Sixteen extraordinary young people from across the Commonwealth have been shortlisted for the prestigious 2015 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work.
The awards recognise outstanding young people under 30 whose development projects and programmes have had significant impact on their communities, countries and across the globe.
The regional finalists from countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific and the Caribbean, were chosen for their work in diverse fields such as the environment, gender equality, education and youth entrepreneurship and empowerment.
Katherine Ellis, Director of Youth at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: ‘Young people throughout the Commonwealth are creating and leading projects that have real and tangible impact. The work of our incredible finalists is proof that young people are integrally involved in the process of change, and not simply passive beneficiaries of development.’
In addition to a cash prize, trophy and a trip to London to meet Commonwealth leaders, winners will be given the opportunity to develop valuable networks and contacts.
Regional winners will be announced on 10 March in London during Commonwealth Week, when the pan-Commonwealth winner will also be revealed.
Commonwealth Week is celebrated by young people, schools, communities and civil society organisations every year in March. The occasion is marked across the Commonwealth with a range of activities - including a multi-faith observance at Westminster Abbey in London on Commonwealth Day, which is on 9 March this year.
The 2015 Commonwealth theme is ‘A Young Commonwealth’. It recognises the capacity, contribution and potential of young people, who form over 60% of the Commonwealth’s population, and the vital role they play in nation building.
The finalists for the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work are:
Ms Nakitende Catherine (Uganda, age 24) started Kingfire Energy Solutions in November 2013, to provide a cleaner and cheaper alternative to coal and tackle problems such as deforestation, waste management, limited access to energy and respiratory diseases. Created with a capital of just 1000 UGX ($0.04), the innovative business, which benefits poorer communities, won the SEED Initiative Africa Award in 2014.
Ms Ijeoma Idika-Chima (Nigeria, age 23), a 2014 Young Leader and a Mandela Washington Fellow, founded Teenz Global Foundation - an NGO that works to promote education among young people and support at-risk youth. Since June 2011 Teenz Global has reached over 12,000 teenagers in Nigeria through its free guidance, counselling sessions, and provision of education support services.
Ms Esther Kalenzi (Uganda, age 26) has been improving access to education for orphans and children from poor families, through her youth-led charity 40 Days Over 40 Smiles Foundation. Kalenzi’s organisation, which has helped over 700 vulnerable children, spearheads income generating projects in slums and uses social media and social events to raise funds and resources to mobilise volunteers.
Mr Julius Shirima (Tanzania, age 25) founded Darecha, a youth entrepreneurship organisation and micro-venture capital fund to tackle youth unemployment, while still in high school. Darecha has a network of approximately 5,000 young people and is used as a model for youth empowerment in other countries. It enables young Tanzanian entrepreneurs to transform their business ideas into profitable ventures that provides employment.
Mr Madhav Datt (India, age 18) founded ‘Green the Gene’ at the age of eight. A Youth Ambassador for the United Nation Environment Programme TUNZA EcoGeneration for the Asia-Pacific region, Madhav has since overseen its expansion into a 4,800 strong youth-led environmental NGO with active projects in 45 countries. His package of projects include recycling, the rehabilitation of rivers, encouraging communities to plant trees and educating school children about environmental issues.
Mr David Teck Chye Hoe (Singapore, age 27) Head of the Education Committee on the Commonwealth Youth Council, has spearheaded a package of measures to improve education and literacy for children in Singapore - including an innovative I Am Talented programme to motivate students. His Straits Time pocket Money Fund (SPMF) raises money to help children from low-income families with school-related expenses, and his TMentors programme pairs secondary school pupils with University students who act as academic and social mentors.
Ms Gulalai Ismail (Pakistan, age 28), at 16, established Aware Girls - an empowering, women-led organisation in North West Pakistan to educate girls about their human rights. Gulalai, who has led a team of 100 female election monitors in 2013 and tackled issues such as domestic abuse and early marriages, established more than 200 discussion clubs to provide girls with the education and skills to protect themselves from contracting HIV and Aids. In 2014 she received the International Humanist Award and is one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s 2013 ‘Global Thinkers’.
Mr Ravi Theja Muthu (India, age 23) is a youth leader and environmentalist, whose Climate Leaders India Network NGO raises awareness of climate change and identifies strategies - such as solar cookers and biogas digesters - to address the problem. Ravi, A British Council International Climate champion, has trained more than 40, 000 engineering students in India , and his ‘Be The Change’ Academy has supported and mentored more than 30 young people to start their own green business.
Mr Marcus Kissoon, (Trinidad and Tobago, age 27) is 2012 National Award for Volunteerism winner. The activist, who has been campaigning for gender equality and an end to gender based violence, is one of the founding members of the Organisation for Abused and Battered Individuals. The programme has trained and sensitised more than 2,000 young people in schools, vocational centres, and orphanages on child abuse, and addressed sensitive issues, including male rape.
Ms Nolana Lynch (Trinidad and Tobago, age 27) is a climate change and environmental sustainability advocate, whose work has impacted 15-20 non-profit organisation. She has helped to provide aid to impoverished communities and spearheaded sustainable agriculture projects in several Caribbean Countries. Nolana is a National Youth Award winner and her eco-friendly, all-natural skin and hair care line ‘Eco-Truffles’ uses sustainable raw materials from rural women producers throughout the Caribbean.
Mr Nevar Smith (The Bahamas, 27) established the Bahamas Youth Movement - an advocacy organisation geared towards encouraging young people to find creative ways to make positive contributions to their country. His pioneering youth development radio programme ‘Youth Expressions Radio Show’ gives young people a platform to let their voices be heard. Nevar was awarded the ‘Youth Leader Committed to Peace Award’ by the Bahamian government in 2014.
Ms Priya Verma (Canada, age 22) has pioneered an innovative, cost-effective technology to preserve and increase precious underground water by harvesting rainwater. Her ‘Increasing Underground Water Resources’ project has global potential and educates young people on environmental issues. A 2009 International Diana Award recipient and 2010 UN Outstanding Youth Achiever, Priya also founded the CYWE, which aims to engage young people in activities that improve the environment and protect natural resources in their communities.
Mr Tabotabo Auatabu (Kiribati, age 27) campaigns to end violence against children and improve access to education. He is a member of the Eliminating Sexual and Gender Based Violence Education Committee and delivers motivational and inspirational messages to young people. Tabotabo was also the first president of the Kiribati Schools Counselling and Wellbeing Network, and introduced the concept of effective parenting styles to communities in Kiribati.
Ms Brianna Fruean (Samoa age 16), who has represented the youth voice in multiple global climate change forums, is a Young Environmentalist Activist 2013 awardee and a member of the Pacific Youth Environment network. She launched ‘Small Voices’ an NGO to tackle climate change and environmental concerns at the tender age of 11. Brianna engages her community in a package of practical solutions, including clean-up campaigns, composting, tree planting and establishing youth networks that raise awareness and sensitivity to environmental problems and identifies solutions.
Mr Sam Johnson (New Zealand, age 25) is part of the Asia/Pacific Alliance for Volunteer Action for Peace and Development. Following the devastating Christchurch earthquakes, Sam used social media to mobilise over 11,000 students in New Zealand to act on disaster risk reduction. Sam created the Student Volunteer Army, which has built a network of student clubs to prepare and respond to disasters and local community needs through forums and workshops.
Mr Jamie Moore (Australia, age 28) is Vice-Chair of the Australian Youth Forum and General Manager of Hello Sunday Morning – an online youth-led initiative that encourages young people to take a thoughtful and responsible attitude toward alcohol use. Under his leadership the organisation, which was featured in the ‘International Journal of Drug Policy’, has provided mobile access to the programme and increased its user base from 15,000 to 35,000.