A Living Memorial

12/05/2014

“The opportunity to serve our country – that is all we ask.” These words, spoken by John Smith on the night before he died suddenly in May 1994, demonstrate his staunch belief in public service, social justice and good governance.

In the aftermath of John’s death his family and friends met to consider what would be a suitable memorial. They thought about a painting or a statue but neither seemed to capture the spirit of public service, serious endeavour and moral purpose that had shaped John’s life. Instead they decided on a living memorial in the form of a Fellowship Programme dedicated to supporting good governance, social justice and the rule of law. A charity with a distinguished cross party Board was established and there are now over 400 ‘John Smith Fellows’ located across the Former Soviet space and Middle East who act as a living memorial to one of Britain’s most respected politicians.

In the words of one John Smith Fellow, “The death of John Smith can be compared with a seed that dies in order to bring a lot of yield. Every year more and more Fellows grow the "fruits" of the John Smith Fellowship Programme in their countries." Fellows have gone on to become outstanding leaders in their respective fields where they have championed judicial reform, created civil society organisations, run for office as MPs, pioneered women’s rights advocacy, improved accountability in public institutions and even created their own television channels and media outlets to promote freedom of expression and public service broadcasting. Further examples of Fellows’ impact in their countries can be found here.

The next Fellowship starts in June, with high-flying individuals from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Russia and Ukraine. They will spend a week in Edinburgh where they will explore both sides of the debate over Scottish independence, a week visiting organisations and institutions across the UK who can help shape their action plans - projects designed to benefit their own societies – and a final week in London which includes exploring themes such as risk, corruption and freedom of expression through a series of interactive workshops, individual mentoring sessions and participation in a Policy Forum to be held at the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development.

To mark the 20th anniversary of his death the Trust welcomes the opportunity presented by the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University to see John Smith’s legacy and belief in public service championed in the UK as a particularly fitting tribute. Trust Director, Janet Boston, reflects, “Many of the John Smith Fellows have asked why the Trust doesn’t have programmes for the UK – if only to recognise the fantastic and inspirational work which they have seen during their attachments with UK civil society and government organisations.  The Centre will therefore reinforce the importance of public service and, as Baroness Smith has remarked, inspire a future generation who at present may not see the value of such work.”