Where do I start! Over a year of hard work, intense campaigning and support from some truly incredible people has culminated in the first-ever young person from Europe being elected onto the Commonwealth Youth Council Executive Committee, a body of 10 executives who represent 1.4 billion young people. And I want to reflect on the integral role that the British Youth Council played in making that happen.
I remember my first time coming across the British Youth Council at the April Youth Voice Leadership Development residential in 2015. I was a newly elected Member of Youth Parliament for Walsall, still trying to get my head around what it meant to represent young people. It would be an understatement to say I was blown away by all the different, yet like-minded young people who wanted to bring about positive change in their communities, and it was the British Youth Council that brought them together.
I’ve been so lucky to have had amazing opportunities in my life. Investigating racial and religious discrimination through the Youth Select Committee and making an impassioned speech at the House of Commons on the topic of mental health are the first to come to mind. These are all opportunities that someone from my background could only have dreamt of, yet it was the British Youth Council that helped them materialise. The charity has enabled countless young people to be able to not only help their own communities but also develop their own skills and talents. Young people from all walks of life have become passionate educators, driven social activists, and inspirational human rights lawyers to name a few, and the British Youth Council has helped them on that journey.
The thing is, it’s the people that make the British Youth Council. Its diverse membership, its inspiring young people, its wonderful staff. I’ve been truly nurtured by the British Youth Council along my personal journey, as many others I know have too; in particular, I have to mention Anna Sterckx and Andrea Ugrinoska, two people for whom it would be impossible to overstate the influence they have had in making me who I am today. I also want to give special mention to Dave Morris, Halima Yusuf and Samayya Afzal for continuing the British Youth Council amazing international legacy. After all, the team that work at the British Youth Council have given all of their time and energy to selflessly help young people to fulfil their potential, in a world where it’s pretty tough to do that. They would never ask for it, but I’m confident that I speak for many of us when I express a huge amount of gratitude for what they have done.
From a broader perspective, the British Youth Council is internationally recognised as a pioneering model on how to encourage youth participation and youth empowerment, and I’m really excited to take some of charity’s best practices to support the growth of other youth organisations across the Commonwealth. Young people face some significant challenges right now, from surging youth unemployment to a rapidly rising cost of living to a mental health crisis that has only worsened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s more important than ever for young people to mobilise across the world and fight for a sustainable, equitable and brighter future.
We now have truly global positions of influence, following Tom Matthew’s phenomenal achievement of being elected to the European Youth Forum board, and now the UK’s seat on the Commonwealth Youth Forum. This is a really exciting time for young people in the UK, and in particular the British Youth Council’s member organisations, to have a direct channel into international advocacy and many more opportunities to engage with the Commonwealth.
I wrote this just off the back of attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda along with Elif and Will; this is a major example of how we can engage with young people internationally. After being postponed for two years, CHOGM and the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) were widely anticipated, and they didn’t disappoint. Hundreds of young people descended on the stunning city of Kigali to connect, brainstorm solutions and demonstrate to the world that we are not just the leaders of tomorrow, but we are firmly also the leaders of today. In particular, I’m so proud of Elif Emma True and William Awomoyi, who are the UK’s representatives to the Commonwealth Youth Council, for their relentless work in improving how the council works and for being the most incredible advocates the UK could ask for.
It goes without saying that I owe a lot to the British Youth Council, not least for this momentous achievement with the Commonwealth Youth Council. And in spite of funding challenges, the British Youth Council will continue to empower the current and future generations in just the same way. So I want to sign off on this call to action:
If you’ve engaged with the British Youth Council before in any shape or form, I hope it was a fulfilling experience. Please give back in any way you can, whether it’s raising awareness or raising money. And I’m certain that all the skills and experiences that you developed along the way with the British Youth Council are already indirectly helping others.
If you are involved with a youth organisation with a view to fighting an injustice that you’ve seen happen or felt happen, please do connect with the British Youth Council. We are always stronger when we are working together.
And finally, if you’re a young person in the UK who wants to change the world, and you want to channel your passion to make that change happen, then perhaps the British Youth Council is the home for you.