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Commonwealth Youth Forum opening ceremony: Commonwealth Secretary-General's speech

10 November 2013
Speaker: Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma / Location: International Convention Centre, Hambantota

Your Excellency, Honourable Ministers, distinguished guests, youth delegates, Commonwealth friends…

There can no better way of launching our great Commonwealth gathering and festival for 2013 in Sri Lanka this week than to join you here in Hambantota for this celebration to open the Commonwealth Youth Forum.

I thank our hosts, the government and people of Sri Lanka, for the generosity and warmth of welcome we have received. I applaud all who have worked so hard to deliver this Forum, and those of you who have travelled many thousands of miles from across the Commonwealth to be here.

The energy and optimism of youth raises our ambition for what we can achieve together as a global family and gives us confidence that we can shape the future. It is by including all, with respect and understanding for diversity, and unity forged from shared goals, that the true Commonwealth spirit is advanced. The theme for this Forum puts it well: ‘Inclusive Development: Stronger Together’.

In the fast-moving and closely-connected world of today the contribution of young people to national development and the values of our societies, and the development of the Commonwealth globally, is pivotal.

Young people have never before had such ability and opportunity as this generation enjoys of communicating easily and instantly with fellow youth worldwide.

This brings invigorating new potential to our Commonwealth connections. Social media and access via handheld devices mean the vibrancy of this gathering can be conveyed with immediacy around the world, and shared by young citizens of the Commonwealth in all our member states. I hope Facebook and Twitter will be ablaze with discussion this week pointing to the Commonwealth and its potential.

We look forward to learning from this Forum how technological advances, including our own ‘Commonwealth Connects’ platform and workspaces, can be more widely used to serve our common causes of inclusive development, accountable and responsive democracy, and respect for diversity. What your generation thinks matters more than what I think!

In ancient times this island of Sri Lanka was known as Serendip. From that name the word ‘serendipity’ was formed, its creator explaining that the heroes of the old tale of Serendip “were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of".

Forums such as this are designed to leave the process of building understanding and discovering wisdom less to accident or chance. I am sure there will be numerous encounters over coming days that will lead to valuable new links and discoveries of common interest, resulting in ideas and partnerships that may not have been thought of when you came here.

Shared experience and learning from one another are a rich source of new knowledge and progress. This kind of process, of creating mutual understanding and adding to the world’s wisdom, are a continuing Commonwealth gift to humanity. What happens here in the days ahead will ripple from Hambantota to Colombo later this week, and also to all corners of the globe.

Ideas and action flowing from Commonwealth meetings have a distinctive way in which they draw on our thought pool collectively and because they speak to our shared concerns.

That is the opportunity we all have here. The theme for this Forum reinforces the importance to our global family, especially to our youth, of building for a future in which none are excluded and none left behind.

Distinguished delegates, by the time of the next Commonwealth Youth Forum and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2015 we shall have reached the target date for the Millennium Development Goals.

The gatherings of many Commonwealth ministers over the last year, including Commonwealth youth ministers, have considered both the path before us to attain the MDGs by 2015 as well as the path beyond with a new global development agenda. The road to inclusive development lies at the heart of your agenda, and at the heart of this week’s CHOGM agenda.

Clearly defined Commonwealth priorities – and our shared values – need to be carried forward into regional and international discussions to ensure a distinctive Commonwealth contribution to the shaping and implementation of the post-2015 global development framework.

And in that regard, youth development is a vital component in the national development of our member states, particularly as about 90% of our young people live in developing societies. And of the two billion people living in our community of member states, 60% are in their twenties or less. We are an ever-younger Commonwealth.

Inclusive development means we work towards all young people having the opportunity to enjoy health and wellbeing, to profit from education and training, to pursue rewarding careers, and to benefit from civic and political empowerment.

We want to see youth-related indicators for all post-2015 goals; and here we have a most important new addition to our Commonwealth toolkit.

Our recently launched Youth Development Index is a global first and provides substantial data on the young in our member states. It will raise awareness both of successes and of investment needs – of time, money, and attention required - and can help us know and share good practices to the benefit of all. Most importantly, through the updating of data in future, the Index will enable us to track progress over time.

The Youth Development Index directly informs the Commonwealth Plan of Action for Youth Empowerment by providing the base of evidence for member countries of the Commonwealth to assess where they are doing well in youth development and where the need for greater focus and attention lies.

Another innovation we celebrate is the establishment of the Commonwealth Youth Council. This new and autonomous body, led by youth, aims to advance the youth development agenda and to strengthen young people’s participation in the Commonwealth. The Council was set up in accordance with the direction given by Commonwealth Heads of Government when they met two years ago in Australia.

This demonstrates how our Commonwealth family and institutions continue to develop in ways that respond to the needs of our citizens, and to show vitality and promise for the future: how we can be Stronger Together.

With those positive words ringing in our ears, and confident of your spirit of community, enterprise, and endeavour, I wish you great success in working together towards a future and a world you would wish to shape.

Thank you again, and may this Forum bring success and advancement for us all.

View and download CYF images and videos from the Commonwealth Digital Library: assets.thecommonwealth.org