By Hannah Graham, Policy and Youth Engagement Manager at UK Youth.
Delegates from all around the Commonwealth gathered last week in the Queen Elizabeth II centre, Westminster. They were there for the official opening of the 2018 Commonwealth Youth Forum. The event was truly global, with many high profile and influential speakers. At the heart of it, members of UK Youth Voice were there to represent our network.
There were three other forums in addition to the Commonwealth Youth Forum, which sat alongside the Heads of Government meeting. These were the people’s forum, the business forum and the women’s forum. They collectively provided a wider platform to discuss important issues.
The Commonwealth Forums hosted important conversations about the future of this unique and diverse network. Young people were at the very heart of this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. Through the youth forum, there was a huge opportunity for emerging leaders to ensure their voices are heard.
Dr Maisha Reza, the Chair of the Commonwealth Students Association (CSA) opened the forum graciously introducing the UK Government Secretary of State for Education, Rt. Hon Damien Hinds MP. Damien advised the young delegation to “Seize the opportunity to speak on behalf of young people in your country”.
We then heard from Chairperson of the Commonwealth Youth Council Kishva Ambigapathy, who spoke of inspiring stories and people from across the Commonwealth, in what would be his final speech as Chairperson. “My message to young people across the Commonwealth, you are not alone”.
— UK Youth (@UKYouth) April 18, 2018
“Young people are the solutions to the challenges of today”.
In an unexpected addition to the programme, HRH Prince Harry spoke of his own Grandmother, the Queen of the Commonwealth. “Her Majesty’s commitment has meant that the Commonwealth is a thriving family of nations, a common link between nearly two and a half billion people, and a defender of democracy, justice, and peace”. HRH Prince Harry also told the forum that he was honoured to announce 150 new Queen Elizabeth scholarships for education in developing countries. “Young people are the solutions to the challenges of today”.
With a grand applause from the delegation, HRH Prince Harry was closely followed by Rt. Hon Patricia Scotland, the Commonwealth Secretary General. Patricia spoke of the social development goals, where investment in young people is the key to achieving these. “Sharing the common good is both our inspiration and our aspiration. Young leaders of the Commonwealth are exemplars and advocates of positive social change.”
In a very inspiring and empowering speech, we also heard from Jayathma Wickramanyake, a former youth organiser of past youth forums and now United Nations Secretary General Envoy on Youth. She spoke of the power of the youth forum in London this week. “Being here is not enough. If the conversations stay within these walls there will be no impact. We need to make sure our voices are heard but do not overpower those of the most marginalised and vulnerable, who are the lived experts of their own lives and experiences.”
— Kayleigh Wainwright (@k_wainwright) April 17, 2018
“We are the power, we are the future and we are the now!”.
Finally we heard from Anna Barker, Chair of the British Youth Council, who gave us all three tips for a successful Commonwealth Youth Forum. Anna advised us to firstly listen, to build an understanding with each other for a common friendship. Secondly, to be awkward! Her advice to put ourselves out there, speak to someone new and break out of our comfort zone to create amazing opportunities certainly resonated with the audience. Anna’s third piece of advice was to have fun, proclaiming “We are the power, we are the future and we are the now!“. Great advice for all the young delegates in attendance to make long-lasting connections all around the Commonwealth.