Opening Remarks at Young Leaders Dialogue
Delivered by Miles Young, Director, SPC RRRT
8 October 2019
The power of youth is the common wealth for the entire world. The faces of young people are the faces of our past, our present and our future. No segment of society can match the power, idealism, enthusiasm and courage of young people.
(Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Indian children’s rights activist)
Mr Jone Nemani – Permanent Secretary for Youth & Sports, Government of Fiji
Her Excellency, Melanie Hopkins – the British High Commissioner to Fiji,
Lord Fakafanua – Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Kingdom of Tonga
Aulola Ake – Tongan Youth Leader and representative of the Design and Planning Committee of this Young Leaders Dialogue
Distinguished resource persons from development partner agencies
Yadra vinaka and a warm welcome on behalf of SPC, to this Young Leaders Dialogue on Good Governance and Human Rights … an event designed to help answer the question of how can we more effectively involve young Pacific Islanders in leadership, governance and human rights, in addressing the development issues confronting our region.
As I was preparing for the opening of this Dialogue, two things immediately came to mind.
The first is the relative youthfulness of the most recently elected head of the state in the Pacific and his new cabinet. I’m of course talking about President Aingimea and his new cabinet in Nauru which has many members, as well as many parliamentarians, aged 40 years or under. A very interesting development given that cabinet members in Pacific governments have traditionally been parliamentarians of long experience and years.
The second thing which came to mind is that young Pacific Islanders have been at the forefront of responding to the most pressing issue for our region – the issue of climate change.
For many years now, young Pacific Islanders have been climate activists, making meaningful contributions to awareness and understanding of climate change impacts and the need for action. Many of us here today are indeed part of this leadership.
Many of us will also know Greta Thunberg, the climate activist from Sweden. As a 15 year old, Greta has attracted much criticism including from Presidents Trump and Putin. Much of the criticism is about her age – many critics saying she is too young and naive to know what she is talking about – the classic argument that young people should be seen but not heard.
In response, Greta has said: I don’t care about age. Nor do I care about those who do not accept the science – because I don’t have as much experience, I listen more. And I also have the right to express my opinion, no matter my age. Being young is a great advantage, since we see the world from a new perspective and we are not afraid to make changes.
Inspiring words indeed.
Greta and young people like you here today recognise that you have the energy, the brains, the imagination, the talent, and the right, to help address the issues of our times – that society’s issues can be only be resolved with the full participation of all communities, including young people like yourselves.
As you know, the Pacific has a very young population – I believe 22.6 years is the average age across our region. This demographic begs the obvious question – a question which no doubt will be asked many times at this Dialogue – how do we harness the full potential of our young people in leadership, governance and human rights, within the frame of the development issues confronting our region?
Perhaps a good starting point to help answer this question is the Pacific Youth Development Framework 2014-2023, a collaborative effort by youth stakeholders consisting of youth networks, regional and national development agencies, and governments.
One of the four regional priorities identified by the Pacific Youth Development Framework is the strengthening of governance structures so that young people can more effectively influence decision-making.
So as you go about your deliberations over the next few days, I would urge you to consider three questions which the Pacific Youth Development Framework asks specifically with respect to good governance:
- First, how do we strengthen youth representative structures such as national youth and the Pacific Youth councils, so they are not captured by the ‘elite’ but include the meaningful involvement of diverse groups such as persons with disabilities, young people from rural areas and members of the LGBTQ communities?
- Second, how do we get our governments to invest more in youth development across all sectors?
- And third, how do we ensure that our governments and youth representative structures share responsibility for youth development and how do we hold them accountable for this?
How do we strengthen youth representative structures?
How do we get our governments to invest more in youth development across all sectors?
How do we ensure that our governments and youth representative structures share responsibility for youth development?
As leaders, you will know that your positions carry certain responsibilities.
One of these responsibilities is to observe due respect to our colleagues and counterparts, especially our elders and traditional leaders, when working in leadership spaces. This is the ‘Pacific Way’.
Another is to observe good governance principles, including respect for the rule of law, accountability, transparency, consultation and consensus in decision-making, responsiveness to communities’ needs, and equity and inclusiveness. You will no doubt discuss these principles in more detail over the next few days and it promises to be a highly stimulating conversation.
Before I move to my closing comments, I’d like to briefly mention that SPC is commencing consultations on its new strategic plan which will take effect from 2021. To ensure that the views of Pacific youth inform the new strategic plan, I’d like to extend to you all, an invitation to engage in the consultation process and you can do this by registering your interest with Rose Martin, whom you all know, over the next few days.
In closing, I’d like to congratulation you on being selected for this Dialogue. We have 84 participants from over 15 countries. Over a thousand applications were received for this event, so being selected is an achievement in itself. The number of applicants just shows how hungry young people in our region are in the subject matter to be discussed over the next few days. Of course, with your selection comes the responsibility to put into practice what you have learned here and to share it with your peers back home.
I acknowledge the committee which worked closely with SPC to plan and design this regional event. Aulola Ake from Tonga, Litiana Kalsrap from Vanuatu, Salamasina Tofa from Samoa, Grace Pine from Kiribati, Lagi Seru from Fiji, Francis Baundo from PNG, Hika Gone from Solomon Islands, and Niuone Eliuta from Tuvalu – to you, one and all, vinaka vakalevu from SPC.
To Permanent Secretary Nemani and Her Excellency High Commissioner Hopkins – thank you for opening this event.
I acknowledge the SPC team which worked with the committee in designing and planning this event – Rose, Ashley, Delvin, Kalpana, Fane, Onorina, Mema and Pierre.
To our donors – vinaka vakalevu to the UK Government for being the principal donor for this event under its Pacific Commonwealth Equality Programme, and to the Australian and Swedish governments for their support to the RRRT work programme 2017-2021.
And finally, to you all, again welcome again to this Young Leaders Dialogue on Human Rights and Good Governance – I trust it will be useful and full of learning, inspiring and enjoyable, and an opportunity to deepen existing friendships, partnerships and networks and establish new ones.
All the best.
 The three other priorities are: decent employment for young people; improving the health status of young people; and engaging more young people in environmental action.