Group photo of smiling UK students from ACU Members

Commonwealth Futures: creating a meaningful shift in public policy

Published on 23 January 2020
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Ahmednur Ali

Ahmednur Ali is a Research Assistant at McMaster Health Forum's Impact Lab and a Wilson Leadership Scholar.

He is undertaking a PhD(c) in Health Policy, specialising in Political Studies at McMaster University, Canada.

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This December I was honoured with the opportunity to attend the three-day symposium, ‘Commonwealth Futures: Youth Perspectives’ as the Canadian delegate, representing McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. I was delighted to be able to be a part of this symposium because of how it seeks to foster a dialogue between so many diverse countries. Having come to Canada as a refugee from Somalia, I jumped at the chance to attend this unique opportunity to meet with other young, driven, future leaders from across the world. I have always hoped to make a positive difference in the world, and this desire has helped guide my academic choices as well as my personal life. The Commonwealth Futures programme has, at its core, a desire to improve the world in a way that resonated strongly with my own values.

This year we collectively looked at the question, "What kind of future do young people want for our Commonwealth?". Upon meeting the other delegates, immediately, I was impressed with the talent and brilliance displayed by my colleagues! The diversity of experiences and perspectives allowed all of us to expand the angle from which we approached the core question posed to us. One of my greatest realisations was that the issues we are facing as a global community require cross-sector collaboration to adequately address them and that we prosper best through amplifying each other's strengths. The varied expertise and voices helped us to refine our own ideas, bringing us collectively to what we viewed as our best decision. This process has challenged me to broaden my perspectives on an issue and I am fortunate to have been able to interact with so many people who helped me further my understanding of the issues we face as a global community. We live in an increasingly complex world with increasingly complex problems that require us to shift how we are approaching solutions.

My time at the symposium allowed me to better understand the issues faced not only by other communities, but also helped me generate better solutions to the concerns faced in my own neighbourhood. I learned that how we frame our discussion on good governance and the rule of law is fundamental if we hope to usher in a meaningful shift in public policy. A common thread that kept arising, whether I was sharing my communities concerns in Toronto, or a fellow delegate was voicing the priorities in their region, was that we cannot overlook, minimise, or negate the impact of policy legacies that have created pockets within our communities with concentrated poverty. I am a firm believer that we cannot underestimate the political expediency of sound, good policy. As such, we collectively understood that the language we used to frame our recommendations must reflect the reality that the language used is not simply semantics but that words have tangible public policy implications.

One of the highlights of my immersion in such a rich learning environment was that the symposium allowed many of us to use our voices clearly and effectively. We were allowed to create, present, and defend our ideas and perspectives in a way that honed our arguments. Our group focused on ways the Commonwealth could help to ensure access to justice for migrant workers. We felt this wonderful opportunity demanded that, we as young leaders, use our voices to be advocates for migrant workers. Though our priorities, preferences, and strengths differ across the Commonwealth, our shared values to uplift the most vulnerable in the world is unwavering. To reinforce our commitment to the values of social progress, equal rights and human dignity, our group chose to present our recommendations differently from other groups. To highlight our diversity across the Commonwealth, we spoke in our native languages each echoing the need for access to justice for migrant workers. We also differed from our fellow delegates in that, our group was the only one that dared to question the distinguished panel on whether their respective organisations would support a potential migrant workers organisation and how explicitly, each organisation planned to support this vulnerable population. Our group was also the only group to incorporate the lived experience of a migrant worker, who was a member of our group. It was a profoundly moving reminder that good governance and the rule of law are not merely thought experiments.

I truly believe that it was understood that young people are the common wealth of the Commonwealth, giving us all a glimpse into the power of our collective efforts. Knowledge that was both academic in origin and personally lived experiences were shared between people and it was this collaboration that I very dearly valued. I was fortunate enough to connect meaningfully with many other young leaders who I hope to stay connected with so that we may continue to work and grow together. That is one of the greatest aspects of this process. Even though the symposium itself only lasted a few days, the ripples from this meeting will persist far longer. I want to take what I have gained from these bonds and apply it to the initiatives I am part of and will be part of in the future. I also hope that I can offer a similar sort of value to the others as well and enable their efforts to flourish.

I am fortunate to have been selected for the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award. The Wilson Leadership Scholar Award recognises and cultivates leadership potential and prepares undergraduate and graduate students to serve as Canada’s next generation of leaders. One of the requirements of Wilson Leaders is to create a community project. The insights I have gained from my experience at the Commonwealth Futures symposium have helped me to be more critical in my approach to designing my community project, which focuses on helping students from underprivileged communities transition into higher education.

To anyone who has ever considered attending a Commonwealth Futures symposium, I urge you to pursue the opportunity. This symposium was a phenomenal experience for me and gave me the opportunity to accelerate my global learning and expand my own views. Connecting with your faculty and getting involved in your home communities is a fantastic way to begin your journey and will provide you with valuable experiences.

I am immensely grateful for the opportunity I was given and I hope that others continue to benefit from the Commonwealth Futures programme.

The inaugural Commonwealth Futures workshop took place at Cumberland Lodge, UK, in December 2019, bringing together more than 60 student and youth leaders to shape policy dialogue ahead of this year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Rwanda.

Find out more about the Commonwealth Futures programme