Exceptional young people recognised for their contribution to development work

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A range of outstanding young people aged 15-29 have been honoured with Commonwealth Youth Awards at the Youth Forum of the Commonwealth Summit.  The awards recognise young people whose innovative projects have had a significant impact on their communities. This year’s awards celebrated young people’s contribution towards a fairer, more sustainable, more secure and more prosperous future for the Commonwealth: the four sub-themes of the Summit that is taking place this week in London.

Usman Iftikhar was named Commonwealth Young Person of the Year and received his award from Prince Harry. “The Commonwealth is such an amazing platform to share our ideas and perspectives,” he said.

Usman, 27, was also the regional winner for the Pacific.  He founded Catalysr, a startup incubator that enables migrants and refugees in Australia to start their own businesses and create a sustainable future for themselves and their communities. The company has a four-month incubator programme that offers office space, mentoring sessions, networking opportunities and access to capital. Usman believes that the Youth Forum and the Commonwealth Summit is an opportunity to collaborate on a long term sustainable future for everyone.

The regional winners were presented with their awards by the UK’s Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds.

Jonathan Barcant, 29, the regional winner for Caribbean and Americas, is from Trinidad and Tobago. He founded Vetiver TT, a cost-effective bio-engineering scheme to build climate change resilience. He would like to take the scheme to other nations affected by hurricanes such Antigua and Barbuda and Dominica, and says that “to be part of this network to showcase on this platform is very useful” for expanding his work.

The regional winner for Asia, Vanessa Paranjothy, said that the award will enable her to promote her social enterprise, Freedom Cups, to a wider market.  Vanessa, 29, from Singapore, co-founded Freedom Cups with her sisters. It provides underprivileged women with menstrual products in a buy-one-give-one model. 

The regional winner for Africa and Europe, Sherifah Tumusiime, 29, is from Uganda.  She founded Zimba Women, a social enterprise that helps underserved women get internet access.  She said she was deeply humbled to be honoured by the award: “it’s not just East Africa or Africa that I’m working with now, it’s global.”

Layne Robinson, the Head of Social Policy Development at the Commonwealth, said that the Regional Winners and Commonwealth Young Person of the Year “demonstrate real innovation and dedication in working to make the Commonwealth fairer, more secure, more sustainable and more prosperous. Their projects demonstrate the powerful potential of young people all over the Commonwealth and we are thrilled to recognise them during the Youth Forum this year.”

The 20 finalists span every region of the Commonwealth and were shortlisted from more than 400 applications from around the world. The awards are coordinated by the Commonwealth Youth Programme.

Finalists receive a grant of £1,000 to continue their development work.  The Regional Young Persons of the Year receive £3,000 and the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year receives £5,000.

The Pan-Commonwealth adjudication panel included the High Commissioner for Saint Kitts and Nevis, representatives from the High Commissions of Fiji, Malaysia, and Kenya, a trustee of the British Youth Council and a representative of the Commonwealth Local Government Forum.

The 20 shortlisted finalists:

ASIA

India - Mrinalini Dayal

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality

Mrinalini is the campaign leader for ‘Health Over Stigma’, an organisation which aims to challenge the stigma of accessing sexual health services and create a safe haven for women to reproductive health facilities.  The organisation also supports women to gain the skills to run advocacy campaigns and positively impact the lives of other women. To date, ‘Health Over Stigma’ has trained more than 450 young activists.

Pakistan - Zain Ashraf

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

Zain is the founder of ‘Seed Out’, a not-for-profit crowdfunding platform which works to end poverty by establishing micro-entrepreneurs through interest-free micro-financing. Since 2014 the organisation has raised 350 entrepreneurs, selecting and pairing micro entrepreneurs with a business based on need.

Singapore - Vanessa Paranjothy

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

Vanessa is the founder of ‘Freedom Cups’, an organisation which distributes reusable, sustainable menstrual products in developing regions of Asia and provides education to women and girls about their bodies and the environmental impact of periods. It is run on a buy-one, give-one model where every cup purchased results in one being donated. There are 15 projects in 7 countries which have provided support to more than 3000 women and girls.

India - Yogesh Kumar

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality

Yogesh is the founder of ‘Even Cargo’, a social enterprise which promotes gender equality through the employment of women couriering, which is a traditionally male profession in India. The organisation works to overcome the barriers of unemployment through skill development of women, training female drivers in motorcycle driving, self-defence and logistics.

Brunei - Khairul Azmi Salleh

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Khairul is the vice chair of the ‘Society of Community Outreach and Training’, which encourages low income earners to gain income through recycling, and supports them to be more innovative. Since 2011, the organisation has collected more than 60,000kg of recyclables. The significance being that, for every $1 of recyclable materials contributed, a resident receives 1.5kg of rice.

AFRICA AND EUROPE

Tanzania - Elia Timotheo

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Elia is the founder of ‘East Africa Fruits’, a company that aims to increase the shelf-life of produce through cold-chain technology. In addition, it works to increase the income and standard of living of smallholder farmers, creating employment opportunities for young people. It also focuses on sustainable production methods, with the aim of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide omitted to the atmosphere.

Uganda - Sherifah Tumusiime

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality

Sherifah is the founder of Zimba Group, a start-up business that provides technology and software solutions for SMEs. It also provides tools, technologies, platforms and networks to improve the livelihood of women in underserved communities in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Uganda - Okettayot Lawrence

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Okettayot is the creator of ‘Sparky Dryer’, a low-tech dehydrator which dries fruits and vegetables to extend their shelf life from two days to two years. The aim of the creation is that it increases food security and income for local communities.

Nigeria - Omowumi Ogunrotim

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality

Onowumi is the founder of ‘Gender Mobile’, which aims to increase the reportage of, and reduce the incidence of, gender-based violence through coordination of linked services. It also works to provide survivors with information, referrals, assistance and longer-term help to close the gap in service delivery through creative use of technology.

Kenya - Gerald Matolo

Focus Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Gerald is the founder of ‘Angaza Africa Technologies’, a clean energy company that manufactures electric and manual briquette machines and carbonisation kilns, in addition to processing eco-friendly charcoal pellets for cooking. The company also focusses on empowering women and youth groups by distributing the machines in an affordable way.

PACIFIC

Australia - Kate Crowhurst

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education

Kate has a background in education as a teacher, an author of textbooks for the Australian Curriculum and Federal education policy-maker. She currently works as part of the national financial literacy strategy, providing Australian teachers with professional development and resources. Her organisation, 'Advocate', connects young voters in Canberra with their local politicians, directly engaging young people in democracy.

Australia - Usman Iftikhar

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

Usman is the founder of ‘Catalysr’ a start-up incubator that enables migrants and refugees in Australia to start their own businesses and create a sustainable future for themselves and their communities. The company’s four-month incubator programme offers office space, mentoring sessions, networking opportunities and access to capital.

Fiji - Josevata Rotidara

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

Josevata is an advocate for ‘Campaign for Mental Health’, an organisation that promotes education to enhance the capabilities of young people, gender equality and sustainable development. It also focuses on mental health and well-being in order to overcome the stigma that surrounds it.

Fiji - Elvis Anal Kumar

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Elvis is a mindfulness trainer at ‘World Peace Initiative’, an organisation that conducts self-development workshops for young Pacific Islanders and teaches stress management, conflict resolution, non-violent communication and youth empowerment.

Papua New Guinea - Lazarus Towa

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Lazarus is a youth worker at ‘Unemployment Initiates’, which links youth with employment opportunities. The organisation also engages youth through social media and targets jobseekers who do not have easy access to job vacancy sites, in addition to providing additional support through advice such as CV writing.

CARIBBEAN AND THE AMERICAS

Jamaica - Rayon Mclean

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities

Rayon is the founder of Quilt, a performing arts company which engages with children with disabilities, minority groups and at-risk young people.

Jamaica - Sophia Bryan

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 5: Gender Equality

Sophia is the founder of ‘Women of Unlimited Worth’, which provides holistic support to young women who are exposed to, or at risk of, discrimination or gender violence. The organisation also provides coaching and mentoring mentorship services, specifically aimed at teaching women to provide for themselves.

Trinidad and Tobago - Jonathan Barcant

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 13: Climate Action

Jonathan is the founder of ‘Vetivier Education and Empowerment Project’, a cost-effective bio-engineering scheme to build climate change resilience. The scheme delivers a penetrating root system to stabilise land, preventing erosion and slowing down water run-off.

Canada - Kehkashan Basu

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 4: Quality Education

Kehkashan is the founder of ‘Green Hope Foundation’, which engages, empowers and educates more than 1000 young people in Canada, India and Malaysia to take action on climate change, the right to education, and gender equality. The foundation also runs environment academies which deliver customised workshops with the mantra of “By Youth, For Youth”.

Guyana - Patricee Douglas

Focus: Sustainable Development Goal 3: Good Health and Well-Being

Patricee is the founder of SRHR Adventures, which promotes sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) with an emphasis on family planning and contraception in Guyana. The organisation also empowers women and girls to take control of their SRHR, in addition to promoting family planning, safe sex practices and the HPV vaccine.

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