How the Commonwealth flipped the script on youth empowerment

19 September 2023
A group photo of Commonwealth youth leaders

You may be unfamiliar with the term “youth bulge”. The World Bank has defined it as a phenomenon in many developing countries where factors such as reducing infant mortality and high fertility rates have resulted in children and young people outnumbering adults.

A blog by Layne Robinson, Head of Social Policy Development at the Commonwealth Secretariat

It is often discussed within the context of challenges such as stretched resources, unemployment and crime. But in the Commonwealth, where more than 60 per cent of our population is under 30, we have been focused on flipping the script on youth development and empowerment. Underpinning our youth programme is the ethos that young people are a blessing, an invaluable part of our human resources and critical to our innovations and solutions.  

Does this mean we turn a blind eye to development hurdles? On the contrary, it means that in our passionate pursuit of solutions, we consider our youth equal partners – an asset rather than a burden or liability. This mindset gave birth to the Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) in 1973, when leaders had the foresight to prioritise the development and empowerment of young people.  

Fast forward past the swift rise and dominance of the digital age, the ebb and flow of global conflicts, the maturity and increasing popularity of the international development organisation concept, the awakening of the climate change debate, and a global pandemic. Five decades on, the CYP remains a pillar of strength, connecting and empowering young people from its 56 countries.  

In those fifty years, the CYP created a regular gathering of ministers, which started as the Commonwealth Youth Affairs Council, with input from a caucus of young leaders; it became the go-to for countries needing support with the development of national youth policies; and it created landmark initiatives such as the Youth Ambassadors for Positive Living Programme and the Commonwealth Youth Credit Initiative to help young people generate sustainable businesses.  

Later, it led the charge in professionalising youth work through training and degree qualification, in measuring progress on youth development, and in ensuring the needs of young people are considered in policy-making across all sectors.  

This upward trajectory has continued with recent achievements, including, among others:   

  • Significant progress in youth work training and qualifications with several countries now collaborating with CYP to offer youth work degrees; 
  • Extensive capacity-building initiatives and specialised training to support government officials, youth leaders and youth workers; 
  • The provision of Commonwealth technical assistance and toolkits to several countries to develop national youth policies; 
  • The upgrading of the Commonwealth’s flagship Youth Development Index, with its influence spreading beyond the Commonwealth to countries such as Mexico; 
  • The growth and expansion of networks covering nearly a thousand youth organisations and representing millions of young people;  
  • Global profiling of hundreds of young people and more than £150,000 awarded to youth-led projects through the youth awards and  
  • The provision of 10,000 scholarships to Commonwealth citizens.

That is why, today, as we celebrate the CYP’s 50th anniversary, we can proudly say that it has widened its reach beyond the edges of the Commonwealth, blossoming into a network of youth associations, propelling thousands of innovative, youth-led development projects into the global spotlight and providing targeted policy support to countries. 

Ardent youth advocate, Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, summed it up best as she paid tribute to the Ministers and Leaders who established the Programme 50 years ago. She said:

“They had the vision for a world in which young people are engaged, empowered, and supported to contribute to the society as partners in development, shaping the Commonwealth we so love and cherish.  

“Their vision was realised – and today, 50 years on, our Youth Programme stands as a symbol of hope for young people everywhere, guided by the enduring philosophy that young people are assets to their society.” 

The Commonwealth Secretary-General awarding previous Commonwealth Youth Programme Director Mr Raja Gomez

The Commonwealth Secretary-General awarding previous Commonwealth Youth Programme Director Mr Raja Gomez

The Secretary-General also praised past and current staff for their commitment and dedication and recognised outstanding individuals who had served throughout the 50 years. She presented awards to: 

  • Lawrence Muli - who served the Programme 2017-2022 – one of our first Commonwealth Youth Professionals
  • Omnea Said - Administrative Assistant- who served the Programme from 2012-2017.
  • Cristal de Saladana – Advisor - who served the Programme from 2002-2008
  • Tina Ho - Administrative Officer – who served the Programme from 1995-2014
  • Raja Gomez – Director – who served the Programme from 1984-1992

Media contact

  • Ijeoma Onyeator  Communications Officer, Communications Division, Commonwealth Secretariat

  • E-mail