British Youth Council Trustee, Larissa Kennedy, comments on the Voter ID pilots undertaken at the Local Elections in 2018.
Throughout history, the power of the vote and, equal access to voting, is something that so many have fought for – with young people being some of those who continue that battle to this day. It seems oxymoronic that, in the year that we are celebrating the centenary of the extension of the franchise to some women, and 90 years since the vote was extended to all women and men over 21, that we are simultaneously putting barriers in the way of people accessing their vote.
The government’s Democratic Engagement Plan should be doing what it says on the tin – engaging people in democracy. And it’s sub heading – ‘Building A Democracy That Works For Everyone’ – is absolutely a principle that we can get behind. But we’re concerned that current actions could actually do the opposite. In May this year there were pilots that require people to produce ID at the polling stations before they could vote in the local elections. In Swindon and Watford, you had to take your poll card to the polling station; in Bromley and Gosport, you needed one piece of photo identification, like a passport or driving licence, or two pieces of non photo ID, such as a recent bank or credit card statement and utility bill of which one must contain your address; and in Woking, you needed photo identification, like a passport, driving licence or senior bus pass.
This is a move to prevent electoral fraud but this doesn’t seem up to add up. An evaluation of this pilot by the Electoral Commission has shown that whilst only three allegations of this type of voter fraud have been made in non-pilot areas, at the same election around 350 people turned up to vote, were turned away for not having the correct ID and did not come back. In Watford there was a correlation between the proportion of a ward’s population that is Asian/British Asian and the number of people who turned up without identification and did not return. And under 35s and people in the lowest social classes (C2DE) were amongst the least likely to have received the messages about the requirement to have ID to be able to vote.
Why the British Youth Council is speaking out on this?
Numerous studies from the US prove that strict rules about voter ID make it harder for marginalised groups to engage with politics – this could further disenfranchise not only young people, but also the elderly, disabled people, trans and gender non-conforming people, people of colour, and the homeless.
The British Youth Council has always supported young voters. In the past, we’ve run voter registration campaigns because we’re passionate about ensuring that young voters can access their vote. Now, we’re standing in solidarity with the Electoral Reform Society, researchers, and numerous organisations representing marginalised voting communities, including Race On The Agenda, The LGBT Foundation, Liberty and Age UK just to name a few, calling on the government to reconsider this approach.
In all elections and referenda, all eligible people should be able to exercise their democratic right. It is crucial for that we stand up for this right, and the British Youth Council – as always – will continue to fight for young’s voices people to be heard.
Member of Youth Parliament for Leeds, Sylvia Cullen, reflects on the Government’s announcement on guidance for schools
This new guidance is exactly the sort of forward thinking and developed framework that I believe young people need. As technology develops and becomes more advanced our lives become more complicated and new difficulties arise. By making it compulsory for schools to teach their pupils how to say safe online they are equipping them for life in our modern era and helping vital life skills to develop.
Also, mental and physical health come hand in hand, with poor physical health often leading to a decline mental health, and vice versa, and thus it is vital that we as young people are all taught how to look after ourselves in both respects. The new exam system is placing more pressure than ever on our young people and this newly published guidance indicates that steps are being made to help us look after ourselves amongst the pressure that we face.
Throughout our education we have the importance of friendship reinforced frequently but, until now, have never been offered much guidance in the way of maintaining and strengthening these relationships. This new guidance indicates that this will no longer be the case and that young people will now be taught how to keep relationships healthy and fruitful, which I hold to be highly important if we are to teach our young people self respect and to respect others.
The Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, Secretary of State for Education, has just announced that, in a move affecting all schools across the country from September 2020, the government will introduce mandatory relationships and health education in schools. This will add to current schooling guidance on online safety, mental and physical health, financial literacy, and relationships, in what represents “a major step in addressing concerns about consistency of quality and reduced curriculum time for PSHE”.
This follows work from a vast array of sources: the PSHE (Personal, Social, Health and Economic) Association, tens of thousands of young people across the UK, and from the British Youth Council’s own Youth Select Committee and UK Youth Parliament.
It’s not as if the signs haven’t been there. Young people have been campaigning to leave school with a “good level of understanding of mental health… (with) the ability to understand and develop their own mental wellbeing” (Youth Select Committee 2015 ), and almost 120,000 young people voted mental health services as their top priority in the 2017 Make Your Mark ballot. Young people want education that is fit for purpose, education that serves to better the understanding of key topics facing them today. Young people are living in a world where mental health and wellbeing is ever more crucial to understand, with 75% of young people with a mental health problem not receiving treatment, depression being the biggest cause of ill health among teenagers around the world , and the most common reason for Childline Counselling sessions in 2016/17 being mental and emotional health.
The painting is a grim one.
In my capacity as a trustee of the British Youth Council, and in my work in the youth sector over the last eight years, I have worked with thousands of young people. I will never forget the mum of a girl I worked with at a youth club, in one of my first positions engaging with young people, who I sat down with and explained that depression didn’t mean there was anything wrong with her daughter, and that it didn’t make her ‘different’. We eventually decided to roll the mental health talk out to the group, as it was clearly not something they had heard before.
To see her daughter, who was a gem, coming out of her shell and getting excited and confident on a club trip to the seaside later that year, unshackled by negative perceptions of her own mental health, and with friends who understood her was and is one of my most rewarding experiences working with young people to date.
What I’m trying to say is, it’s great that the government is rolling this out. It’s needed, though. It’s badly needed.
When YouGov find that more than half of young people “feel embarrassed about mental illness”, when last year’s Youth Select Committee conclude that “body dissatisfaction causes long-lasting consequences for young people”, it feels like the government have only made a small step in the right direction.
Updating guidance that was last updated in 2000 is a positive start.
Ensuring children grow up to “become happy and well-rounded individuals who know how to deal with the challenges of the modern world” is crucial.
I warmly welcome the government listening to young people, but cannot stress enough the urgency of this problem, and a warning against piecemeal action. Creating PSHE that works for young people, makes them healthy, happy citizens, is of vital importance over the years to come.
We’re on the right path, but we’re not there yet.
With EU funding, Erasmus+, the situations in Hungary and Syria, sustainable development, and Brexit on the agenda, it was of little surprise that the recent General Assembly meeting of the European Youth Forum ran over into the night. However, a very late dinner even by Italian standards was a sacrifice worth making to obtain something which in business and politics alike has as yet to be obtained, a continental consensus on at least some aspects of Brexit. This outcome could only be dreamed for as Lucia and I embarked on the task of creating a politically neutral paper outlining young peoples thoughts about Brexit in October 2017, using qualitative methods to create an ironclad representation of the mood of Britains youth.
The meeting itself, which takes place twice a year, was this time in Brussels and had a focus on the future of Europe with extensive discussion devoted to sustainability and what it meant to be European. At the beginning of the weekend, we were split into discussion groups of EU and non-EU countries, which is simpler said than done from a British perspective. In the end, I decided to venture into the unknown and join Russia, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland etc in the aptly chosen ‘London’ conference room for the non-EU discussion, whereas Lucia joined in with the EU discussions next door. We all agreed that we must protect our planet, democracy and human rights, however I felt some unease in the proposition that programmes should be created to imbue children and young people with a greater sense of European identity. I couldn’t help exchanging ‘European’ with educating young people to be ‘British’ or ‘Scottish’, which in both cases could foster nationalism and a concept of exceptionalism. Really, as a rule we should always treat with extreme caution attempts by those in a position of power should educate young people on how to think politically. Rather than education to be good Europeans, we should focus on educating young people to be good human beings and think critically for themselves.
Before we got to our paper on Brexit, we discussed and voted on a few other quite necessary policy papers which proved considerably more controversial than our own. Weighing in at 56 pages the paper on the next multi-annual financial framework, essentially our ideas for the future budget of the EU, was passed with a commitment to Erasmusx10 and a focus on funding youth organisations. After this came a document on sustainable development which included fiery language concerning private ownership, wage labour, nationalisation, and broken democracy which sought to create a ‘new economy’ to transform the world and change our greedy ways. Certainly, it probably pushed the boundaries of remaining politically and ideologically neutral quite far beyond what would be expected in the UK and elsewhere, and as a result efforts were made to create more friendly language which in most cases succeeded. What concerned me most though were points demanding the education of children and young people in the ‘new economy’ (ending of private ownership, abolition of wage labour etc.) in schools and youth groups, which is as ludicrous an idea as it is dangerous. All in all though the vast majority of this paper had good intentions and sought to improve our relationship with the environment and each other which should always be championed.
Finally, after 3 days of workshops and discussions, already several hours behind schedule, it was time for the Brexit paper to be put before the meeting. Essentially this paper, roughly covers the issues of discrimination, environment, northern Ireland border, an overview of the economy, erasmus+, free movement and our future role in withdrawal negotiations. However, representing young people across the UK both remainers and leavers we kept this paper with feet firmly planted in a space which the vast majority, if not nearly everyone, could agree with. As such, it includes demands such as remaining part of the Erasmus programme, or at very least match the funding it offers, maintain all environmental legislation currently in force or even enhance it, take greater steps to mitigate hate in the aftermath of the referendum, and to place continued peace as the top priority in the resolution of the northern Irish border dispute. But the most crucial point of all, hammered home time and time again in this paper, is that these concerns cannot be filled away and ignored but be listened to and acted upon by our government, and the EU governments, negotiation teams. This strikes at the heart of the reason for this paper being created, chiefly to amplify our voice beyond the saturated lobbying zone of London and across the channel to London where the action really is. However, without the anchorage of the youth forum in Brussels with its networks and expertise, we might as well be shouting it out from the cliffs of Dover. It is for this reason that I am delighted to report, after the controversy of the previous discussions, we were given from Iceland to Azerbaijan, Malta to Finland, a 100% approval for this paper to be taken forward as a motion of support opening the doors for many more exciting things to come both here in the UK and in the rest of Europe. Nevertheless, expectations for what this paper can achieve must be realistic, it is not a manifesto in which we foresee its objectives being ticked off one by one but rather a mission statement. We are young, but we can put forward our views with head as well as heart. If you speak to us, you may well find a new perspective that reinvigorates discussion and ideas, with our presence alone a stark reminder of the damaging repercussions every decision made could have for generations to come.
Over the past couple of years, I have been thinking about impact and wanted to take this moment in Small Charity Week to reflect on what I have learnt and what it means for the British Youth Council.
Three things I have learnt:
- ‘Measuring’ impact is hard. It’s not always recognised in conversations and work around impact but it’s essential to do so. For an organisation there is no simple answer, no magic tool or resource which if you could just find the time to implement will ensure you are consistently delivering and able to evidence the positive impact you are having on individuals and communities. You have to be open to asking challenging questions, be honest in your responses, and be prepared for a process of continuous review and learning. You have to be prepared to accept you might not be having a positive impact, or not in the ways you intend, and then review what this means. This is before you even look at what we are trying to measure, the fact impact may not be seen until years down the line, young people have a multitude of influences and experiences which impact their lives. None of this is easy.
- We should aim to improve not prove. One way to move forward and feel less overwhelmed about the task ahead is to shift thinking from attempting to prove what we do works, to ensuring the quality of our programmes and making improvements where we can. This immediately brings in some breathing space, reduces pressure and challenges the culture that sees monitoring and evaluation as a burden we endure to prove ourselves to others, allowing us to focus attention and energy on what really matters. Bethia McNeil has blogged more about this here.
- Funders aren’t the bad guys. Because of a culture of attempting to prove ourselves to funders, rather than seeking to improve the quality of our work, we have often fallen into an unhealthy cycle that sees us collecting endless data, turning it in every quarter, never looking at it again, never sure that it’s been read, blaming the funder for the whole process. I don’t think this is uncommon and there are definitely examples of poor practice on both sides – we’re still untangling the effects of one funder’s decision a few years ago to add some last minute KPIs to our contract, based on the KPIs for another (very different, much larger) programme they also fund. I have come to the conclusion that the key here is being able to demonstrate a clear plan and how you will test it, allowing you to be open and confident about what you can offer as evidence (and what you can’t). Funders have experience and expertise to share, have the same priority of creating the best opportunities for young people, and appreciate open and honest conversations. Having these conversations is the only way we can change the narrative.
Three things I am looking forward to:
One of the goals of the British Youth Council’s new three-year strategy is that ‘we will understand and showcase meaningful change’. We will be articulating a clear plan of what we aim to achieve across our programmes and testing it. We are fortunate that our CEO and Trustee leading on this area of the strategy are supportive of the approaches above, encouraging a focus on improving quality, ensuring we can continue to achieve the best results for young people. In particular, in the coming months I will be focusing on:
- Creating a theory of change for the NHS Youth Forum We have the first residential of the 2018-19 Youth Forum at the end of the month and have recently recruited two new staff members to work on this project. I have used the opportunity of new energy and ideas to go back to basics, asking what our aims are for this work, and how are we monitoring progress and improving at every opportunity. Our commissioners at NHS England have been included in these conversations and are completely supportive and involved in moving this forward so we can all communicate the impact of this project more confidently.
- Releasing a series of films about our work. In 2017, part funded by Erasmus Plus, we commissioned a film maker to follow us round for a year. He became part of our event team, capturing behind the scenes footage and personal journeys as young people made their way through a year in our Youth Voice programme. We have released some of the films, but have a range still to release throughout this (our 70th!) year to bring to life and share stories about the impact that our work has on individuals and communities.
- Talking and sharing with others. Most of my thoughts and our direction has been shaped in conversation with others across the sector, in particular the work of the Centre for Youth Impact and a recent day led by Generation Change introducing their Impact Accelerator. As a small charity navigating the world of impact, these spaces and networks are invaluable and we will keep seeking collaborations and conversations. I am happy to share what we do (and don’t do), where our challenges are, what we’re excited about and more, so get in touch.
From the 6-8th April, Ewan and I were in Utrecht to attend the BICC meeting (Benelux, Islands, Central Cooperation) which held the theme of refugees.
Arriving in Utrecht, we were ready to meet the other National Youth Councils and begin the sessions. Led expertly by Coco Peet and Max van de Braggen, with help from other members of the NYC it was a professional and well thought out sessions that were treated with incredible respect and dignity.
What we found particularly moving were the talks given by refugees that have moved to Amsterdam, who gave insight into their experiences of moving from a country that wasn’t safe to their new country. Not assimilation but integration. From the discussions arose an interesting point, that whilst the children of refugee families are in school and can access help with language and mental health, the parents are often left forgotten at home with little connection to the outside world. Perhaps access to resources such as language can be looked at, in order to allow adult refugees to learn and feel a greater sense of stability.
We also met to discuss and analyse the result of our National dialogue sessions, where each NYC discussed with migrants of their own country the challenges and experiences they face in everyday life. We received feedback on the answers we gave and discussed the outcomes of the dialogue, and how opinions of migration differed in each country. The provision of help and the attitudes towards refugees differed from country to country and it was beneficial to hear these stories from the perspective of a migrant.
We also worked on two policy papers, giving our opinions to then be turned into amendments for consideration at the Council of Members meeting. The papers were 2020 MFF and a paper on Sustainable Development. Both meetings resulted in diverse and thorough questions to emerge, which will be put forward as amendments later this month.
Finally, we looked at the methods we could use in our own countries to increase help given to migrants and refugees. We split the challenges that most commonly arose from the national dialogue sessions into different categories and then each NYC contributed to the lists with their country’s policy in mind. This allows us to take actionable steps to improve our services for migrants and refugees in our respective countries.
This was an incredibly moving and insightful meeting, that I have taken many new ideas and opinions from. Hopefully, moving forward, we can make Britain a more welcoming and open place for all.
UKYA for the European Youth Forum
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.
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
This was my second internship working in international relations, but my first time working in the youth sector. Growing up I wasn’t very engaged in youth politics, so now having worked for the British Youth Council (BYC) it has showed me how accomplished the young people are that we work with and the amazing work BYC does for young people in the UK. Technically, I’m still a young person at 24, so this internship has supported both my personal and professional development.
The purpose of my internship was to help manage BYC’s Commonwealth work, which I coordinated with the Cabinet Office and the Commonwealth Secretariat. My knowledge of the Commonwealth before this internship was like many other people in the UK, I knew that it stemmed from the British Empire, the Queen is the head and there are the Commonwealth Games every four years. Through this internship, I learnt about the Commonwealth’s structure, governance and its work that supports the 53 Commonwealth countries. The Commonwealth’s work is particularly relevant to young people as 60% of the Commonwealth’s population is under 30. Thus the CYF and the participation of young people are essential to Commonwealth’s relevance in global matters.
During my six month internship, the key events I helped to organise were Commonwealth Day and the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) which were both successful, but a little stressful to organise at times. Commonwealth Day involved a Q&A at Number 10 Downing Street with Lord Ahmad, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and UN (and briefly Prime Minister Theresa May) then after a mixed faith service at Westminster Abbey. The CYF was a three-day conference as a part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London, this forum brings together young people from across the Commonwealth to network, debate and discuss action plans to help tackle the challenges in the Commonwealth.
I worked with a diverse group of young people from across the UK, who represented the UK and BYC member organisations as delegates at the CYF. My responsibilities included selecting delegates, booking transport, disseminating information and liaising with our delivery partners and relevant stakeholders. The best part of this job was working with young people who are passionate about youth participation and ensuring their voice is heard in international matters. This motivated me to make sure are young delegates were truly engaged with the CYF and the Commonwealth. This is why it is super important for youth-led organisations like BYC to be included at all levels of national and international politics to help ensure young people’s voices are heard. Like many high-level international events, it is questionable whether they are spaces for meaningful engagement of young people with decision makers; however these Commonwealth events were at least spaces for young people to learn, develop and contribute their ideas. In reality, the real power of the Commonwealth is on the ground and with Commonwealth citizens; this was reflected throughout the young delegates’ stories at the CYF.
This internship has developed my understanding of international relations, advocacy, event management, logistics, project coordination and partnership building. The purpose of an internship is to learn, and this experience has been a huge learning curve for me. It has provided the opportunity to grow in my career by letting me take the lead on all my work. Also, my time at BYC wouldn’t have been as great if it weren’t for the amazing BYC team, every staff member and trustee has been more than welcoming and supportive, it’s impressive to see how a small team can make such a big impact. I have developed transferable skills for my next role in international relations and development…whatever that may be.
8am Monday morning. We’ve already been at the QEII for an hour. Delegates are beginning to arrive, and the buzz of excitement and anticipation is rife in the air. That energy fades and is replaced with a crowd of early 20-somethings holding their breath as His Royal Highness Prince Harry is escorted in. But, I’m getting ahead of myself slightly. Rewind to another Monday morning, 7 months earlier; it’s October and another group of 20-somethings are nervously gathered in Marlborough House beginning the talks that will lead us to the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2018.
I’m Luke Oliver, I’m 23 and a member of the CYF International Taskforce. Back in October of 2017, I gathered with others to help plan the forum that was then delivered to around 300 delegates from across the Commonwealth. The International Taskforce was made up of about 15 young people because if you want to combat youth issues you can only do that by having youth involved. We were tasked with focusing the forum on four key areas designed to help improve the Commonwealth’s ‘Common Future’; these areas were sustainability, prosperity, fairness & security.
The work began by dividing the Taskforce into three main sub-teams: programmes, policy, and communications. The programmes team began by taking the four pillars as guidelines and then honing them to create areas of interest that affect the youth of the Commonwealth. This meant thinking about cyber security for an ever-growing world; equality for all minorities and acknowledging the richness that those minorities can bring to society, to climate change and the impact that is going to have on us as we inherit the Commonwealth but also the generations of Commonwealth youth to come; cyber security for an ever-growing world. Now, these weren’t thoughts that came from one meeting in October, they were ruminated over many months in the lead up to CHOGM in collaboration with the policy team who listened to the conceptual ideas and then wrote the communique that delegates got to work with, and create action plans for, during the forum. Meanwhile, the communications team aided with campaigns to raise the awareness and engagement of youth in the Commonwealth in the lead up to April.
It’s now April, CHOGM and the Commonwealth Youth Forum are here. All the delegates have arrived and now the work really begins. The forum has been split into two major strands of events: plenaries and break-out sessions. There were four plenaries, one for each pillar, containing young people who are experts in their fields discussing the work they’re doing in their communities across the Commonwealth in the hopes to share success stories, not so successful stories and best practice with the delegates and hopefully impart knowledge on how delegates can better improve their own communities. The second strand was the break-out sessions. This is where the 300 delegates were given the chance to be at the heart of affecting change and policy for the tens of millions of youth across the Commonwealth who couldn’t attend. This meant creating action plans for the policies which had been drafted in the communique. If the policy was ‘more funding for youth entrepreneurships’ the actions plans may have discussed ways in which young people can access that funding. Both strands played a vital role in the forum, the plenaries were the calls to action and provided examples of the differences this year’s wave of delegates could make; the break-out sessions then created a space for the delegates to be instrumental in the way policy jargon can become physical change in communities across the world.
The three days of the forum became a productive blur with very little let up. On the Wednesday night, the action plans were added to the communique and then forwarded to all of the Heads of Governments from across the Commonwealth to discuss in the meetings at Windsor Castle. The youth agenda is usually something that is tokenistic and discussed in brief by middle-aged senior ministers. So, to be able to say that youth have been at the heart of this year’s CHOGM and the Commonwealth’s future is extremely special and something that I and all involved are tremendously proud to have achieved.
But it’s up to you! If you attended you have tools now to go back and implement change. If you didn’t attend there’s heaps online you can access to see exactly what happened behind the four walls of the QEII or contact people who did go, pick their brains about how they can lead you to make a difference too.