Salma Yusuf in conversation with Layne Robinson and Francesca Danmole, Youth Affairs Division, Commonwealth Secretariat, in London
What is the Commonwealth Youth Forum?
It is one of the three main meetings held in the wings of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) together with the Commonwealth People’s Forum and the Commonwealth Business Forum. The first Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF) was held in Cardiff in 1997 when it was agreed that it was important to have young people at CHOGMs to contribute to the policy discussions that define the direction and work of the Commonwealth.
What does this mean in practice?
In practice, the CYF biennially brings together youth leaders from across the Commonwealth to exchange ideas, share their culture, build and strengthen networks, and identify the most vital challenges and opportunities facing young people in the Commonwealth.
The 9th Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF9) will take place from 10-14 November 2013 in Hambantota, Sri Lanka, bringing together over 200 young people from around the Commonwealth under the theme: ‘Inclusive Development: Stronger Together’. The CYF at CHOGM 2013 is set to be significantly different from previous summits.
In the context of the Commonwealth how is the concept of ‘youth’ defined?
In specific terms, youth is defined in the Commonwealth as any person aged 15-29 years.
You mention that the Commonwealth Youth Forum at CHOGM 2013 is expected to be different from previous summits. Could you elaborate?
The CYF9 forum will be a turning point for young people in the Commonwealth. It will mark the formal beginning of the Commonwealth Youth Council as the official voice for young people in the Commonwealth.
CYF9 will host the first General Assembly of the newly-agreed Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) where the CYC constitution will be ratified and office bearers elected. The new executive will then hold a dialogue with leaders attending the CHOGM which takes place during the same week in Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Youth delegates will be drawn from national youth organisations in Commonwealth countries, ensuring that the CYC is fully representative of young people in the Commonwealth. This is an exciting time to be a youth advocate in the Commonwealth.
What was the lead-up to this crucial change?
In 2010, during the International Year of Youth, Commonwealth Youth representatives agreed that youth mechanisms at their disposal were inadequate.
As young people, they wanted to participate more meaningfully in shaping the future of the Commonwealth rather than being mere beneficiaries of such actions.
Commonwealth youth representatives agreed that there was a need for a more effective and inclusive youth governance structure to better represent the over 1.2 billon young people in the Commonwealth.
Therefore, they challenged themselves to ‘raise the bar’ on youth representation, youth participation and more effective accountability. This led to their recommendation to form the Commonwealth Youth Council to replace the Pan Commonwealth Youth Caucus.
This shift is in tandem with the views of the Commonwealth Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, who often mentions that the Commonwealth and its future belong to the young people. This is what is meant by youth empowerment - creating the means and the ability whereby young people can participate effectively and make the difference they want.
What concrete benefits will the change you describe bring to the young people of the Commonwealth?
In CYF9, Commonwealth youth leaders will take full ownership of and will be accountable for the policy recommendations they propose by electing officers who will implement the agreed priorities set by young people across the Commonwealth.
In the past it was not always clear who would take the lead to deliver on CYF recommendations. But with the introduction of the CYC there is a general feeling that the process will be more accountable and young people will begin to experience the benefits of youth led development.
This change will provide a more open and transparent process for youth leaders to set the priorities and have their say on who are the best candidates to take these forward for the next two years. Every two years elected youth-leaders will report on their stewardship of the Council.
The newly-elected youth leaders will have recommendations and clear youth-led action plans they will share with stakeholders, business leaders and governments. Rather than ‘calling on’ others, young leaders will be able to share how they will contribute to meeting the Commonwealth priorities in line with the chosen theme.
The Youth Dialogue is a good model for partnership and meaningful youth engagement. There are very few institutionalised processes where youth leaders and world leaders sit together to discuss and share ideas on how to work together.
Are there specific benefits for Sri Lanka as host of the Commonwealth Youth Forum in the wings of CHOGM 2013?
As the Commonwealth visits Sri Lanka, it is a great opportunity for the young leaders of Sri Lanka to exchange ideas with other youth leaders from all over the world.
CYF9 will host an exhibition, showcasing developments in youth empowerment and other youth-related issues. It is an opportunity for other member countries to also learn from Sri Lanka.
Sri Lanka has many well thought out ideas on youth empowerment that we believe other countries could greatly benefit from. One example is the model and structure of the Sri Lankan National Youth Parliament and structure of the Federations of Youth Clubs; these are two of the best models in the world at the moment.
The fact that Sri Lanka is hosting the first General Assembly of the CYC means that Sri Lanka will make a major contribution to improving the lives of young people in the Commonwealth. This will be a historical event, and one that Sri Lanka will have facilitated.
Have the themes for the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2013 been decided and if so, would these subjects be explored from a Sri Lankan perspective, a Commonwealth perspective or an international
The 9th Commonwealth Youth Forum theme is ‘Inclusive Development: Stronger Together. ‘This theme aims to explore the challenges of inclusive development and the opportunities for young people to contribute as partners both at national and Pan Commonwealth levels.
Youth leaders will explore the role and contribution of young people through the following sub themes: Youth in the Post 2015 Agenda; Wellbeing and Economic Growth; Quality Education – fit for purpose; Generating Decent and Productive Youth Employment; Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights; and Professionalising Youth Work.
Are there specific outputs envisaged for the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2013 to be held in Sri Lanka or are they expected to evolve organically?
There are very specific outputs, both in the immediate-term and medium-term, which have been envisaged.
The CYC General Assembly will identify priorities on development and democracy and agree on resolutions for youth-led development work to be implemented by the CYC in collaboration with national youth organisations, Governments, civil society organisations, and other regional or international bodies.
The CYF9 will conduct joint sessions with the Peoples’ and Business Forums and agree on common recommendations and joint action.
In addition, the delegates will implement agreed action plans at national level. The priorities and resolutions of the General Assembly will also flow through to the CHOGM, other subsequent Commonwealth Ministers’ Meetings, for example, Youth, Education, Health, Trade, and Women’s Affairs.
During this meeting the young people will contribute to the global discussions on the post 2015 development framework.
There will also be an opportunity for the CYC to utilise the General Assembly outcomes in their relationship with other regional and global youth organisations. Delegates will depart from the CYF with partnerships and skills to enhance their role as youth leaders in their countries.
How may young people engage in the Commonwealth Youth Forum 2013 to be held in Sri Lanka?
Young people in the Commonwealth, aged 18-29, will be able to engage with this meeting in six main ways: Applying to become an online delegate; Submitting policy motions or recommendations as part of the online discussion forums; Attend as part of the official national youth council delegation of your country; Coordinate a side event or capacity- building session as part of a youth-led focused organisation; Register to set up an exhibition during the event; Contact your national youth council and take thewww. MYworld2015 global survey to identify the priorities for your country. The CYF9 webpage can be reached via www.chogm2013youthforum.org/