Surreal is the only way to describe walking into one of the most famous and prestigious buildings in the UK. The walls and rooms were so decadent that it was so easy to feel out of place. But it also served as a reminder of why exactly we were there: to discuss solutions to the problems that came out of Commonwealth Youth Forum; to work out how to hold governments to account; to renew the energy and enthusiasm around our work.
After listening to a warm and witty opening speech by Lord Ahmed, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations, we then were graced with His Royal Highness, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. He spoke powerfully about his passion around the Commonwealth and mental health in particular. His message resonated with me so much, as he reminded us of our duty to create a sustainable world so we can leave a better world behind for our children; with the Prince expecting his first child and myself having younger siblings, we can’t afford to forget that message.
The roundtable discussions then started. Split into 5 tables for 5 different questions on topics such as maintaining the momentum of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in 2018, mine was about the most effective ways of working together. First, we each presented some of the work we have been doing across the country, which was absolutely humbling. To be around a table with such extraordinary young leaders is such an exceptional experience, I made sure to appreciate and enjoy it and truly listen. We then looked at how to work effectively in terms of strategising and resource sharing.
Different strategies came out, some of which I’ll definitely implement in my future campaigning. The chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Tijarni, talked about how creating public demand can be so effective in keeping momentum for a campaign. In a world where there are new issues every day, it is difficult to keep people engaged and enthused with a piece of work. Putting a more positive spin and the importance of framing also came up, which is such an impactful point because the majority of discourse around social issues is shrouded in negativity.
Afterwards, I presented a summary of our discussions and listened to the other summaries. As cliché as it sounds, I genuinely felt energised afterwards; you could actually feel the electricity in the room.
The day finished as quickly as it started, with all of us saying our goodbyes. But we could all leave that stunning palace with a renewed sense of optimism, and, more importantly, a genuine call for action. We won’t let false promises lull us into inaction, not this time. This is too pivotal a moment for our futures, our children’s futures, and our world’s futures for that.
Monday 12th March. That was the day we celebrated the annual Commonwealth Day, which recognises the unity of 2.3 billion people across the world, and their contribution to the Commonwealth of Nations. It remains a key date of the British calendar, with very high-profile people participating. I won’t lie, it wasn’t a nice day, not a nice day at all, but is there anything more quintessentially British than constant, light rainfall?
Despite the weather’s clear resentment towards us, the excitement of the UK young delegates to the upcoming Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) wasn’t going to be dampened. We arrived to an event that has been attributed great attention, given the current political climate and the importance of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2018 (CHOGM). These discussions could really set a precedent for future global relationships and trade talks post-Brexit, not to be dramatic or anything. (I tried to not mention the “B” word but that effort clearly didn’t make much of a difference.)
Disclaimer: as you can see, this blog post is filled with acronyms, so I do apologise in advance.
The day started at 10 Downing Street. I was honoured to be moderating a conversation by-the-fireside with the Prime Minister, Theresa May and Lord Ahmad, the Minister for the Commonwealth, about the role of young people in these discussion.
It was surreal to enter the house. Well, to call it a house wouldn’t do it justice; it was palatial, absolutely stunning. To walk up the steps alongside past prime ministers was an experience to say the least! After chatting to some of the amazing staff team within the Commonwealth Summit Unit (CSU), we began the Q+A, with the delegates asking probing questions on the relevance of the Commonwealth to daily life and the priorities of the UK within the Commonwealth.
It was refreshing to hear both ministers emphasise that young people are a core part of the work going on, especially as 60% of its citizens are under 30, but only time will tell whether real steps are taken to actually reflect this. Will young people be consulted? Will funding be allocated to facilitate this? We’ll find out come April, after the legacy of CHOGM takes shape.
I truly hope this Summit will be the foundation of real action to achieve a better world, not another forgotten gathering littered with unfulfilled promises and disenfranchised citizens.
On Monday 19th December, I was invited to shadow the Permanent Secretary for Department for International Development (DFID), Mark Lowcock (who is the most senior Civil Servant in the department), through Whitehall Takeover. It was a really exciting day, especially given my interest in the current state of the Middle East and South East Asia.
The day started with meeting Mark and exploring his role, which is insanely busy! I also met his wonderful team who support his work, as well as other members of staff such as DFID’s Youth Engagement Lead. It was interesting to gain an insight into how the Department operates across the globe and how it manages and interlinks projects, particularly the response to the current Syrian humanitarian crisis, which is an issue I’ve been building a campaign about.
Straight after, I attended a meeting with Mark and the Director Generals of DFID, who each hold an area of the Department’s work, where they discussed targets and provided updates on current projects as well as reflecting on past projects.
However, the best thing about the day was to go to an International Development Committee (IDC) hearing, which is a Departmental Select Committee. A Select Committee is made up of several MPs investigating a certain issue by asking for evidence and making a report with recommendations. In this one, MPs questioned the Permanent Secretary and the Secretary of State for International Development the Right Honourable Priti Patel MP about the activities of the department and how effective they were. It was incredibly interesting to hear about the different aspects, and even got heated quite a few times!
Overall, it was an amazing experience and I learnt a lot! I’d like to say a massive thank you to Michelle Clements from DFID who organised the day, to Max Pumphrey from the Cabinet Office, and above all to the British Youth Council, whose staff do such amazing work day in, day out and are inspirational in their passion to support young people in their pursuit of a better society.