Youth are critical to the post-pandemic recovery and for addressing the serious social, economic and environmental challenges that are now facing countries, young leaders have said.
Hundreds of youth from the 54 Commonwealth countries have gathered in Kigali, Rwanda for the opening of the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) today.
The event kicked off with an electrifying and inspiring performance from the Rwandan performing arts and media company, Mashirika.
Held ahead of the main Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), the three-day forum is a unique opportunity for young leaders to bring policy recommendations to their governments – asserting their role in shaping the future of the Commonwealth.
This year’s forum focuses on the adverse impacts of climate change, conflict and Covid-19, which disproportionately hit young people by cutting employment, training and education opportunities.
Approximately 60 per cent of the unemployed in Commonwealth countries are young people. With the World Bank warning of a looming global recession, it has never been more important to ensure that young people are prioritised in Commonwealth policies.
Speaking during the opening ceremony, Chair of the CYF task force and Chair of the Rwanda National Youth Council, Alodie Iradukunda noted that “As the Chairperson of the Rwandan National Youth Council, I have had the opportunity to witness the will and drive that young people have in building our future. I am in awe of the spirit of service and duty that prevailed more than ever throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Young people across the Commonwealth played an integral role in the handling of this crisis, demonstrating yet again the great value that lies within the drive and brilliance of young people. I am here to reassure our leaders that we have not waited to be called upon. We understand what is at stake when it comes to the numerous issues that our world faces today.”
The newly appointed Chair of the Commonwealth Youth Council, Kim Allen, also said that today’s challenges and issues are more complex than decades ago.
The world is slowly coming out of the pandemic, a crisis that affected our lives in many ways.
“Climate change, loss of biodiversity, hate and discrimination, economic turmoil resulting in high unemployment rates, the digital divide, mental health, inequalities in education and health, conflicts, and political instability, to name a few, all happen due to human actions and certain situations beyond our control. Amid these challenges arise the opportunities to create a positive change. Fellow youth delegates and partners, your creativity, skill sets and abilities are needed to drive the change we want. Now is the time to act. We have to progress the efforts taken in the past through strategic and transformational approaches,” he said.
Delivering the keynote address at the opening ceremony, Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and Culture, Hon. Rosemary Mbabazi praised the youth’s commitment, ingenuity, and hard work.
“I encourage you to build networks that will turn into the markets needed for your innovations, create innovations that respond to and solve challenges for our communities. I am sure you will leave here with more knowledge and transformed mindsets,” said Mbabazi.
Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Dr Arjoon Suddhoo reiterated the call for young people to be included in policy decisions across the Commonwealth.
He explained that given the huge potential and ingenious proclivity of Africa’s young people, they cannot be excluded from the development agenda or equate youthfulness with inexperience and ignorance.
“This dangerous and damaging discrimination will hold all of us back from achieving our full potential.”
During the forum young people will agree to a set of policy recommendations which will be recorded and presented to Heads of Government in a Youth Declaration on the final day of the forum. They will also have an opportunity to meet heads of government during an intergenerational dialogue.
This year’s forum will address thematic areas such as governance and the rule of law, technology, skills, innovation, sustainability, health and trade. It will also include launching a historic collaboration between the Commonwealth and the world’s largest youth organisations to create the ‘Commonwealth Alliance for Quality Youth Leadership’.