Commonwealth Youth Forum 2018
After tireless months of planning, late nights and sheer hard work, the Commonwealth Forums and subsequent Heads of Government Meeting is complete! It has been an incredible summit and it’s a shame it’s already over, but now the real work begins: continuing the legacy of CYF 2018.
Before we get to that, though, the Forum! CYF was an opportunity to really discuss issues that countries across the Commonwealth face, and building partnerships with delegates across the 53 member states to achieve a better society. What brings us together are the common problems that we have to address, like climate change.
Climate change has ravaged countries around the world. In fact, the only reason this summit is being hosted by the UK is because floods destroyed the island of Vanuatu. On top of that, species like the snow leopard are becoming extinct, the globe is warming and the Great Barrier Reef is dying. I was really glad the sustainability and blue-green economies formed the cornerstone of CHOGM 2018, because if we don’t look at ourselves in the mirror, then we’re at real risk of totally irreparable damage to the world.
But hey, I promise this blog isn’t too morbid! It was a refreshing experience and truly renewed my optimism towards the future.
The Forum (unofficially) began on Sunday. It was a day facilitated by the National Citizen Service, where delegates were able to explore London and initiate the conversation around issues before the grand opening the next day. Even though I’m from the UK, it was lovely walking around my beautiful city and enjoying its sights, and above all, seeing the looks of amazement on those who had travelled for hours upon hours to be here.
Then came the actual day we had all been looking forward to. I hadn’t been up for 6am in a long time, so this took some getting used to. The UK delegates arrived at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre to listen to keynote speeches for the opening of the Forum, with Prince Harry’s appearance being a highlight. It was amazing to hear him announce himself as the new Ambassador to the Commonwealth; I look forward to him championing that cause. After a day of workshops based on the four pillars of prosperity, sustainability, security and fairness, I attended the Welcome to London reception. Boy, what an event! From foods found across the Commonwealth to stunning performances (a huge shout out to Ellie Goulding) to an appearance out of nowhere by Prince William, it was a great opportunity to meet with delegates from the four forums and connect with other young people a more informal setting. Day 1 really set the precedent for the rest of the week.
Day 2 began with a inter-forum session. Andrew Holness, the Jamaican Prime Minister, delivered a rousing speech, reminding us about the damage that empire has caused globally. This was after the Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke about the importance of the Commonwealth and how it remains relevant to this day. With pledges for funding to support Commonwealth states and to parts of the youth sector, it was a positive moment for youth empowerment and we’ll be sure to ensure these promises are delivered. And to top it all off, Bill Gates took the stage to point out how far the world has come in terms of child mortality, and how, despite all the horrors that seem to happen daily, we have progressed massively.
In between more insightful sessions, there was the ‘Big Lunch’, which celebrated cultures in the most universal way: food. This continued to a day full of policy planning, where delegates worked together to design ideas to include in the CYF communiqué. It was a pretty busy and exhausting day, but it climaxed with a magical concert hosted by Global Citizen Live. Featuring high-profile speakers such as the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, the night highlighted the fantastic achievements by charities around the world, and culminated with Emeli Sandé lighting up the stage (also quite literally).
And then came the final day. This was primarily about the General Assembly, where each country’s voting delegates debated policy and procedural motions. It was a momentous moment for many reasons, including the British Overseas Territories obtaining voting rights and also Europe finally getting its own representative on the Commonwealth Youth Council! While the debate got heated, controversial, and outright awkward at times, it was great step forward for young people across the Commonwealth. A personal highlight was the adoption of mental health as a priority for the CYC. The CYC overall adopted policy recommendations that we will use as our basis for the legacy work we plan to do post-CYF, you can check them out here.
See, I love surprises as much as the next person, which basically mean I don’t. But the surprise of being invited to the majestic Sky Gardens to meet the Heads of State and Foreign Ministers of all the 53 Commonwealth countries was pretty unbelievable. It was an incredibly honour to promote ideas regarding young people to figures such as the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau; the evening culminated in speaking to the Prime Minister of the UK about climate change and youth entrepreneurship.
And voilà! The curtain call. Sky Gardens brought an end to an exhilarating, draining and bright Forum to launch a drive for a stronger society. I want to say a huge thank you first and foremost to Ellen and Andrea, who made sure Thrinayani and I were fully equipped for the week. The entire Cabinet Office Team working mindblowing hours put in heroic effort to make this all happen, and for that we are incredibly grateful. And finally, a massive amount of appreciation must be placed on the inspirational delegates that attended this Forum in the hope of pursuing a better future for the generations now and to come, with particular praise for the 50 UK delegates who made their respective organisations and us proud.
That’s all from me. Stay tuned with the projects Thrinayani and I develop to continue the legacy of this very significant week. We refuse to let this to be a summit of empty promises and false hope, but rather a turning point for the UK, the Commonwealth and indeed the world.
Namir Rahim Chowdhury
UK Ambassador to the Commonwealth