Young people posed probing questions to the Commonwealth’s Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, as she launched a new youth empowerment and leadership initiative in the Caribbean that will soon be rolled out to all regions of the Commonwealth.
From the impact of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union (Brexit), to the politically-charged issue of free movement and immigration, to domestic violence; young people in the region asked Secretary-General Scotland to take action on their most burning issues, as she launched the 33Sixty youth leadership programme in Jamaica, in collaboration with Common Purpose, a development charity, and the University of the West Indies, who hosted the event. The programme is so named because 33 per cent of the world’s population lives in the Commonwealth, of whom 60 per cent are under the age of 30.
It aims to give youth a voice on key national, regional and global issues, equip them with leadership skills and provide them with the networks and opportunities to make a difference in their communities and across the globe.
Secretary-General Scotland set participants a particular challenge: coming up with ideas to build safe, resilient and sustainable cities in support of Sustainable Development Goal 11.
Welcoming the Secretary-General to the podium, Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, Sir Hilary Beckles, spoke about her “extraordinary and distinguished” career and their “common journey.”
— The Commonwealth (@commonwealthsec) July 8, 2016
He said: “We both are children of the Caribbean. I was born in Barbados, she was born in Dominica, and we went off to the UK with our families as youngsters. I was a Birmingham boy and she was London girl; but we all grew together in the West Indian community of Great Britain.”
He added that the Secretary-General had “mastered the art of double identities”, maintaining her Caribbean identity and roots while establishing her identity as a British jurist.
Sir Hilary described the Secretary-General as a child and guardian of the Commonwealth and said her role, at this moment in history, is going to be phenomenal.
“Now it is her task to chart a post-Brexit Commonwealth. That will require political sophistication, intellectual clarity and good judgement, but she has already demonstrated all of those characteristics,” he said.
Declaring the start of the project, the Secretary-General said the Commonwealth was prepared to deal with Brexit and other global challenges, and it was “right that the world should look to the Commonwealth for solutions” as it navigated through “troubling times”.
— The Commonwealth (@commonwealthsec) July 9, 2016
She said: “At the moment we have a 19 per cent advantage if we trade with one another. Because we speak the same language, because we have the same common law, because we have the same institutions, it’s cheaper, easier and better to trade with a Commonwealth partner. What if we can improve that? What if instead of getting the 19 per cent discount we have through doing nothing at all, what if we worked on it together? What if we could increase that advantage to 30 or 40 per cent?”
Urging the young people to take up the gauntlet and help countries find practical ways to achieve their sustainable development goals she said: “Sixty per cent of the Commonwealth population is going to be under the age of 30 by 2030. The people in this room who are currently under the age of 30, you are not only today’s leaders, you are tomorrow’s leaders as well, and our future is going to be decided by what you do and what you fail to do.” She added: “Let the Challenge begin!”
The Secretary-General travelled to Jamaica after attending the Conference of Heads of Governments of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) in Guyana. There she attended the opening ceremony and spoke with a number of officials, including the recently-elected prime minister of St Lucia, Allen Chastanet, the Prime Minister of Barbados, Freundel Stuart, the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, and the Prime Minister St Vincent and the Grenadines, Ralph Gonsalves. She also had meetings with Caribbean Development Bank’s president, Dr William Warren Smith, Jamaica’s former prime minister, PJ Patterson, and Sir George Alleyne, Chancellor of the University of the West Indies.
Discussions ranged from climate change and the Commonwealth's financial access hub, which will assist member states in accessing available funds for climate change adaptation and mitigation, and debt swap for climate change; to practical solutions in the wake of de-risking for member states to consider; to the establishment of a vulnerability index on which the Commonwealth will collaborate with the Caribbean Development Bank as a first step; to Brexit; to cricket in the Commonwealth.
The Secretary-General reiterated the Commonwealth’s commitment to stand with CARICOM, to be an anchor of strength, stability and solidarity, and to offer practical assistance to its members.
— CommonPurposeStudent (@cpstudent) July 8, 2016