Helen Clark, former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and former Prime Minister of New Zealand, asserts that youth, innovation and sustainable development should be at the heart of the Commonwealth post-2015.
The Commonwealth, like the United Nations, spans every region of the world. It constitutes nearly a third of the global population – some 2.2 billion people, and a quarter of our planet’s land area. But it has not relied on its size and geographical reach alone in making its mark in a world of many multi-country organisations. The Commonwealth’s unique value has been its commitment to development, democracy, and diversity.
At 66 years of age, the Commonwealth is just four years younger than the United Nations, which celebrates its 70th anniversary in 2015. To be relevant to our times, both must continually reinvent themselves in a world of many pressing challenges – and in a very youthful world. The global population under the age of 30 numbers more than half the total of over seven billion.
Three in every five Commonwealth citizens are under the age of 30. That fully justifies the choice of 2015’s Commonwealth theme: ‘A Young Commonwealth’. And one cannot fail to be impressed by the major focus of the Commonwealth on developing youth potential through its programmes and forums. The Commonwealth Youth Index is an innovative tool that can support governments in designing effective youth policy. I especially welcome the 2013 Declaration of Commonwealth Leaders in which they committed “unequivocally to investing in young people and placing them at the centre of sustainable and inclusive development, thus harnessing their creativity, leadership, and social capital towards the progress and resilience of Commonwealth countries and a more prosperous and democratic Commonwealth.”
With youth comes energy, vibrancy, and optimism – if there is a supportive environment and opportunity. That lays the ground for major positive contributions and a demographic dividend from the largest youth population the world has ever known. Yet a failure to invest in opportunity for youth can quickly lead to the opposite – to alienation, and to energy turned in destructive rather than constructive directions. That is a future we invite at our peril…
*Statistics within article correct at original publication date of CHOGM 2015 Report.
Former Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and former Prime Minister of New Zealand