By: Amisha Agarwal, Canadian Delegate to 33Sixty - Malta.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in 33Sixty, a leadership development program for young leaders across the Commonwealth, held in Malta, ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). During the program, we explored the global challenge of who profits from migration; this was through in-depth conversations with experts in the field and with various organizations that are doing important work in this area. Given the current state of world events, I found the basis of our discussions to be very relevant and helpful; they added to my knowledge on the topic, broadened my way of thinking about it, in addition to providing me with a better understanding of what my role as a young leader can be as an advocate for migration.
However, when I reflect back and think about that week, I realize that the program was much more than just working on the challenge. 33Sixty was the perfect self-learning opportunity; and it all relates back to the individuals I met. Meeting 99 other young leaders representing 25 different countries across the Commonwealth was by far the most wonderful part of this whole experience. I learnt about their traditions and cultures, their roles as change-makers and leaders in their communities, their life experiences, and their stories… all of this positive energy was so inspiring, on so many levels. Most importantly, by hearing and learning from all of these young leaders, I learnt so much more about myself – what kind of person I am, what I like and don’t like, what motivates me, where I need to grow and learn more, and where I see myself 5, 10, 50 years down the road. I now not only have an international network of individuals I can bounce ideas from and potentially collaborate with, I have so many new life-long friends! I also learnt so much about the Maltese culture, thanks to so many new local friends.
Overall, I believe I have come out of this program a stronger leader, with a greater basket of skills, and even more confidence to continue progressing towards my personal and career goals. Thank you to MYCommonwealth, Common Purpose and everyone else involved in giving me this opportunity. I can’t wait to lead positive change in this world!
By: Josh Mazur, Canadian National Delegate for CYF
It’s the second day of the Commonwealth Youth Forum here in Malta and the energy in the room is anything but static. Youth have flown from across the Commonwealth to this small island nation in the Mediterranean to discuss issues from the radicalization of youth toward violent extremism to climate change and social entrepreneurship. The 1.2 billion youth in Commonwealth states deserve a radical change in the way politicians and industry leaders alike tackle the problems we face and the CYF is taking steps toward ensuring our voices are heard.
Yesterday morning was spent hearing from the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat and the Commonwealth Secretary General H. E. Kamalesh Sharma. Then, national delegates headed to into a General Assembly to hear reports from the Commonwealth Youth Council. As Canadian National Youth Delegates Aden Hamza and myself spoke up to ensure the accountability and transparency Canadians have come to expect and the Commonwealth youth deserve.
I have consistently found that not only had Aden and myself made sure Canadian voices are heard, but the work of our observers Nick, Aniqah, Brody, and Rasha have been some of the loudest voices here. The multilateral and soft power concepts the Commonwealth relies on so heavily benefit infinitely from stellar Canadian participation. As a mosaic of diversity, Canadians HAVE to speak up on the international stage and encourage pluralism and integration around the world.
On a more personal note, I have spent the last few days building networks and advancing my leadership skills, but, more importantly, forming friendships that are good for far more than a place to rest my head as I travel the world. These are people I will continue to connect with for the rest of my life. The amazingly kind and open-minded participants at these conferences are so rarely focused on and are very much the best component. Our differences are all too often emphasized for political benefit or to justify bigoted perceptions of the world, but young people in our globalized age prove these perceptions could not be more wrong time and time again.
By: Aaron Hape, Executive Director, Commonwealth Youth New Zealand
One of the things I find most fascinating about being part of the Commonwealth is that it is very much like a family. Each member is totally unique – they have different tastes, diverse views, and varying opinions on many issues. These variances often create friction and lead to members ceasing engagement with others, much like a teenager locking themselves in their room after failing to understand why they have just been grounded. However, after a few days (or years…) wary heads become cooled and dialogue resumes.
To me, it is these differences in cultures, in opinions, and in thoughts and attitudes that makes the Commonwealth a worthwhile organisation to be a part of. The Commonwealth Charter goes some way to bringing those values together. It recognises that in an era of unprecedented threats to peace and security, changing economic conditions and uncertainty, new trade and economic patterns, and a surge in popular demands for democracy, human rights and broadened economic opportunities, the potential of and need for the Commonwealth – as a force for good and as an effective system for collaboration and for promoting development – has never been greater.
Today is Waitangi Day here in New Zealand. Each year on 6 February, New Zealanders celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, on that date in 1840. Although this is New Zealand’s national day, the commemoration has often drawn controversy from Māori (New Zealand’s indigenous people) and Pākehā (the Māori word for New Zealanders of European ancestry) alike. Some Māori claim that the three principles of the Treaty have not been honoured by successive governments. Alternatively, some Pākehā claim that Māori, because of their status as New Zealand’s first inhabitants, are treated better than Pākehā where there should be an equal partnership.
This tension is becoming less noticeable. Time heals all wounds, and as the scars of colonialisation become less obvious, those hang-ups and inhibitions seen between two different cultures become less palpable. Strains are definitely less obvious among young New Zealanders. In fact, among the people I have met in my time as Executive Director of Commonwealth Youth New Zealand, there are strong hopes that a lot of the heat can be taken out of our national day and that it can be celebrated in a proper manner.
Comparatively, we have it pretty good down here in New Zealand. We are so far away from anything else (Australia is a three-hour flight away) that international developments seem remote and distant. This does not mean that we shirk our responsibilities of being good global citizens – if anything, it enhances it. With New Zealand now holding a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, New Zealand is poised to play its part in important negotiations and peace-making, just as it has done as part of the Commonwealth family since the organisation’s creation.
By: Nishant Rao, Co-founder, CommonYouth Australia
I have often thought that the greatest strength of the Commonwealth lies in its interconnectedness. I was recently given the example that the Commonwealth acts as the original form of LinkedIn, where people around the world that share similar heritages and ideas are able to collaborate on some of the most pressing issues facing our societies today. Here I am, an Australian born in India writing a blog for a Canadian website on a computer recently acquired in Singapore. Surely we can’t get more connected than that? But what does this mean in practice in what is clearly a new age which actually has LinkedIn. Is the Commonwealth still relevant? This is one of the questions that I have always been confronted with in Australia (perhaps you, in Canada, have been asked the same question).
I’m writing at a particularly interesting time of the year because today we celebrate our national day - 26th January, Australia Day. We have a habit in Australia of calling anything we don’t like to be “unAustralian” and Australia Day remains one of the few days in the year when we actually ask what it means to be Australian in Australia. Essentially, we use Australia Day as a day to consider our identity. So perhaps, this Australia Day it might also be worth asking what it means to be Australian in the Commonwealth.
I can’t presume that I know what it means for the millions of Australian youth out there, but the answer that I often come to is this: for the average young person, the Commonwealth seems to be a relic of the past in Australia. Often, the Commonwealth is seen to be too synonymous with the monarchy (which is an intense and quite partisan issue in this country). For many Australian youths, the Commonwealth really only comes to the forefront with the Commonwealth Games. Australia is successful in most Games (just so you know) and so the Commonwealth becomes a way to fill the time between Olympic Games.
Yet, this sport-centric view makes us all seem a bit shallow, doesn’t it? In reality, Australian youth are amongst the most active in the world. There are so many great initiatives and non-profit organisations that have been founded by Australian youths to improve the standards of Australian society and beyond. It’s not that Australian young people don’t consider global issues; it’s just that the Commonwealth hasn’t always been the forum to which they’ve turned.
I’ve recently been fortunate enough to found a non-profit organisation called CommonYouth Australia with a few friends of mine. We hope that this organisation might give Australian youth the opportunity to turn their attention to the numerous and diverse projects that the Commonwealth pursue on a daily basis around the world. Australian youth are participating and engaging with social issues together more than ever before. We are more connected, through Facebook, Twitter and other social media outlets, than ever before. Perhaps it’s time to once more link up with some of the older networks that exist (after all, retro stuff is cool, right?) and one of the oldest networks in the world: the Commonwealth.
By: Robyn Chan, MYC Regional Director BC
It was 2003, and I was with a friend, walking down a hallway in my high school, when I passed my Political Science teacher. “Do you guys want to go to Ottawa for a week?” she asked. Before I knew it, we were filling out the registration forms to be a student delegate at the 31st National Student Commonwealth Forum (NSCF). Without knowing what the Forum was, or, really, anything about the Commonwealth, I had signed up for an experience that ended up shaping who I became as a person.
NSCF is an experience like no other. Between delegates and planning team there are roughly 100 participants, usually none over the age of 25. For most, it’s the first time they've been away from home, on their own. They’re meeting other young Canadians, discovering things about their country they might never have known, and hopefully learning something along the way. Ten years with NSCF changed my life in many ways. It gave me confidence to express myself and my opinions, gave me leadership experience I wouldn't have found anywhere else, and introduced me to lifelong friends. It also introduced me to the Commonwealth.
Many people ask why the Commonwealth is important – an old, colonial-based organization can’t have much traction on the international stage these days. But the Commonwealth that I have experienced is much different than its stereotype. After my years of involvement with NSCF (that ended only this past August), I was lucky enough to attend the international Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), in 2009 in Trinidad and Tobago, and in 2011 in Perth, Australia. The Commonwealth that I experienced at CYF was young, dynamic, and full of youth leaders who were ready to make a difference. We had travelled from every corner of the world to learn, listen, debate, and hopefully come up with a strong statement on what young people of the Commonwealth want from their leaders. I learned that, though the Commonwealth may seem irrelevant to many Canadians, to other countries it was a necessary and vital organization. It provides scholarships, development and employment opportunities and much more. It allows small, isolated countries to develop networks for trade and commerce. There have been points in my involvement with the Commonwealth that I have become jaded about the organization, but when I think back to my experience with CYF, I can see why it is important.
In my opinion, people want the Commonwealth to act like the UN, and are disappointed when it doesn't. But I don’t think that the world needs another gigantic, overly bureaucratic organization, ruled by a few economically powerful countries. I think that what the world needs is an organization that can operate quickly, that can be on the ground in a grassroots capacity, and that values the rights of all citizens. I think that the Commonwealth’s use of consensus is important, that countries people might never have heard of (Kiribati or Seychelles, anyone?) have an equal voice at the table. I think that the world needs to stop making decisions based on economic value, and focus on human value. That is where the Commonwealth can make its mark.
By: Alicia Swinamer, MYC National Director
Swaziland: a small country nestled between South Africa and Mozambique. Home to people so friendly you’d think you were in the Maritimes, beautiful mountains and some very scary dirt roads. As a member of the Commonwealth, Swaziland has benefited from the tough love, good offices and technical support of the Secretariat, such as providing legal experts to help draft its constitution.
When the King, by Royal Proclamation, announced the disillusion of Parliament, triggering an election, Swaziland invited the Commonwealth to send a team of observers. Priding itself with quality over quantity, the Secretary General asked only five individuals from around the globe to make up the team (only 4 made it). We were led by the humorous and thoughtful, former President of Malawi, Dr. Mulizi. The rest of the team comprised of, an electoral commissioner from Ghana, Mrs Sa-adatu Maida, the head of the open campus in Grenada for the University of the West Indies, Mr. Curtis Jacobs and me, MYCommonwealth National Director.
We were tasked with observing the various factors impacting on the credibility of the electoral process as a whole. In order to do this we met with the electoral commission, would be political parties (they are currently banned), civil society groups, unions, the police, candidates, the media, election observers from other organizations and Heads of Mission. We deployed in teams of two to the regions of Swaziland for election day, watched the opening of the polls, drove around-up and down mountains- to observe as many polling stations as we could and then came back to our first poll to watch the close and count. After recovering from a long election day-counting didn't end until 9am the next day-we packed up and headed back to base to debrief with the rest of our team. We met again with other election observers and Heads of Mission and followed up with some of the groups we had met with to clarify some facts. For the next three days our team of four observers and the wonderful Commonwealth Secretariat staff team, spent morning-to-night writing the report that we would give to the Secretary General (we will post the report on our website when it is available). Our measure for establishing a creditable and democratic election was whether or not Swaziland upheld the values of the Commonwealth and other international protocols which it is a signatory.
Being an observer was an amazing experience, but very emotionally and intellectually complex. When I heard accounts of women being discriminated against for wearing pants, peaceful protests being broken up for no reason and the King overruling a decision of Parliament-part of me wanted to scream “how can this be happening in 2013!”, stop the meeting and DO something about all of this. Not quite my mandate or the diplomatic approach that the Commonwealth had been pursuing, so instead I got very quiet, angry and pondered questions like: how do you balance culture and modern values? When does assisting turn into enabling? I don’t know the answers, but I have come to understand and appreciate some of the Commonwealth’s tactics, which can seem painfully slow at times or underwhelming, but do show results and importantly, give hope.
Our presence in Swaziland was appreciated by all that we spoke to, from government officials to the most radical would-be political parties. I hope that our report will be taken seriously and that our recommendations will be implemented-starting with allowing political parties and securing equality between men and women. I look forward to seeing some progressive change in Swaziland.