Four outstanding young people were honoured yesterday at the 2015 Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work, in recognition of their efforts to promote youth empowerment, education and entrepreneurship, the environment, and gender equality.
The awards celebrate young people aged 29 or under from Commonwealth countries in Africa, Asia, the Pacific, and the Caribbean and Americas whose work has had a significant impact on people and communities in their country or region.
The winner of the overall pan-Commonwealth Youth Award 2015 is Mr Julius Shirima from Tanzania, aged 25, who founded a microventure capital fund and entrepreneur network that helps young businesspeople turn enterprising concepts into profitable ventures. As a result of his efforts, thousands of young people in Tanzania are today empowered, generating income and enjoying meaningful work.
At the prize giving ceremony in London, United Kingdom, Mr Shirima was also announced as the recipient of the Africa Region Commonwealth Youth Award.
Ms Gulalai Ismael from Pakistan was named Asia Region Commonwealth Youth Award winner and Ms Nolana Lynch from Trinidad and Tobago was announced Caribbean & Americas Commonwealth Youth Award winner.
Ms Brianna Frueann from Samoa, was named Pacific Region Commonwealth Youth Award winner. At the age of 16, Ms Frueann is the youngest ever recipient of a Commonwealth Youth Award.
Mr Shirima commented: “Winning the pan-Commonwealth Youth Award confirms to me and my team that we should continue with the work we are doing because it is having a positive impact on young people’s lives. I feel really humbled to receive this prize. The outlook of the other finalists has also taught me a lot. All of the young people here are united by the drive to improve our communities.”
The pan-Commonwealth Youth Award includes a cash prize of £5,000 for Mr Shirima, and £3,000 each for the other regional winners, to reinvest in their development work.
Kamalesh Sharma, Commonwealth Secretary-General, who presented the awards, said: “The Commonwealth Youth Awards recognise and celebrate the efforts of these outstanding young people, and demonstrate to leaders and other policy makers the value and importance of young people’s role in national development. Importantly, the awards also serve to inspire other young people to take action in their communities. We are delighted, once again, to have such very worthy winners.”
Mr Sharma congratulated each of the regional award winners and the 12 other shortlisted finalists. “You have distinguished yourselves in your work, from poverty alleviation and human rights to peace-building. You showcase what is possible. You are catalysts and beacons and we regard you as partners and allies in the work of the Commonwealth,” he added.
The awards were also presented by Commonwealth Deputy Secretaries-General Deodat Maharaj and Josephine Ojiambo, Commonwealth Secretariat Youth Affairs Director Katherine Ellis, as well as HE Nkwelle Ekaney, High Commissioner for Cameroon and HE Dr Ernest Hilaire, High Commissioner for Saint Lucia.
The winners were selected by regional adjudication panels made up of youth leaders, Youth Ministry officials, youth workers and staff of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Youth Division.
Mr Julius Shirima (Tanzania, age 25) founded Darecha, a youth entrepreneurship organisation and micro-venture company, while still in high school. Darecha, which has a network of approximately 5,000 young people, enables young Tanzanian entrepreneurs to transform their business ideas into profitable ventures which provide employment to other young people. His business model has also been adopted in other countries.
Mr Shirima said: “I am so honoured to receive this award on behalf of young people from Africa who are working extremely hard, day and night, to better the lives of people living in their communities. I would like to dedicate this award to these young people, because each day we see ourselves moving this continent forward. Whenever there is collaboration among young people there is a higher chance of bringing about positive development. Now I will think about all the possible ways to expand our work to other countries in the region.”
Ms Gulalai Ismael (Pakistan, age 28), at 16, established Aware Girls to provide young women with a platform for learning and advocacy. She led a team of 100 young female monitors of the 2013 Pakistan general elections, which examined the challenges to women’s electoral participation. Gulalai was named one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s Global Thinkers in 2013, and was the recipient of the 2014 International Humanist Award.
Ms Ismael said: “Winning this award today is not just about my recognition, it is about giving recognition to all girls who are living in extremely difficult conditions and taking risks to make the world a better place. When I started out 12 years ago I never imagined that I would be able to achieve that much. We were young and inexperienced and had little support. This recognition shows that girls have the power to change the world. Girls aren’t just victims of abuse or violence, they are actually powerful actors. They represent not the future, but the present.”
Ms Nolana Lynch (Trinidad and Tobago, age 27) created the eco-friendly, all-natural skin and hair care line Eco-Truffles, which uses sustainable raw materials from rural women producers throughout the Caribbean. She has also spearheaded sustainable agriculture projects in several Caribbean countries. Nolana served as the National Coordinator of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network, and was awarded the Trinidad and Tobago National Youth Award in 2013.
Ms Lynch said: “I would like to thank the Commonwealth Secretariat for this auspicious award. I would like to dedicate this award to all the underprivileged women, children and families out there who are my motivation and my inspiration. They are the reason I wake up every morning - they encourage me to create and continue to work on poverty reduction.”
Ms Brianna Frueann (Samoa, age 16) at 11 founded ‘Small Voices’, an environmental NGO that carries out climate change and environment-related projects. She is also a leader of ‘Future Rush’, an environmental group that mobilises young people to run sustainable development projects in their communities. Brianna received a Young Environmental Activist Award from the Samoan government in 2013, and is also a member of the Pacific Youth Environment Network.
Ms Frueann said: “I would like to acknowledge the Commonwealth Secretariat for recognising the important role of youth and young people. I would like to dedicate this award to the climate refugees - the people in Pacific islands and other small island nations who suffer from the effects of climate change every day - and to my fellow Pacific warriors fighting for climate justice. We are not drowning, we are fighting.”
Notes to Editors:
The Commonwealth’s 53 member countries have a combined population of more than 2 billion, of which more than 60% are under 30 years of age.
The 2015 Commonwealth theme is ‘A Young Commonwealth’, which recognises the capacity, contribution and potential of young people, who play a vital role at the heart of sustainable development and democracy.
The Commonwealth is also a family of dynamic countries at the forefront of innovation, growth and contributing global value. As a diverse and increasingly connected global network, it brings fresh perspectives and new ideas to the dialogue on development.