Commonwealth Futures Group photo

Emily Dingley discusses her Commonwealth Futures experience

Published on 02 March 2020
Emily Dingley portrait
Emily Dingley

Emily Dingley is a third year Sport and Exercise Science student, studying at the University of Leeds, UK.

I am incredibly grateful that I was able to be a part of the unique and valuable experience, of which I am able to take so much away from.

My background is in playing sport and indirectly using sport as a means to drive social cohesion within communities in the UK, USA and Fiji, through various community-based projects. Therefore, when I was granted the incredible opportunity to attend the four-day Commonwealth Futures: inspiring Global Citizens workshop in India this February, I was truly grateful and honoured. I was also very nervous as it would be the first time that I would participate in anything outside of sport, but I was very excited to learn about other student leaders from across the Commonwealth, learn about their cultures, and learn about their experiences of how they have led purposeful change in their communities through more direct approaches.

The Commonwealth Futures workshop was more eye opening, thought provoking and inspiring than I could have anticipated. I spent the majority of the four days very much outside of my comfort zone, but this was a blessing. It provided me with an opportunity to increase my awareness and learn from my fellow students on topics, principles and global issues outside of sport that I had never considered. I have been particularly inspired on key areas such as promoting acceptance instead of tolerance, access to education for all, addressing climate change, preventing violent extremism through community projects and bridging the gap between research and how to apply that information practically to help solve these issues. It has really inspired me as a young leader to take these principles and the lessons that I learnt, and to share and discuss them with others within my community and put them into practice. As a result, I would now like to set up a programme within my university to further tackle plastic waste on campus, to help prevent climate change.

Not only did the workshop increase my knowledge on the topics mentioned above, it has also encouraged me to change my approach. It was a very unique experience and inspiring to be in a room with confident student leaders from across the Commonwealth and to interact with them during discussions. I observed how my fellow students stood up with confidence and calmness to articulate an answer. I experienced a debate for the first time and witnessed how other students held themselves and sustained their point to ensure their voice got heard and was valued. My leadership style has always been through my actions and indirectly using sport rather than what I say. The experience from observing and listening to my fellow students taught me other ways that I can communicate and that I need to improve my confidence in order to step up, speak up and hold myself in a confident manner. I learnt from observing my fellow students and being part of the unique dynamic how I can do that and change my approach to be more direct, so that in the future, I can communicate more effectively, which will help me to influence positive change within my community. For instance, one way I found to be more effective to share my point was by highlighting examples of my lived experience alongside statistical data as a means to showcase the importance and value.


Emily Dingley and fellow students Commonwealth Futures Group photo

Another element of the workshop that I have been reflecting on is the relationships that I was able to build with my fellow student leaders from across the Commonwealth. I worked in a focus group with six other students from India, Zambia, Ghana and Bangladesh. This was a unique experience as I would not usually have the opportunity to communicate with students from such diverse countries. I was able to learn about my fellow students as individuals, and about their cultures, communities, experiences and the challenges their countries are facing and what they are doing to lead positive change. We found common ground in the challenges that our countries are facing but discussed how the impact of these issues are felt differently. We chose to address climate change and drug abuse for the final day’s symposium. As such, we collectively agreed that for these issues to be countered, policy must be altered. We recommended that a more holistic approach by fostering critical thinking and indigenous knowledge must be introduced at a young age through consistent education within the school’s system and out-reach programmes. Education to address global challenges was a common theme that arose from the other three focus groups presenting their recommendations to the final symposium, which will feed into the Commonwealth Youth Forum and CHOGM 2020. It was important for us to listen to the other groups ideas to collaborate and understand how programmes can realistically be implemented to successfully address these global challenges.

Now is an important time for student leaders’ voices to be heard and ideas to be shared, especially as more than 60% of the Commonwealth are under 30 years of age. There was unity, understanding and power in 28 students from 14 Commonwealth countries coming together to share our unique lived experiences and to learn from each other to make a positive impact. I am incredibly grateful that I was able to be a part of the unique and valuable experience, of which I am able to take so much away from. I’m excited to maintain the special connections that I made with my fellow students, so that I can continue to collaborate and share our ideas. I hope to share the insights that I’ve gained from my experience and implement a more direct approach to lead social cohesion and collaborative work in my coaching activities and in upcoming presentations to the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts Manufactures and Commerce, and to University of Leeds Laidlaw Research and Leadership scholarship students from all faculties.

Thank you to the ACU and the University of Leeds for providing me with the truly special and inspiring opportunity. I truly hope in the future, that others will have the same opportunity to collaborate and learn from such powerful student leaders from across the Commonwealth.