When Prince Harry officially opened the Commonwealth Youth Forum this morning, it marked the start of his new role. Queen Elizabeth II, Head of the Commonwealth, has appointed him a Commonwealth Youth Ambassador. The newly-appointed Ambassador addressed a packed room of delegates and told attendees that he was excited to be part of the event.
Prince Harry focused on the important role that young people can play in tackling some of the biggest challenges facing Commonwealth citizens today. He said, “The young adults I have met across the Commonwealth have shown me time and again that your generation understands something very important: that to tackle a big challenge, you need to focus on the root causes, not the symptoms - something my father has believed for years, yet something society still struggles with.”
Echoing the words of his grandmother The Queen, Prince Harry said the Commonwealth was “a thriving family of nations, a common link between nearly two and a half billion people, and a defender of democracy, justice, and peace.”
He went on to state that one of those big challenges was climate change and that, by working together, future generations of the Commonwealth could make a major difference.
He said, “I am sure that it is the young people of the Commonwealth, not just those in its 22 Island Nations, who will lead the world's response to climate change. After all, you are the ones who are experiencing it daily, and we must do more to make these changes a reality and truly move the dial. After all, 60 per cent of the Commonwealth is under the age of 30. And at 1.4 billion strong, it is you who are going to change the world.”
The new youth ambassador also took time to announce the creation of 150 new Queen Elizabeth Commonwealth Scholarships to support young academics from across universities in low and middle-income countries.
Prince Harry concluded by saying that the energy and enthusiasm of the Commonwealth’s citizens meant that he would have his hands full in his new role. He said, “I know that serving as an ambassador to young people I am going to have to try to keep up with you!”
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland then told delegates that they represented “the legions of young people in Commonwealth countries who have decided that they will think and act with others to remake their societies, and the world in which we live.”
She went on to emphasise the enormous potential that the Commonwealth could offer young people. The Secretary-General said, “If the Commonwealth means anything, it means a place for all to fulfil their potential, to reap the rewards of progress, and to share in the fruits of prosperity.
“A vibrant youth sector creates the enabling environment for young people to succeed, and to apply in positive ways the energy and vitality which can otherwise so easily be thwarted or subverted towards negative ends.”
Secretary-General Scotland also emphasised the importance of member countries continuing to invest in social capital. She said, “To reap more fully the many benefits of Commonwealth Advantage – which is not only economic, it is social and political too – we need youth provision in all our countries that is better resourced, better financed and better supported.”
She concluded, “Throughout the Commonwealth, you as youth leaders are exemplars and advocates for positive change. Many of you are already shaping the institutions and processes that combine to create our world. The Commonwealth Youth Council plays an increasingly important part in sustaining this range of connection. It is your vision, your imagination, your commitment, and your work, which combine so that we can thrive.”
Outgoing chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Kishva Ambigapathy, paid tribute to the work of his peers. He said, “Young people are driving change and many of the young people in the room today are doing amazing things with people on the ground.
“My message to young people across the Commonwealth is that you are not alone. We are here to support you and to amplify your voice. And it’s by working with our partners that we can be so much more than the sum of our parts.”
“We will be a strong voice and a lifetime advocate for each and every one of you in our own ways. Together we can achieve and together we can prosper towards powering our common future.”
Following the speeches, the four regional winners of the Commonwealth Youth Awards were announced. They were:
- Africa: Sherifah Tumaseman (Uganda)
- Asia: Vanessa Paranjothy (Singapore)
- Caribbean: Jonathan Barcant (Trinidad & Tobago)
- Pacific: Usman Iftikhar (Australia)
Mr Iftikhar was then unveiled as the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year and was presented with his award by Prince Harry.