The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme celebrates the achievements of inspiring young people from across the Commonwealth.
Each winner has transformed their communities for the better. From driving change in education, the environment or social equality – to using social media to get their voices heard. These young leaders are proof that no problem is too great to overcome.
Since 2014, The Queen's Young Leaders Programme selects young people from across the Commonwealth who are driving change across their communities.
All under the age of 30, the winners work in support of a range of issues – from tackling bullies in schools to preserving the environment to promoting gender equality.
For one week winners from across the 52 Commonwealth countries are invited to the UK for a week-long residential placement, where they visit Number 10, the BBC and organisations such as Facebook and Oxfam to take part in development activities to help drive their work forward. At the end of the week, a ceremony is held at Buckingham Palace where they will be given their medal by Her Majesty The Queen.
During their time at the University of Cambridge, we spoke to five of this year's winners about their inspirational stories and what they make of becoming a Queen's Young Leader.
Kumba Musa (27)
As an engineer, Kumba became disheartened at the underrepresentation of females working in her field. So in 2015 she founded Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Women Sierra Leone (STEM Women). The organisation aims to motivate girls to pursue STEM careers and improve STEM education in the country.
'The reaction from the day we launched has been phenomenal, I had schools calling me and asking us to go and speak to their pupils and parents asking us to speak to their children. Just over a year later we now have 58 women on the team. We are giving science a new face. We are breaking the stereotype that it is a male-dominated field and showing that women can do it too.
I am most looking forward to learning from the other young leaders about their projects, how they work with their teams and the impact they have in their communities. I always ask them ‘What are you doing? Why did you do it? How are you doing it?’ Because when I listen to how they do whatever they are doing, even though it might be very different to my work, I can learn something from them. It also makes you feel ‘I am not alone’. We are all doing something to help our community.'
Abrahim Simmonds (22)
Abrahim uses the Arts to help develop the skills of young people, having co-created the Jamaican Youth Empowerment through Culture, Arts and Nationalism (JAYECAN) group. Under his leadership, the group helps young people to identify a skill or talent that they can use to help the community. For example, ArtReach, where volunteers visit children homes and rehabilitation centres to provide music, art and drama sessions
'It has often been difficult for me to sell the idea of our work, because it is about arts and culture. So I hope that this platform will strengthen our organisation and people will take our work more seriously and value the arts and culture for young people in Jamaica.
The Arts is how we express ourselves and if we have to constantly borrow from other cultures to determine how we sing and dance, it robs us of the opportunity to feel a part of the country. Embracing our own arts and culture empowers us to want to contribute to the development of our country.'
Usman Ali (24)
Usman works to improve social-economic opportunities for all, especially young people, and to support those who are experiencing bullying. As the youth lead of a Muslim Police Association, Usman organised a residential programme where 30 young people participated in workshops, heard from guest speakers and improved their CV and interview techniques. Usman works to tackle bullying in schools and workplaces and is the founder of the Tackling Bullying in Scottish Schools Campaign.
'It is an honour and a privilege to be selected as the first Scot to be chosen for this award. There is a great amount of support to help us to improve our skills and abilities as we travel along on our leadership journey.'
Madeleine Buchner (24)
Madeleine is committed to supporting young people acting as family carers across Australia. Madeleine set up Little Dreamers Australia which supports young people who are caring for parents or siblings with a chronic illness, mental illness, disability or drug/ alcohol addiction.
'This isn’t really an award for me. It’s an award for every young carer who is doing this work. It’s an award for everyone who has turned something bad in their lives into something good. I grew up as a young carer and it shows that the bad days can be turned into something positive. I hope that I can use the Queen’s Young Leaders Award to educate people about young carers around the world.'
Senel Wanniarachchi (24)
Senel uses social media to engage members of the community, especially women and young people, on issues that affect them. His posts became so popular that he was invited to write a regular column from a youth perspective for the national newspaper The Nation. In 2015, Senel co-founded Hashtag Generation to encourage discussions around youth engagement and gender equality. #WeGovernSL holds training programmes for women who want to learn how to use the Internet to become more engaged in national and local issues.
'My parents were so excited when I told them the news about becoming a Queen’s Young Leader. They were really proud of me and my mother called all of her sisters straight away to tell them the news. Growing up, I think I saw different perspectives of society through my parents’ work, so in a way both of them influenced the work I am now doing.'
Find out more about The Queens Young Leader Programme and how you can apply here.
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Images Credit: Hugo Philpott.