Establishing a youth desk in every government ministry so young people can influence policy, ring-fencing at least 17% of GDP for quality, inclusive and relevant education, and conducting a Commonwealth-wide gender audit, were just some of the pioneering ideas that Queen Young Leaders awardees proposed to Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, today.
Secretary-General Scotland praised the 64 Young Leaders, all aged 18-29, for stepping up to her challenge to come up with strong and practical actions Commonwealth countries can take to achieve the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The awardees also had to decide what role young people should play in supporting the SDGs.
Networking, partnerships and sharing best practice were common themes in the solutions presented by the leaders. They also stressed the need to raise awareness of the SDGs through education, suggesting universities weave the subject into their curriculums, and task students with creating and implementing a small project to support the Goals.
Speaking on behalf of his peers on the theme of quality in education, Tijani Christian from Jamaica said: “We need a robust revival of the curriculum to ensure there is a focus on entrepreneurship, apprenticeship, gender sensitisation, and facilities regulation.”
The Queen’s Young Leaders vision and recommendations, which were shared with the Secretary-General today, will be presented as a document and circulated to Commonwealth High Commissioners.
In an inspiring speech, Secretary-General Scotland described the young people as “our hope and our solution”. Recounting how she overcame negative stereotypes to achieve important milestones in her own life, she urged the Young leaders to rise above their challenges and focus on improving their communities.
“There are people who want to ‘be’ someone and then there are people who want to ‘do’. I know every single person in this room is a person who wants to ‘do’, and quite often you find that while you are busy doing, you end up being someone,” she said.
The Secretary-General also encouraged the young people to embody and promote the values of the Commonwealth charter.
She said: “The Commonwealth charter is a distillation of our hopes, our aspirations and our values. “We the people of the Commonwealth” are two billion and a third of the world’s population. We are every race, every colour, every religion, every size and six regions. If we can deliver together the SDGs, the international agreements on climate action and the charter, we will create a pathway for the rest of the world towards unity, towards humanity and towards peace.”
She added “It doesn’t matter if we are black, if we are white, if we are male, if we are female, if we are transgender, if we are gay, if we are straight, if we are rich, if we are poor, if we are person of faith or a person of none. We believe that we are each valuable, that we have something to give, and that no one must be left behind.”
The young people, many of whom have overcome tremendous personal challenges, were recognised by the Queens Young Leaders award programme for taking a lead in transforming their communities through innovation, advocacy and social and economic empowerment.
Moitshepi Matsheng from Botswana, who lost her mother to AIDS at the age of six, has been combatting the spread of HIV and AIDS by educating young people about making safe sexual choices.
She said: “Today has been amazing. What is now really important to me, as a representative from Botswana, is to be able to get all the youth who are already doing various projects and educate them about the opportunities out there and how we can have one unified voice.”
Maldivian Safaath Ahmed Zahir, who is helping to empower women in the work place, said was inspired to step-up her actions.
“I was being asked in job interviews when I was going to have babies and when I was going to get married. I felt compelled to raise awareness of the issues women are facing, because many people are not aware that we have this problem - to the detriment of our economy. Now I am ready to take it to the next level with capacity-building initiatives and activities to increase women’s confidence.”
During the event, the Secretary-General announced that she will be leading a new and exciting initiative, in partnership with Common Purpose, which runs student leadership programmes. The project, she said, will capture the talent and innovation in universities across the Commonwealth. Students will gain leadership skills, and will be invited to share their perspectives on how Commonwealth countries can achieve their development goals. Their ideas, she added, will help to shape the focus and work of the Commonwealth.