It was an honour for Microsoft to bear witness to Sri Lanka’s historic hosting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the city of Hambantota, and participate alongside political leaders, civil society, youth, the business community and others in the summit’s vision of serving the world better.
At the 10 November inauguration ceremony of the 9th Commonwealth Youth Forum, which was held in parallel with the CHOGM, Sri Lanka President Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa made a powerful statement that for a long time, Sri Lankan children and youth have been robbed of their childhood and opportunities. Their ability to now participate in a Forum dedicated to them, with youth delegates from across the world, is significant for the country. He emphasised the country’s need to close opportunity gaps and inequalities, a message also highlighted by the Youth Forum’s theme ‘Inclusive Development—Stronger Together’.
The rich multi-stakeholder discussions that followed brought up the needs, aspirations and challenges that young people in Commonwealth countries face. Clair Deevy, Citizenship Lead of Microsoft Asia Pacific, spoke at a panel discussion, ‘Well-being and Economic Growth’, alongside other panellists, including Dr Palitha Kohana, the Sri Lankan Representative to the United Nations in New York.
Namal Rajapaksa (a Member of Parliament and founder of the youth organisation, Tharunayata Hetak) and Clair Deevy meeting at the 9th Commonwealth Youth Forum in Hambantota
During the forum, which saw a turnout of 500 locals and over 200 youth from 54 countries, Clair made an impactful presentation on the need for the private sector to be actively involved in youth empowerment to help future generations become more skilled and employable. She underscored this with the proven success of several Microsoft YouthSpark programmes that are already freely accessible to Sri Lankan youth. She also fielded questions on these programmes, such as the Digital Literacy Curriculum, which have provided essential computing skills.
Clair pointed out, “Today’s youth face an opportunity gap; some have access to the necessary skills and training needed to succeed today, but some do not. With more than 75 million unemployed young people around the world, we aim to work with youth organisations and local governments to close this gap, so that the future of our youth—and our global economy—can be secured.”
In addition to the panel discussion, Microsoft Sri Lanka also hosted a YouthSpark booth and two side-events—‘Speedgeek’ and ‘Ask Me Anything’—run by student ambassadors from around the country. These events were very well received by the attendees, who asked many questions on technology and how it has addressed the challenges faced by today’s youth.
After the event, Imran Vilcassim, Country Manager of Microsoft Sri Lanka and the Maldives, enthused, “The summit is a landmark event for Sri Lanka, and the Youth Forum has shown that our country wants to place young people at the centre of its development strategy. Microsoft YouthSpark has many opportunities to engender and facilitate youth empowerment in the move towards Sri Lanka’s vision, and we are excited about the prospects.”