Foreign Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence from the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council (CYEC)

1. Summary

Introduction to the Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council (CYEC) (para 2).

The importance of recognising the role of young people as stakeholders if the Commonwealth is to develop as a vibrant and healthy 21st century and modern Commonwealth (para 3).

Future of the Commonwealth—highlighting the role and importance of the People’s Commonwealth, need for reform and impact of Perth (paras 4 and 5).

UK diplomatic objectives—Commonwealth’s role as a soft power and a force for good in promoting peace and prosperity (para 6).

Benefits of UK membership—value of people to people links in promoting values, personal and institutional links and trade (para 7).

Benefits to Citizens (para 8)—employment, community cohesion, skills transfer.

British Overseas Territories Commonwealth role—encouraging greater traction and participation in Commonwealth activities (para 9).

Recommendations (para 10).

This submission does not respond to all questions but addresses discrete aspects more directly relevant to CYEC’s work and expertise.

This submission has been prepared by Vic Craggs, CYEC Chief Executive.

2. The Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council (CYEC)

The Commonwealth Youth Exchange Council (CYEC) is a UK based youth development and education charity working alongside young people to support them as active global citizens through sharing lives, exchanging ideas and working together. We support a bilateral UK—Commonwealth group youth exchange programme and Commonwealth wide youth led development and leadership projects.

Further information about CYEC’s work can be found at: www. cyec.org.uk

3. Young People and the Commonwealth

Young people are vital to the future of the Commonwealth. Youth aged under 30 years represent over 60% of the population of the Commonwealth and CYEC believes they are a crucial, yet largely untapped, asset for our societies and can act as a catalyst for nation building and for developing a stronger 21st century Commonwealth.

This is at a time when there is a demographic “youth bulge” affecting all aspects of poverty and development efforts in Commonwealth Member States and the transition of youth to adulthood is being prolonged or blocked for many. A disproportionate percentage of the current youth generation live in poverty and unemployment and are affected by widespread disease, poor sanitation and inaccessible health care and secondary education.

CYEC promotes youth exchanges and programmes for young adults that enable them to share and compare views, learn about the reality of each other’s lives and build Commonwealth links and awareness. Interchange gives young people an opportunity to educate each other because they understand best the problems that they and their contemporaries face and how best to solve them.

“We have learnt a lot from each other and realise that although we live in very diverse circumstances we have a lot in common and have shared aspirations and concerns”

Alongside a programme of UK—Commonwealth bilateral youth exchanges CYEC supports a number of youth led development activities and networks and is particularly proud of its role in helping to found the Commonwealth Youth Forum (CYF), held at the time of CHOGM’s. Each CYF provides a platform for the voice of Commonwealth young people and aims to support them as change makers developing understanding of core Commonwealth values and contributing to the development of their communities and the wider Commonwealth.

At Commonwealth Youth Fora young people have consistently asked to be seen “not as a problem but as part of the solution”. They ask to be treated as partners in democracy and development with contributions to make as agents of peace-building, of climate change awareness and as drivers as social and economic enterprise.

The importance of recognising the role of young people as stakeholders if the Commonwealth is to develop as a vibrant and healthy 21st century organisation the importance of recognising the role of young people as stakeholders is paramount. This will not happen without programmes that raise awareness of the contemporary Commonwealth.

4. Future of the Commonwealth and Reforms needed for Success

The Commonwealth is a unique network crossing all kinds of divides with access to a broad range of stakeholders and contributors including governments, civil society, business, and the diverse network of Commonwealth professional and other associations.

In the 21st century the Commonwealth is never going to be the kind of power bloc that other political alliances and bodies represent but it has the potential to be a major soft power influence. It needs to reaffirm its guiding principles and values and play to its strengths.

The Commonwealth has reached a point in its history where it must ask itself big questions. What is it for? Who does it serve? Where is it relevant? What and where can it make a difference? And how effectively is it upholding its own values day to day? The reform agenda flagged up by the Eminent Persons Group is undoubtedly timely.

CYEC feels that the dimension provided by the People’s Commonwealth/civil society organisations (which complement the official Inter Governmental Commonwealth institutions) is a very important feature; their potential to make the Commonwealth more effective is considerably under utilised.

5. The Commonwealth’s Purpose and Value and the Impact of the Perth CHOGM.

The EPG report offered a roadmap to modernise Commonwealth values and purpose for the 21st century. The call for a charter of values, a Commissioner on Human Rights and a range of progressive ideas was of great interest to young people and they were disappointed that the publication of this report was delayed and concerned that many of its recommendations might be blocked. We were also disappointed that the People’s Commonwealth aspect of the EPG recommendations appeared to be resisted by some CHOGM players at Perth.

6. Commonwealth Membership and UK Diplomatic Objectives

The Commonwealth is a global organisation with some unique and important networking and informal qualities that complement other global multinational organisations. It has the potential to be a force and influence for good and offers a soft power dimension not offered elsewhere; this should not be underestimated. This is important to the UK as is the fact that sometimes Commonwealth members can support one another in global bodies. Smaller member countries often look to the UK and other larger members to help amplify their perspectives. The soft power (and trade) dimensions provided by an English speaking Commonwealth network with a mutual interest in global peace and prosperity are important.

7. Benefits to UK in Trade, Promotion of Human Rights, “Soft Power” and a Positive Image of the UK

People to people links and youth and education interchange are a powerful and sometimes under rated form of very effective people’s diplomacy that over time build enduring personal, institutional and trade links. We believe such links are also influential in attachment to Commonwealth values including good governance and human rights. Regarding trade and soft power comments at para 6 are also germane.

8. Direct Benefits—Citizens of the UK

For the UK there is a two-way skilled employment flow. The fact that major Commonwealth institutions are headquartered in the UK and that the Commonwealth brings important diplomatic and education networks to the UK, including overseas students and scholars is relevant. There is also a very significant “Commonwealth within our shores” diaspora that makes a rich cultural contribution to our multi-racial society.

Direct Benefits—Citizens of Commonwealth Countries

There is no doubt that small, and often vulnerable, states see real value in the Commonwealth umbrella. The modest CFTC programme is effective, the Commonwealth of Learning has an excellent reputation and Commonwealth Scholarships are greatly valued. For the more developed and powerful member states it is probably the soft power influence and trading dimension provided by an English speaking Commonwealth that resonates.

9. Dependent Territories

In general wherever possible the British Overseas Territories should have access, and contribute to, Commonwealth programmes, particularly those for young people. Where appropriate this might mean consultation and/or participation in UK delegations to Commonwealth events.

10. Summary and Recommendations

The Commonwealth is a unique network crossing all kinds of divides with unique access to a broad range of stakeholders and contributors including governments, civil society, business, and the diverse network of Commonwealth professional and other associations. In particular the fact that the Commonwealth is—uniquely—a people’s association as well as an inter-governmental association marks the Commonwealth out from other multilateral players. In a networked world, new ways for UK citizens and Commonwealth peoples to interact and participate need to be found and encouraged.

We recommend that:

Serious consideration be given to more promotion, education and awareness about the Commonwealth and its core values and principles, particularly amongst young people in the UK

The Commonwealth should increasingly emphasise and prioritise its partnerships with civil society, including with youth civil society organisations since demography and succession are key to the Association’s future.

Linked to the above, thought should be given to maximising the legacy dimension of current Commonwealth events and programmes from Commonwealth Week to the Commonwealth Scholarship Programme and youth exchanges through to high profile events like the Commonwealth Games and CHOGM.

There is now a need for a new youth focused Commonwealth “branded” initiative such as a Commonwealth youth internship exchange scheme which could focus on skills and experience exchange. (It is recognised that it is not practical for everyone to travel but it is our experience that some contact programmes are vital to encourage new and younger Commonwealth citizens networks to grow and flourish).

The potential for more UK—Commonwealth education and teacher interchange and shared professional development programmes should be explored.

26 January 2011

Prepared 14th November 2012