CYC interview with Yentyl Williams, Founder ACP YPN
- Why did you decide to start ACP YPN?
I founded the African, Caribbean and Pacific Young Professionals Network (ACP YPN) in December 2014 to advocate for the utilisation of Article 26 on ‘youth issues’ of the joint and legally binding agreement between the European Union (EU) and the ACP group of states, called the Cotonou Partnership Agreement. Through my academic and professionals experiences working on EU-ACP trade, but most importantly, my own experience as a young professional, I became aware that there was a gap that formed between the technical cooperation at the EU and ACP levels, and youth. For example, having come to Brussels, as both British and Trinidadian/Tobagonian, I completed my first internship with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Trade, working on EU trade with ACP countries, but I was disappointed to find out that there were no internships at the ACP Secretariat, or moreover, no Youth Division or outreach activities. This lead me founding the ACP YPN, which began with a meeting of just 8 young people and has developed to an international network of over 400 members and partner organisations to-date.
- What are the main objectives?
The mission of ACP YPN is to play an active role in policy-making processes, which have direct or indirect implications for young professionals, regardless of their nationality, colour, ethnicity, religion, ability or disability, in order to assure that all young professionals can be equal citizens, active and capable of positively influencing a world that embraces them and incorporates them from the local to international level.
- Any successes so far?
We are actively fulfilling our goals and objectives by playing an active role in policy-making processes at several levels. In the EU, we are taking the first ever delegation of ACP youth to the European Youth Event in Strasbourg, 20-21 May. Additionally, it is the first time that ACP youth with be represented at the hallmark EU development event, the European Development Days 2016, on high-level panels discussing youth and SDGs with the United Nations Development Programme and the Committee of the Regions (EU), as well as with ONE for a discussion on nutrition, agriculture and youth. This led us to be invited to the European Youth Forum (EYF) Council of Members and we are continuing discussions to formalise our relationship to continually contribute our perspective. In addition, we were also the only youth network to contribute to the EU public consultation on the future of EU-ACP relations after the current agreement is due to expire in 2020. Internationally, we have been recognised by African Union (AU) as young professionals in diaspora – the sixth region of Africa – as we were invited to take part in the Inter-Generational Dialogue within the framework of the AU Heads of State summit 2016. I was also awarded Commonwealth Champion for advancing the values of the Commonwealth for my initiative to champion inclusion with ACP YPN and we are working together in a number of activities, with the Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs (CAYE), the Commonwealth Youth Council (CYC) and the other thematic youth networks.
- What are your future plans?
Although we are a young network, we plan to put in place a structure, which is both sustainable and inclusive. This year we have established our presence at the EU-level and participated in key debates internationally, setting in place a structure we can take forward n the coming years. We are in the process of selecting ACP YPN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Ambassadors in the EU and in the ACP regions to contribute to an interactive blog to foster youth engagement and inclusion in the SDGs. In a recent presentation on Inter-regional cooperation for Agenda 2030, I highlighted my three main recommendations to practically ensure the place of youth in the SDG agenda: Pioneer Youth-mainstreaming; Align SDGs with regional agendas; Creating an enabling environment for youth and youth networks. This is something we will begin work on now but will keep us busy until 2030 and beyond.
- Any challenges?
There are always challenges but this makes us both stronger and wiser, both as an individual and as a Network! One of our regular activities is the ACP YPN Ambassador Series whereby we bridge the gap between ACP Ambassadors and young. Although it is sometimes difficult to convince Ambassadors of the importance to have these exchanges, we have overcome this challenge through patience and dialogue, working together as a dedicated team despite lack of human resources (time, funding and more) and with the support of Ambassadors. Members of the network have underlined the importance of such exchanges to gain a deeper insight into the diplomatic and international relations, to have a personal and professional exchange with Ambassadors and their diplomatic corps, as well as the opportunity to broaden their horizons and attain first-hand high-level advice as young professionals.
- Any messages to youth of the Commonwealth
I truly believe in Ghandi’s advice: be the change you want to see. Empower yourself to be the agent of change and together through collective will and collective action we can implement a transformative change to contribute to making our societies, communities and world more inclusive.
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