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Young people honoured with Commonwealth Youth Awards

PICTURED: Jonathan Barcant, Usman Iftikhar , Vanessa Paranjothy and Sherifah Tumaseman

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.

Iftikhar, 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. Iftikhar 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. Paranjothy, 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. Tumusiime 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."

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.

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