On 13-14th January, I attended the Commonwealth Youth Senior Officials Meeting 2020 (Europe and Canada region) and had the honour of representing the views of UK Young people at the event. The meeting was held at the beautiful Marlborough House in London – headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The meeting was attended by senior officials responsible for youth at the government level, National youth leaders, youth workers and representatives from the Council of Europe, Commonwealth Youth Council, Commonwealth Alliance for Youth Workers Association and the Commonwealth Students’ Association. The commence the meeting, the Commonwealth secretariat spoke about their vision and missions of sustaining a Commonwealth that embraces diversity and improves the well-being of all Commonwealth citizens. It was inspiring to hear from the Senior officials of the UK, Canada, Malta and Cyprus who spoke about how they are promoting youth voice within their countries and it was thoroughly interesting to listen to the sharing of best practice through innovative projects carried out across the Commonwealth such as campaigns to improve digital skills development, youth volunteerism and the development of safe and inclusive spaces for young people.
I participated in a round-table style event where country-specific regional challenges were shared. During this, I had an opportunity to put forward the views of young people in the UK, by speaking about the national campaigns voted for by young people in the UK, through the British Youth Council. Throughout the discussion, a theme of increasing the voices of youth within the Europe and Canada regions to the Commonwealth were raised, hence a positive action that was taken was to keep the formal meeting of “Europe and Canada” to support the national youth councils within these member countries to have regional meetings ahead of the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2020. This was a great step for a more connected Commonwealth. I worked with youth across the Commonwealth and it was remarkable to see how united we are through our similarities. Commonwealth Youth Leaders identified similar priority areas within their countries such as tackling unemployment, ending poverty, the need for quality education, housing, protecting our environment and tackling climate change.
The meeting concluded with a presentation by the Commonwealth youth representatives to Commonwealth senior officials, decision-makers and the Commonwealth secretariat. I had a chance to speak about the campaigns voted for by young people in the UK through the Make Your Mark ballot. The UK-wide youth campaign of Protecting our environment was highlighted and how we have a collective responsibility to protect the environment from the effects of climate change for the next generation and to look more towards carbon-neutral alternatives. I also spoke about the campaign of Putting an End to Knife Crime. Too many young people’s lives are lost to knife crime and how we would like the Government to do more to help end the knife crime epidemic. I was able to highlight the positive actions taken by youth since the last Commonwealth Youth Forum such as The British Youth Council starting a youth forum working with the Bank of England, the UK’s attendance at the United Nations Youth Climate Action Summit and creating a Youth Voice Leadership Development Programme to increase the diversity of young people in leadership roles.
I would like to thank the British Youth Council and all of the incredible young people across the UK who are making a positive difference in society – It has been a privilege to be able to share UK Youth national campaigns with Commonwealth youth leaders and it has been a great experience to have an opportunity to put forward youth voices at this meeting.
The Commonwealth is a global family of countries connected through a sharing of common principles and values. Young people are key for building a more peaceful and united world hence, our communities must safeguard the valuable voices of young people.
As the UK hosted the Commonwealth Youth Forum for the first time in history, it was an honour to be a part of this momentous event and contribute to raising youth voice through my role as UK Young Ambassador to the Commonwealth.
The weekend prior to the Commonwealth Youth Forum, which was held at the QEII Centre in London, I took part in a facilitators meeting to prepare for the event. There I had the opportunity to meet several members of the Commonwealth Youth Taskforce. During the session I learnt how to effectively facilitate youth workshops to produce efficient action plans, and in turn, create a positive change on a national, regional and pan-commonwealth level.
At the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Youth Forum, I was fortunate to hear Prince Harry – the newly appointed Queens Commonwealth Youth Ambassador – speak about the powerful influence of young people. He said: “Young people can lead the way in making the Commonwealth a more free, more prosperous, more happy and a more powerful influence for good in the world.” I was also greatly inspired by hearing talks from a list of other attendees including; Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland QC – Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Kishva Ambigapathy – Commonwealth Youth Council Chairperson, Jayathma Wickramanayake – United Nations Secretary-General Envoy on Youth and Rt. Hon. Damian Hinds – UK Government Secretary of State for Education. It was also incredible to hear British Youth Council Chair, Anna Rose Barker, discussing the running theme of the forum – “Powering our Common Future”.
On the first day of the forum, I had the excellent opportunity to participate in sessions focused on building a more prosperous, sustainable, fairer and secure future for all. Multiple discussions raised this day were centred around important issues such as employment for youth, enhancing sustainability and also peace building. These sessions were also able to highlight the work of some of the Commonwealth Networks like, the Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs and the Commonwealth Youth Human Rights and Democracy Network
Assisting the Prosperity workshops at the Commonwealth Youth Forum was a great experience. The issues discussed by young people at these sessions were more focused on entrepreneurship, technology, innovation and generating solutions for youth unemployment. These topics were brought forward to ensure the youth within our Commonwealth are given the opportunity to express creativity and excel within communities through enterprise and employment opportunities. In these sessions, I greatly enjoyed the experience of being able to listen to, and also collaborate with, young people from across the world to develop new ideas which I will be able to take on board and apply further, in my own role.
The second day of the event consisted of a joint forum day between the Women’s, People’s and Business forums alongside the Youth forum. There were multiple cross-cutting themes discussed throughout which brought a tremendous amount of diversity to the event. I was fortunate to be able to listen to Commonwealth Resounds by Rotary London; their collaborative piece brought together musical stylings from across the Commonwealth and delivered them together in one fantastic performance. I was also incredibly elated to listen to speeches by Bill Gates, Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland and the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holness. During this event UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, announced investment in delivering the 12 year education guarantee across the Commonwealth.
On the final day of the forum, I was given the honourable opportunity to represent the UK in the Commonwealth Youth Forum General Assembly. This event involved all of the Commonwealth national delegates sharing ideas to tackle issues within the Commonwealth Youth Council. We also had the opportunity to vote on policy motions to for a communique with the Heads of Government. It was a great experience to hear different perspectives for a better Commonwealth and to also contribute to the discussion.
The following evening, I was extremely grateful to be invited by UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, to a reception at the Sky Garden, where the Heads of Government were being welcomed to the UK. I was thankful to receive an opportunity to speak directly with her about UK Youth priorities such as, tackling youth unemployment and climate change, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting.
I also had the pleasure of formally meeting the Prime Minister of Jamaica – Andrew Holness, the Prime Minister of Canada – Justin Trudeau and Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland – the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. It was an amazing experience to converse with each of them about the outcomes of the Youth Forum and gain further knowledge from their wisdom and insight.
It was excellent to have the opportunity to discuss issues faced by the youth of the UK and to develop possible solutions – within the themes of prosperity, sustainability, fairness and security – with young people from across the Commonwealth.
I would like to take a moment to thank the work of the Commonwealth Taskforce, the organisers of the entire event and the incredible young leaders who came together for the forum. I would also love to sincerely thank the British Youth Council and the UK Young Ambassadors for this amazing platform for young people to implement positive change.