2023 is an important year! It’s the Commonwealth Year of Youth. At the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting 2022 (CHOGM), leaders declared that 2023 would be the Commonwealth Year of Youth – coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. It’s no secret that, with a population of 1.5 billion people, young people make up 60% of the Commonwealth and have increasingly become a greater stakeholder and resource for the Commonwealth.
On March 13, fellow UK Young Ambassador to the Commonwealth Elif True and I were invited to the Commonwealth Day Service at Westminster Abbey – the focus of which was ‘Forging a sustainable and peaceful common future’. In order to forge such a future, young people must be involved in the decision-making and governance processes, given that we are the greatest stakeholders in the future.
But young people are also stakeholders in the present. Our combined population of 1.5 billion in the Commonwealth is not a future estimate, but a present reality. Therefore, it’s not enough to look to young people as future leaders – we must not overlook young people in the present.
How should decision-makers ensure that this year really is the year of youth?
Simply put, countries must start investing in their youth.
Youth are an important resource in driving the economy, carrying culture and good governance. They must be taken seriously and invested in if countries want to reap the benefits of youth empowerment.
The economic potential of young people must be unleashed through a focus on human capital development. Governments must work with private partners to upskill young people, so that young people will have the technical skills and relevant education to navigate the 4th Industrial revolution i.e. developments in AI, Blockchain and the Internet of things. In a recent consultation that I took part in with the British Council, I mentioned the need for public-private partnerships around providing technical scholarships to young people. This could take the form of 2-4 month Coding/ Machine Learning bootcamps etc. Human capital development does not only relate to gaining technical knowledge but should also relate to gaining a deeper knowledge of the world around us. Young people feel as though the education they are being taught does not correspond to their reality. Institutionalised education should be re-examined so that it can better reflect those realities.
Young people are large stakeholders within the population and much of culture is what young people carry. Stakeholders need to invest in the unbounded imagination of youth and promote creativity. This could go from funding more youth art exhibitions, award shows and projects to promoting an entrepreneurial startup culture. Currently, I’m working on the 4th Commonwealth Youth Work Conference, which aims to celebrate youth work, explore pathways for collaboration with external professions and consolidate advocacy among Commonwealth countries. While it’s a pleasure to work on this, I would like to see more conferences of this nature that are focused on promoting and celebrating youth work, as it’s often a huge part of civil society that goes unnoticed.
In order to truly have good governance, large swathes of the population cannot be disenfranchised. In the UK, young people make up around 35% of the population and are not sufficiently represented in decision-making processes. The regular excuse for a lack of youth representation given by decision-makers is that governance should be value-oriented and not based on demographic breakdown. While I agree that governance should be value-oriented, it is also quite telling that 35% of the population is overlooked in the decision making process. This signifies that perhaps the methods of governance are not working as they should. To solve this dilemma, young people who are willing and able should be able to get involved in governance.
In an answer to a question that I asked Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey (Ghanaian Foreign Minister) on the topic of the Commonwealth Year of Youth at Chatham House, she said:
“I would like to see the youth take the stage, telling us what they want from us and demanding their rights to be part of decision-making”Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey
Hopefully this blog has done exactly that.