How do we make the Commonwealth relevant to young people today?
No doubt the Glasgow Games will be a very high-profile sporting fortnight; in equal measures exciting, contemporary, poignant and jubilant. But in celebrating the Commonwealth through the Games, what fundamental cause are we supporting? Is it just to maintain a vestige of empire?
If we look past the Games to the underlying Commonwealth Charter, it does not hark back to bygone days of empire. It describes the values and aspirations which unite the Commonwealth today; values that include democracy, human rights, international peace and security, tolerance, respect and understanding, freedom of expression, rule of law and gender equality, among others.
These are anything but historical. We see the issues these values address played out every day in the news. They are part and parcel of international development, and with such development and the removal of inequalities comes a safer, more stable world.
This week the British Council's cultural programme for Glasgow 2014 shifted up a gear. Having helped bring musicians from Malawi, South Africa and Jamaica to Celtic Connections in January, and having just supported a tour of India by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra - where, with Nicola Benedetti, the orchestra held master classes for schoolchildren and sought to inspire young people through classical music - we had 40 young people from 11 Commonwealth countries in Glasgow for Future News, a conference on journalism.
This gathering was important not only because it brought together young people of the Commonwealth - from Malaysia to Jamaica, from South Africa to Bangladesh - to share their cultures and experiences, but also because it recognised the importance of journalism in creating a free and democratic world. Journalists have a critical role to play in making societies more open and accountable by pursuing the truth at all costs. The conference in Glasgow gave the aspiring journalists from overseas important skills that they can take back to their countries and use to communicate with each other and with Scotland.
More than 100 young people attended Future News, which took place at the Mitchell Library and was supported by Glasgow Life, Glasgow City Council, Glasgow 2014, Tinopolis and the Herald and Times Group, among others. In addition to the 40 participants from overseas, there were more than 60 from Scotland and the rest of the UK. The Commonwealth is home to 2.2 billion people and more than 60% of these are under the age of 30. It includes some of the world's most populous nations and fastest-growing economies. So we are looking to the future, and a Commonwealth of the people rather than purely governmental discussion and exchange.
A quote we received from the editor of leading Malaysian press title, The Star, a media supporter for Future News, encapsulates the importance of the initiative: "The values journalists work and live by are often taken for granted in this day and age, which is why this conference couldn't have come at a better time … it will help inspire a new generation of determined, responsible and educated journalists here in Malaysia that will bring us into the digital age."
Returning to the Scottish Symphony Orchestra tour of India, and as reported in this newspaper, Nicola Benedetti has spoken about her, and most young Scots', lack of knowledge about the history and importance of the Commonwealth. Playing before 10,000 schoolchildren in Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai, and inspiring a new generation to pursue their ambitions, she has seen first-hand the power of cultural exchange to change and enrich children's lives. But this is embedded in our shared history; the sharing of western classical and traditional Indian music.
Music and journalism, in a digital age, have more power to change young people's lives than governmental dialogue, and young people from different cultures are becoming better connected than ever before. The Commonwealth should be seen as a model for social innovation, not as a vestige of our history
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