The innovation, talent and expertise of young people are crucial ingredients in the fight against COVID-19, climate change and economic crises.
This was the message from hundreds of young people across five continents who attended the inaugural virtual seminar of the Commonwealth Action Series.
Under the theme, ‘Taking charge of our Future’, the session was steered by young panellists leading the charge on issues such as climate change, equality and inclusion.
Shana Kamaldin (@littlecorals) is a Singaporean illustrator who specialises in ink and watercolours. Inspired primarily by nature and botany, her preferred subject matters include local bird species and oddly-shaped plants.
Together they examined specific obstacles to youth involvement in high-level decision making and actions on global concerns which they will one day inherit.
They urged their peers to take charge of their future instead of waiting to be led, focusing on spearheading efforts towards addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges.
Botswanan entrepreneur Yandile Nuku said: “As a young person if you want to be heard. The best way is to speak through your work. Nothing beats impact and proven value.
“When I started sharing my idea with people that our country needed to focus on creating graduates relevant to the labour market, nothing changed.
“So, I launched my own initiative to change the conversation. After seeing the impact of my work, schools now ask me to come and mentor their students as they transition into work.”
Echoing her words, Fijian social entrepreneur Sagufta Salma said talking about our issues would not fix them. “We need to get to delivery as collaborators, not as bystanders”, she said.
A survey taken by participants at the session suggested a lack of opportunity to take part in decision-making is preventing around half of them from taking a lead.
Stressing the need for inter-generational spaces, youth leaders insisted young people should be equally involved and valued in non-youth panels and that their views should be fully recognised in decision-making processes.
Canada’s Aniqah Zowmi, whose work focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion, said: “It is important how we choose to present young people, for instance, saying here is a ‘young’ leader versus here is a leader.
“If we are using the word ‘young’ as a disqualifier to delegitimise the word ‘leader’ then we need to reflect on our language and the way we are implicitly setting up power dynamics within our conversations.”
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “During this health crisis, young people have mobilised in new ways to challenge racism, injustice and discrimination. I commend the bold determination of your generation to right the many wrongs of the past.
“Broader engagement and deeper integration of young people into all aspects of planning and delivery opens up horizons of hope and opportunity so that, together, we overcome vulnerability and build economic and social resilience.”
Towards overcoming financial barriers, youth leaders suggested donor agencies to hire at least one young person in their team who can help reduce red tape and make grants easier to access. Young people could also deliver ‘by and for youth workshops’ to explore ways to unlock funding streams.
Maldives’ Minister of Youth Ahmed Mahloof said: “During the COVID-19 pandemic, the story coming from across the world is that young people are ready to take charge of their future. They are no longer the leaders of tomorrow. They are the leaders of today.”
The next episode will coincide with International Youth Day celebrated on 12 August and will focus on trade, entrepreneurship and employment.
Discover more about the Commonwealth Action Series