Engaging the youth for a vibrant Commonwealth

Engaging the youth for a vibrant Commonwealth
Engaging the youth for a vibrant Commonwealth

An expert explains how the Youth Leadership Training Programme is giving the Commonwealth's young leaders an understanding of the Commonwealth, its values and principles. “For more than 45 years our Commonwealth Youth Programme has been pioneering the empowerment of young people and the development of youth leadership. The multiple layers and interlocking threads of Commonwealth connectivity continue to be woven into the fabric of our nations, creating a stronger and more resilient Commonwealth.” These were the words of the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland to the young people gathered at Marlborough House in London, headquarters of the Commonwealth Secretariat. The gathering aimed to celebrate and recognise the appointment of HRH the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador, and to round off a week of youth leadership training. In April 2018, the Commonwealth Heads of Government reiterated the importance of youth empowerment, and laid out clear pledges to this effect. The agreement in the communique demonstrated the Commonwealth's unwavering commitment to youth engagement and the significance on young people in working towards a fairer, more prosperous, sustainable and secure future. Leaders committed to:

  • mainstream youth priorities into national development policies and plans;
  • promote the participation of young people at all levels of decision making;
  • the need to create meaningful employment opportunities for the Commonwealth's growing youth populations.
The Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) and the Youth thematic networks offer a framework to support young people's engagement in decision making and create an environment for their contribution to the Commonwealth's inclusive development agenda. They further give the institutional base and representative voice to bridge the gap between young people and their leaders and advocate for greater inclusion of young people at all levels of policy planning and implementation. The Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) has been working for over 40 years to further strengthen these youth institutional frameworks, ensuring young people are equipped and empowered to engage with their leaders and are advocates for grass roots recognition and support for their capabilities as leaders and partners in development. It is in light of this that the Youth Leadership Training workshop was planned in July 2018 at the Commonwealth Secretariat's headquarters in London. The Commonwealth is committed to providing the Commonwealth Youth Council and the other Commonwealth Youth Networks with technical and administrative support in their years of development. The Youth Leadership Training Programme gave the Commonwealth's young leaders an understanding of the Commonwealth, its values and principles. The youth leaders also received technical training on leadership and personal development, trusteeship, partnerships and resource mobilisation and strategic planning. They learned about the role of media and communications as soft skills that enhance the capacity of youth leaders to be effective in their advocacy work. Following this intensive Youth Leadership Training Programme, an additional one hundred young people representing the High Commissions in London and Commonwealth affiliated organisations came to the Commonwealth headquarters to participate in the 'Your Commonwealth' Youth Challenge event. Their challenge was to envisage how the Commonwealth could change for the better by 2040, and what young people from across the Commonwealth could contribute to help it happen. The 'Your Commonwealth' Youth Challenge participants heard an inspiring discussion from journalist Shivvy Jervis and author Mark Stevenson on what the future might look like. They discussed what innovation really means, the role of technology both now and in the future, and how meaningful change can happen. The young people then worked in groups to make elevator pitches about their proposed innovations and received feedback from a panel made up of Uganda's Minister of State for Youth and Children's Affairs, Rt. Hon. Florence Nakiwala Kiyingi, futurist and writer Mark Stevenson, Commonwealth Youth Council Chair Tijani Christian and Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, Vijay Krishnarayan.
Pitches from the young people covered topics such as strengthening governance and accountability; educating young people about important youth issues through digital communications; and creating platforms so young people can be better-represented in policy making. Pitches included ideas like allocating a seat for youth at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and encouraging National Youth Councils. Other ideas were about improving employment opportunities through a trade agreement amongst all 53 Commonwealth countries; strengthening access to information through capacity-building toolkits available to all young people involved in youth networks; and setting quotas for young people in key institutions such as parliaments. These ideas could transform the Commonwealth because, at their heart, they provide opportunities for the Commonwealth′s one billion plus youth generation. Tijani Christian, Chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, concluded by proclaiming to Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex and the Commonwealth's new youth ambassador: “We, young people, have a unique perspective about what is needed to create a better future in the Commonwealth. I hope that the Commonwealth doesn't just occupy your mind but takes a place in your heart, too.” Following the Challenge Event, an evening reception was held with the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, their Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and many Commonwealth Commissioners. It was the Duke's first engagement as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador since he was appointed to the role by the Queen earlier this year during the Commonwealth Youth Forum. Speaking to the gathering of more than one hundred young people and Commonwealth officials, he said: “If there is one group of young people who can rise to the challenge of solving the world′s greatest problems - I know we′ve come to the right place!” He called on youth to be champions for their communities, families, countries, and for their Commonwealth. He added: “My job as your Ambassador is to listen and learn from you, to amplify your voices and to bring your ideas to the attention of decision makers. It only seems right that as the youth of today, you should play a part in shaping the policies which will make the future better for everyone.” For us at the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Duke's appointment as Commonwealth Youth Ambassador represents an invaluable opportunity to work alongside him to amplify young people's voices and bring their ideas to the attention of decision and policy makers. His appointment is a point of inspiration and opportunity to highlight the importance of work young people of the Commonwealth are doing. We look forward to the Duke and Duchess' upcoming trip to the Pacific countries of Australia, Fiji, New Zealand and Tonga and the opportunity for young people from these Commonwealth countries to share their ideas with them. Commonwealth Youth Council leader, Jamaican Tijani Christian, who spoke during the evening reception summarised it well: “We are all here representing the diversity of the Commonwealth: as the Youth Council, Youth Networks, High Commissions, Scholars and Commonwealth organisations. In you, we see the hope for the Commonwealth and the world. “The power and importance of your networks and your institutions cannot be overestimated, we are building bridges across the Commonwealth, dealing with the most pressing and vital issues facing our world. Today, we have put our heads together to think about the innovative plans that could create a better future in 2040.” The Duke's appointment, and his and the Duchess' commitments to amplifying the youth voice and engaging with them across the Commonwealth paired with strong, enabled youth networks reaching across the Commonwealth mean that creating a better, common future by 2040 is within reach.
Layne Robinson is the Head of Social Policy Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat. He has been with the Secretariat for more than 10 years, working as both the Head of Programmes at the Youth Division and the Programme Officer for Youth Development and Empowerment. Layne is from Jamaica and studied at the University of the West Indies.
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