On 13-14th January, I attended the Commonwealth Youth Senior Officials Meeting 2020 (Europe and Canada region) and had the honour of representing the views of UK Young people at the event. The meeting was held at the beautiful Marlborough House in London – headquarters of the Commonwealth of Nations and the seat of the Commonwealth Secretariat.
The meeting was attended by senior officials responsible for youth at the government level, National youth leaders, youth workers and representatives from the Council of Europe, Commonwealth Youth Council, Commonwealth Alliance for Youth Workers Association and the Commonwealth Students’ Association. The commence the meeting, the Commonwealth secretariat spoke about their vision and missions of sustaining a Commonwealth that embraces diversity and improves the well-being of all Commonwealth citizens. It was inspiring to hear from the Senior officials of the UK, Canada, Malta and Cyprus who spoke about how they are promoting youth voice within their countries and it was thoroughly interesting to listen to the sharing of best practice through innovative projects carried out across the Commonwealth such as campaigns to improve digital skills development, youth volunteerism and the development of safe and inclusive spaces for young people.
I participated in a round-table style event where country-specific regional challenges were shared. During this, I had an opportunity to put forward the views of young people in the UK, by speaking about the national campaigns voted for by young people in the UK, through the British Youth Council. Throughout the discussion, a theme of increasing the voices of youth within the Europe and Canada regions to the Commonwealth were raised, hence a positive action that was taken was to keep the formal meeting of “Europe and Canada” to support the national youth councils within these member countries to have regional meetings ahead of the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2020. This was a great step for a more connected Commonwealth. I worked with youth across the Commonwealth and it was remarkable to see how united we are through our similarities. Commonwealth Youth Leaders identified similar priority areas within their countries such as tackling unemployment, ending poverty, the need for quality education, housing, protecting our environment and tackling climate change.
The meeting concluded with a presentation by the Commonwealth youth representatives to Commonwealth senior officials, decision-makers and the Commonwealth secretariat. I had a chance to speak about the campaigns voted for by young people in the UK through the Make Your Mark ballot. The UK-wide youth campaign of Protecting our environment was highlighted and how we have a collective responsibility to protect the environment from the effects of climate change for the next generation and to look more towards carbon-neutral alternatives. I also spoke about the campaign of Putting an End to Knife Crime. Too many young people’s lives are lost to knife crime and how we would like the Government to do more to help end the knife crime epidemic. I was able to highlight the positive actions taken by youth since the last Commonwealth Youth Forum such as The British Youth Council starting a youth forum working with the Bank of England, the UK’s attendance at the United Nations Youth Climate Action Summit and creating a Youth Voice Leadership Development Programme to increase the diversity of young people in leadership roles.
I would like to thank the British Youth Council and all of the incredible young people across the UK who are making a positive difference in society – It has been a privilege to be able to share UK Youth national campaigns with Commonwealth youth leaders and it has been a great experience to have an opportunity to put forward youth voices at this meeting.
The Commonwealth is a global family of countries connected through a sharing of common principles and values. Young people are key for building a more peaceful and united world hence, our communities must safeguard the valuable voices of young people.
Surreal is the only way to describe walking into one of the most famous and prestigious buildings in the UK. The walls and rooms were so decadent that it was so easy to feel out of place. But it also served as a reminder of why exactly we were there: to discuss solutions to the problems that came out of Commonwealth Youth Forum; to work out how to hold governments to account; to renew the energy and enthusiasm around our work.
After listening to a warm and witty opening speech by Lord Ahmed, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations, we then were graced with His Royal Highness, Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. He spoke powerfully about his passion around the Commonwealth and mental health in particular. His message resonated with me so much, as he reminded us of our duty to create a sustainable world so we can leave a better world behind for our children; with the Prince expecting his first child and myself having younger siblings, we can’t afford to forget that message.
The roundtable discussions then started. Split into 5 tables for 5 different questions on topics such as maintaining the momentum of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in 2018, mine was about the most effective ways of working together. First, we each presented some of the work we have been doing across the country, which was absolutely humbling. To be around a table with such extraordinary young leaders is such an exceptional experience, I made sure to appreciate and enjoy it and truly listen. We then looked at how to work effectively in terms of strategising and resource sharing.
Different strategies came out, some of which I’ll definitely implement in my future campaigning. The chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Tijarni, talked about how creating public demand can be so effective in keeping momentum for a campaign. In a world where there are new issues every day, it is difficult to keep people engaged and enthused with a piece of work. Putting a more positive spin and the importance of framing also came up, which is such an impactful point because the majority of discourse around social issues is shrouded in negativity.
Afterwards, I presented a summary of our discussions and listened to the other summaries. As cliché as it sounds, I genuinely felt energised afterwards; you could actually feel the electricity in the room.
The day finished as quickly as it started, with all of us saying our goodbyes. But we could all leave that stunning palace with a renewed sense of optimism, and, more importantly, a genuine call for action. We won’t let false promises lull us into inaction, not this time. This is too pivotal a moment for our futures, our children’s futures, and our world’s futures for that.
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.