Over the past month or so myself and a few others from the British Youth Council have been fortunate enough to be UK delegates for the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), which took place in April this year as apart of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London. Our ages ranged between 18 to 30 years, and the forum gave us an opportunity to interact with young people from other countries in the Commonwealth.
The UK delegates started off their journey on the 12th of March, which was Commonwealth Day, we were fortunate enough to be invited to Number 10 Downing Street for a private Q and A with Lord Ahmed who is the current Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN. He gave us an insight to what the Commonwealth is about, the work they do and how fundamental young people are to the Commonwealth due to the fact 60% of the Commonwealth’s population is aged 18-30. We also attended a mixed faith service at Westminster Abbey which celebrated the cultural diversity of the Commonwealth with vibrant performances and readings.
On Sunday 15th April a majority of the delegates from across the Commonwealth then gathered in London for the starting of the Commonwealth Forum on the Monday. For the youth forum there was an outreach task that took place at London City Hall and was hosted by the UK’s National Citizenship Service (NCS). The day was opened by the CEO of NCS, Michael Lynas, who spoke to us about the origins and purpose of the programme. Sunday was the first time that all delegates met each other from across the Commonwealth. To be mixed in with an array of cultures, given a set of tasks to achieve in a short amount of time; we bonded quickly while learning about the differences between the Commonwealth countries. We also received sessions from Bite the Ballot later in the day, which covered a range of topics from climate change to security.
The Forum itself started on Monday with speeches from Prince Harry, as a Youth Ambassador to the Commonwealth, Kishva Ambigapathy the Chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Anna Barker Chair of the British Youth Council, UN Youth Envoy Jayathma Wickramanayake and Secretary of State for Education Damian Hinds. The delegates then moved into sessions that were based around the core themes of CHOGM.
The four themes were; Fairness, Sustainability, Security and Prosperity. I attended the Sustainability session on the Monday which looked at designing actions plans to implement a policy of educating and recruiting citizens to be involved in Blue (oceans) and Green (agricultural) economies. In my group we devised the plan of creating a network of professionals to educate groups of people in countries across the Commonwealth and have them deliver sessions about blue and green economies in schools and other places of education across the Commonwealth. The professionals would then work with corporate and international companies to educate in how to develop their environmentally friendly and sustainable practices. On the Wednesday at the Youth Forum’s General Assembly our action plan was accepted after discussion and a vote. The four workshops ran throughout Monday and Tuesday in a similar structure. Fairness looked at ways to enable every person to have equal opportunities and be treated equally by their governments. The security sessions looked at new online cyber-crime threats and how we were to resolve and reduce the problems they are causing. While the prosperity sessions looked at the in balance of big and small economies across the Commonwealth and the ways that it can be solved.
On Monday evening there was a cross forum ‘Welcome to the UK’ reception, which gave an opportunity for the youth forum to interact with the Peoples, Women’s and Business forums. As well as hear a welcoming speech from Prince William and performances from a gospel choir and Ellie Goulding.
On the Tuesday, there was another cross forum event which was a panel formed of Prime Minister Theresa May, Bill Gates, Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland and the Prime Minister of Jamaica, Andrew Holmes. Prime Minister Theresa May stressed the importance of young people and their views across the Commonwealth and announced that she will be supporting decriminalising homosexual relationships within the 36 Commonwealth countries that still criminalise LGBT persons. Bill Gates spoke to us about the work of him and his wife’s foundation to help eradicate Polio and hopefully Malaria across Commonwealth and other countries, and the level of success they have achieved. The forums then split off and carried on with their conversations in sessions on the conferences core four themes.
Wednesday was the last day of the forum, the Commonwealth General Assembly, which has two representatives from every country. They heard all of the action plans from the workshops on Monday and Tuesday, passing the ones they preferred. During the General Assembly there were also a series of skill building workshops for the delegates to participate in.
A massive part of the forum was on the social and networking side. The large amount of young people from across the Commonwealth together gave an opportunity for myself and the other delegates to hear about other projects that are going on in the Commonwealth. When talking to other countries such as Kenya, Canada, Australia and Jamaica we found that they have similar key issues in their countries such as mental health, education and youth participation. Talking to each other gave us a chance to learn what policies and practises are working, why they are working and ways to implement their best practises in the UK. The designated networking and social time within the forum gave a chance to make contacts across the Commonwealth, and since the conference have continued.
The Commonwealth Youth Forum was a fantastic opportunity and experience, which has influenced the way myself and the other delegates think about the Commonwealth and the work that goes on inside it. It has also open many doors to creating international projects on commonly shared topics.