potential of Legacy Programmes, of which Commonwealth100 is one. Working with partners, Common Purpose will be developing further online legacy programmes which are localized to countries and cities. Like Commonwealth100, these programmes will challenge a generation of young people to think 20 to 30 years ahead – to a significant anniversary for their city or country – and think through what the legacy of their generation will be.

Find out more about Legacy Programmes

If you would like to apply to take part in Commonweathl100 – please visit Commonwealth100.

If you would like to know more about Commonwealth100, or any of our Legacy Programmes, we’d be delighted to hear from you. Contact: Megha Harish, Engagement Manager.