A seminal 12 months devoted to the celebration and empowerment of the 1.5bn under 30’s living in the commonwealth’

Following the Commonwealth Secretariats’ launch of the ‘2023 Year of Youth’ on 30th January 2023, a host of social issues were outlined as the focal points to be tackled this year including, youth related issues such as climate change, access to education, skills, employment, and political, social, and economic participation. Commonwealth Heads of Government are committing themselves to prioritise this collaborative action.

Each year as part of the UK’s ongoing commitment to the Commonwealth, around 800 students are given the chance to undertake and postgraduate degrees at university.

The ‘Year of the Youth’ also marks the 50th Anniversary for the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP). August will mark 50 years of working side by side with governments from over 56 commonwealth countries in supporting education and the personal development of millions of young people, and thousands more in giving them the opportunity to sit and advocate for their peers.

The Earl of Wessex and long-time champion for young people, Prince Edward will be acting as the Quality Youth Leadership Ambassador.

The launch was attended by ministers from across the 56 independent and equal sovereign states. During her speech at Marlborough House, the Commonwealth-Secretary General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC stated:

“Young people are at the heart of the Commonwealth Charter. Despite the many challenges they face, young people give so much towards every aspect of the social, economic, political, and cultural life of our 56 member countries.”

Further adding:

“The Commonwealth’s future success rests with them. So here today we commit to investing in and promoting their development and engagement at community, regional, national, and pan-Commonwealth levels throughout this year and beyond.”

The youth of the commonwealth will feature in a variety of high-profile events in hopes to showcase and highlight the issues they face concerning their well-being and prosperity.

Commonwealth scholarships are given to talented individuals with the potential to make a positive impact on the global stage. This historic award is the UK’s primary scholarship scheme focused on supporting British international development goals. Designed to attract outstanding talent to UK universities it also supports sustainable development overseas.

Huwau Laman, from Nigeria attended the event as a mentee for the scholarship programme which she started in September 2022. Studying her yearlong master’s degree in international development- migration and mobility development, after she was given the opportunity to study at SOAS University of London. After speaking to Huwau, she stated, ‘she was extremely passionate and hopeful to get into the programme’ and an advocate of the CYP as it ‘is the largest network of change makers from around the world.’ She feels the programme has equipped her with the skills and helped amplify the work she is currently doing. The programme has allowed her to empower other young people and sustain the development of her work and country through her contributions and implement her ideas through the support network. Her current work is in partnership with the largest organisation in Africa which is the National Youth service. This organisation mobilizes graduate youths for a one-year compulsory service to the nation for rapid socio-economic development for national integration and unity.

Pacific Region Representative for the Commonwealth Youth Council, Sagufta Janif, is also the Executive Director for ‘Outsource Fiji’- an industry body creating employment opportunities for young people in the thriving outsourcing sector. During our interview we asked Sagufta Janif how she felt the Commonwealth was supporting the youth and next generation.

  1. If the commonwealth has been supporting the youth for 50 years why is it in particular that this year is of the youth? 

‘I think this year is apt to celebrate the amazing work young people have done even after the adversities that had been placed upon them due to covid and especially for the young people in the pacific who have been affected by climatic disasters, but they continue to persevere. The youth make up 60% of the commonwealth population and it is time we all focus on giving them the pedestal to make decisions for a sustainable and regenerative future. This year also marks the 10th year anniversary for the commonwealth youth council (CYC) and the CYC is the collective voice of the young people across the 56 member nations. In my perspective, every year should be the year of youth, and we are grateful to the commonwealth and the Rt. Hon. Patricia Scotland for giving us the opportunity to amplify the contributions of our young people.’

2. What are you most particularly looking forward to this year for the commonwealth?

‘I am looking forward to the greater collaboration and co-creation opportunities with the young people across the commonwealth, guided by world leaders and working closely with our stakeholders and partners. We have been working in our own silos for too long. The pandemic has brought us all closer together, we have been able to create a community and hopefully this year being the year of youth we will see some cross-cultural solutions being brought forward. More importantly, we will see young people taking charge of their own future!’

  1. How do you feel Covid impacted the youth in our commonwealth and what is the commonwealth doing to Provide the extra support?

‘I think a lot of young people were affected. Especially when we look at employment. Loss of jobs, lack of access to proper health care facilities and in our region, the Pacific, our people are battling with loss of land due to the rising sea levels – we are on the verge of losing our homes and this combined with Covid has created detrimental impacts for our economy. Instead of developing we end up rebuilding, again and again and again and the pandemic had made the situation worse. However, it also brought opportunities- opportunities to collaborate with each other digitally, to access new markets, new jobs – the pacific does have a long way to go – but we are there, we are connected. However, we remain vulnerable, and a clear digital divide still exists. Look at what happened in Tonga, one disaster and we lose connection to the entire world – this is not what we want for our young people and therefore we need to focus on resilience. The commonwealth network, especially through the CYC has enabled us to work together and build solutions, learn from the developed nations, and bring replicate them. This year we will launch new initiatives and support young changemakers across the commonwealth and empower them to achieve greater impact in our communities and economies.’

The special designation for the year of the youth comes from a mandate by Commonwealth Heads of Government who met in Kigali, Rwanda in June 2022. It was then declared that 2023 should be focused on empowering young people stakeholders and governments to speed up progress on youth focused issues.

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