Commonwealth Local Government Forum

Youth leadership and sustainable development

27 March 2023


As the Commonwealth celebrates the Year of Youth, we speak to Allan Pollard, who has just attended the Commonwealth Youth Leadership Summit in his capacity as a Youth Leader. Hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat at Marlborough House in London, at the beginning of March, Mr Pollard, Deputy Mayor of Belize City Council, was there in his capacity as a Young City Leader and the CLGF Representative/member on the Steering Committee of the Commonwealth Youth for Sustainable Urbanisation Network (CYSU).


What was the summit about and which sessions were you involved in?

Young Leaders from various Commonwealth organisations were selected to take part in the event. Essentially about leadership, the summit sought to ensure that we understood what the Commonwealth is, to allow us to be effective ambassadors in our respective jurisdictions and, of course, to operate from a leadership perspective.


It was a very interesting experience because, coinciding with Commonwealth week, all the foreign ministers – or ‘senior folk’ were there, giving it a real sense of leadership. Just being there while important issues are being discussed, we could equip ourselves, as young leaders, with the skills required to work within our youth groups.


It was quite rigorous in terms of the amount of training we undertook, which took place every day from 8am to 5pm. There was a lot of information to absorb. As someone who is quite new to the concept of the Commonwealth, it was a real eye opener and definitely the exact introduction I needed to be a part of this group. There were a lot of pep talks, technical information and, of course, various speakers who were familiar with different aspects of the Commonwealth and various types of leadership.


It was very beneficial for us, as representatives of youth, to share our different perspectives and how we operate in our different countries. With 56 countries, everyone’s style and culture is different but, at the end of the day, the theory remains the same - a universal theory and universal theory of leadership. 

What was the most useful information or inspiring speaker that you encountered?

There were so many! Lucy Slack gave an excellent presentation, highlighting the breadth of work undertaken by CLGF and local government and the importance of the youth element. She explained the work that we do with the Commonwealth Youth Sustainable Urbanisation, and what we hope to do in the future, with the important role that local government plays. 


It was amazing to have the opportunity to speak to the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland; she is such an inspiring woman; and the Assistant Secretary-General, as well. These are the conversations that resonated the most, as the exceptional work they do was showcased at every stage of their experiences. We had sessions on democracy and the fairness of elections and the importance of overseeing elections in different countries.


I got the opportunity to share some very personal experiences and aspirations, for example, having the issue of incumbency as a barrier to entering parliament was something that I got to share with the rest of the group. Some of the interventions had a real impact on our lives, like people meddling within the processes and systems, and not having a fair chance of being in parliament; this was a big moment that I will remember.  

What else did you find memorable?

The Summit took place during Commonwealth Week and I was lucky enough to attend the reception at Buckingham Palace and that was certainly an experience, one of the first things I told my Mom. To actually be inside such an iconic building, in the presence of His Majesty the King and the Prince of Wales, together with attending the service at Westminster Abbey for Commonwealth Day. The flags, the cultural exchanges, hearing the King’s speech, they were all wonderful experiences. Just being there as a young person from Belize; it was huge and something that will definitely stay with me for the rest of my life.

What were the main outcomes for you?

There were definite takeaways for individuals, especially in relation to increased knowledge about leadership. We received some useful materials, for example, the book: “Twenty-one irrefutable laws of leadership”, which we read at night and discussed the following day: an effective and interactive way to learn, reflecting on real life scenarios. I think everyone was able to return home, feeling inspired, and I know I’ll be making adjustments to how I lead my group work, how I talk to my peers, and how I operate in the workplace in general. I think everybody has that sense of responsibility as a young leader now.


Receiving the Commonwealth Pin really emphasises the role that we play in representing the Commonwealth as leaders and ambassadors, reminding you that you should be aware of this throughout your actions and dealings with others. Many of us drew up a list of things to do in our groups.


Collaboration was such a strong feature. After explaining the role of the CYSU, the network I was representing, there was so much interest from other groups, for example the delegates representing Commonwealth students, human rights and entrepreneurs. Everybody wanted to know how they could work with CSYU, because, of course, urbanisation affects everyone and every region of the Commonwealth. It was great to network, exchange contact information and to look at how we could come up with some realistic goals for joint working.

What should local governments across the Commonwealth be prepared for?

With 2023 being the Year of Youth, it is great to highlight the relevance and importance of youth. We’re looking at the relationship with CLGF. The Youth Challenge is a project we’re considering, which will have youths from different spheres of local government, coming together to share ideas that can be implemented within their municipalities, Mayors will adopt these ideas directly from the youth cohort.


A lot of mayors and municipalities talk about inclusion, or having better consultation with young stakeholders and what could be better than having young people live with policies that they have played a role in implementing, in 10 or 20 years from now. The Youth Challenge is real and actionable.


What have you learned for youth and local government, particularly, in relation to the CSCN? 

The Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Network (CSCN) brings together mayors and managers who support cities and human settlements to be able to respond to some of the challenges related to urbanisation - those groups have placed priority on youth development.  


There are so many, especially in the CYSU. The Rapid Planning Toolkit is one of those universally used mechanisms that can really impact how we operate as individual municipalities. For me, as I’m in charge of infrastructure and urban development in Belize, it is a great boost to have a methodology that’s been tested before (I believe it was tested in Bo, in Sierra Leone and went well). So we are now planning to see if we could use the toolkit in Belize and have the same results in an area we find particularly difficult. This is due to urbanisation. A flood risk area is now used for residential purposes, which is not helpful for municipal leaders who want to ensure that people have a decent quality of life. We  are looking at how we could use the tool to implement a policy to return this area to its initial use, like a natural catchment area or ecological site for bird watching or a nature trail. The aim is to ensure that people are relocated to a better area, but in a responsible way and the toolkit will help with this. The CYSU has some of the best young architects, planners and engineers within the Commonwealth and it’s so important to come together and make sure that we have the best methodology and we're using it properly. I definitely believe that we can change some lives and that's why I'm in local government; working for my municipality and the Commonwealth. 


Of course this will involve the universities and education systems to ensure a multidisciplinary approach. I’ve already spoken to the Minister of Natural Resources and he's fully on board, as I’m sure most of the ministries in Belize will be, too, for example sustainable development and the Department of the Environment. A longstanding and sensitive issue that requires collaboration of these bigger groups. But it’s important not to reinvent the wheel, but use what we already have.


It is a unique opportunity and a huge privilege to hold a position as a city leader and influencer to effect change.


I want to find a way to use the available resources in the Commonwealth and my position as an elected official to bring about improvements. I have a responsibility to my city and, having attended an event like the Leadership Summit, I need to be able to show the people I serve how they can benefit from my participation and learning. After all, I'm only here because of my people.  

Commonwealth Charter

While I was there, the Commonwealth Foundation reached out to ask me to take part in a panel session on the relevance of the Commonwealth Charter, which is ten years old this year. It was a very interesting discussion because there were young people from all corners of the Commonwealth, talking about what the Charter meant to them.


One of the things that I was keen to highlight was that the charter has not been translated to young people as much, and that's something that we definitely have to highlight. We discussed how we could introduce the Commonwealth Charter to schools and even into the curriculum. So many people don’t even know the Charter exists and they should know about a document that, while not enshrined in law, details some of the values we share in terms of democracy, sustainability, environment, human rights. I think, regardless of the area you represent, CYSU or CLGF, everything we do should reflect these values and now, as a Youth Commonwealth ambassador, I believe it’s my job to get the message out that all the work we do is bound by one central framework.  


It was a fantastic summit and I’d like to see it replicated in all regions of the Commonwealth, particularly in the Caribbean.

Calling on local government professionals for the CYSU

CYSU is for young people aged between 15 and 35. Obviously having the technical expertise is important, but so too is ensuring the involvement of local government professionals. We need councillors, mayors and administrators to drive forward sustainable development in the face of rapid urbanisation, guiding and working with our communities. The tough challenges ahead will only be tackled through partnership working and collaboration. Check out the CYSU website. And follow CLGF's representative on the CYSU via his twitter account @apthebwai


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