Four outstanding young people have won Commonwealth Youth Awards for innovative projects that are delivering sustainable development in their countries.
The awards recognise exceptional contributions of young people whose ventures are helping their countries achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While Brian Galabuzi Kakembo from Uganda is turning plastics into eco-friendly briquettes with a focus on SDG 8, Hafiz Usama Tanveer, Pakistan, brings clean water to poor communities focus on SDG 6.
Sowmyan Jegatheesan from Canada, focuses on SDG 15: life on land. He is providing one-stop information to prevent human-wildlife conflict.
Sagufta Salma, Fiji, is transforming waste into sustainable furniture. He focuses on SDG 12: responsible consumption and production.
More than 500 award nominations were received from 40 countries. From these, a pan-Commonwealth judging panel selected sixteen finalists. The awards were presented during a gathering at Commonwealth headquarters in London. Recipients received a £3,000 grant for their projects.
As well as the Africa and Europe prize Galabuzi Brian Kakembo of Uganda scooped the overall prize of 2020 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year for his work on transforming biodegradable plastics and organic waste into eco-friendly charcoal briquettes.
Growing up in a poor community, he set up an enterprise to educate women and young people to turn waste into wealth. He has reached more than 800 women and young people, and 600 of them now make and sell briquettes in Uganda.
“I want the world to see that unemployed youth is not a problem but an untapped resource that can be trained and supported to bring about a social change,” Brian said.
Hafiz, from Pakistan, has created water purification kits to improve access to clean water in poor communities and refugee camps to help prevent the spread of waterborne diseases. He has reached more than 11,000 people including victims of the Kerala flooding that occurred in the past two years.
“This award is an encouragement to continue on this trajectory to reach more people and to make water non-exclusive,” he said.
Canada’s Sowmyan wants the world to make informed decisions when it comes to protecting wildlife from the effects of climate change.
He has developed one of the world’s largest online information hubs to help communities build resilience by better understanding climate activities, migration patterns and human-wildlife conflict.
“The business-as-usual practice has led to the endangering of so many species. We must change our course, understand the evidence and make informed decisions to protect our wildlife from changing climate,” he said.
Sagufta from Fiji is turning waste material into sustainable furniture and home accessories. She says a lack of access to proper waste disposal in Fiji drove her to establish her enterprise, which has now upcycled more than 1,000 tons of waste.
She mainly employs single mothers so they can support their families.
“This award will help me create more awareness around sustainable living and empower more women to work in a field that is largely dominated by men,” she said
Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who presented the awards, said: “For the awards this year, we received nominations from more than 40 Commonwealth countries. Considering them made us aware of a vast range of impressive innovations.”
“There were projects for delivering tech-powered learning, to provide clean water and sanitation, and for waste management.
“The entries remind us that there is no lack of ingenuity or ideas. What we tend to lack are mechanisms to support and fund the young innovators who have the imagination and creativity we need to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
“So the Commonwealth Youth Awards are a searchlight picking out some of the best examples of who we are and what we can do as a family of nations,” she added.
During the awards ceremony, presentations on the work being done by finalists to deliver sustainable development were made to diplomats, officials and civil society representative from Commonwealth countries.