On 16 May, myself and fellow UK Young Ambassador William Awomoyi co-chaired a special All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Youth Affairs session on international youth voice at Portcullis House. Joined by MPs, representatives from the YMCA, Chatham House, the rest of our fantastic UK Young Ambassador team (Elif, Cameron and Samaira) as well as over 100 young participants, we gathered to discuss all things international youth representation: what it means, why we need more investment into such programmes and why young people should have access to more international exchange opportunities.
After a welcoming introduction from Jo Gideon MP, chair of APPG on Youth Affairs, we began with the panel forum. William started by sharing his recollections of last year’s Commonwealth Youth Forum summit in Kigali, Rwanda, what it meant to represent the UK, and his work to influence the final text of the youth communiqué which was sent to the Commonwealth Heads of Government. He also spoke on his current efforts around the Commonwealth Year of Youth celebrations, including organising the 2023 Commonwealth Conference on Youth Work due to take place this July.
Given this APPG session marked our second high-profile event on international youth representation, I began my remarks with an update on our UN Youth Delegate campaign. After a brief introduction reminding everyone why we are calling on the Government to reestablish this vital programme, I mentioned how far we had come since our last event presenting at Chatham House. With the research and proposal-writing stages now complete, I emphasised that we had finally reached the campaign’s lobbying phase and will begin negotiating with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO).
After my minutes-long rant about our UN Youth Delegate efforts, I turned to some of my recent work at the European Youth Forum pushing for issues such as Votes at 16, supporting the extension of Erasmus+ to non-EU countries, to my most recent efforts passing an urgent resolution expressing solidarity with young asylum seekers facing persecution.
Following captivating remarks from Elif, Samaira, Cameron and several other headline panel speakers, we turned to the Q&A part of the evening. Having encouraged the audience to act in the spirit of democratic accountability and “grill us” with their questions, I am glad to say that between the panellists, we covered a wide range of topics from youth, peace and security in the context of Ukraine and Sudan to the impact of mental health, unpaid internships, and the cost-living crisis on young people.
Throughout these topic-specific discussions, William, Elif and I – reiterating our dual-track roles as UK Young Ambassadors – shared our work nationally and with our Commonwealth and European partners to tackle these fronts. To give just one example, I was asked a question by an attendee who wondered if we had done anything to support Turkish youth affected by the devastating February earthquakes. In response, I mentioned that at a recent European Youth Forum GA, I had recently voted in for a motion by the Turkish Youth Council which condemned shrinking youth spaces in Turkey and called for damaged youth centres to be rebuilt.
While some had technical queries surrounding the structure of our envisioned UN Youth Delegate proposal, others were keen to know about our respective journeys and how we ended up representing the British Youth Council internationally. Some wondered what element of our mandate we were most proud of – to which Will and I instantaneously agreed that our UN Youth Delegate campaign effort was our proudest achievement. Here, Samaira and Cameron spoke about their experience working as international associates; sharing heartwarming reasons behind why they applied to join our team and work on a campaign they feel so strongly and passionate about.
And the questions did not stop there. In addition to the many direct questions the panel received, several audience members also recalled their experiences interacting with young people and sharing their struggles. Here is where the room reached a consensus: the audience made clear that if the Government truly cared about empowering young people, they must be front and centre in creating new avenues for formalised youth participation nationally and internationally. The verdict was clear; the audience, the panellists, and several youth organisations present strongly supported our call for UN Youth Delegates.
In total honesty, our team never expected the audience to be this engaged. Not only was it spectacular to see so many questions raised, but to see the room buzzing with excitement, energy, and openness was genuinely humbling.
To top it all off, once the event finished, we were approached by dozens of attendants who wanted to pitch their ideas, share their stories, ask follow-up questions or just chat with us. Beyond providing the perfect end to a thrilling event, this validated our longstanding belief that the key to being a good youth representative is to decentralise power, build new youth platforms and, most importantly, promote a transparent dialogue.
Onwards and upwards!