At the Commonwealth Youth Awards for Excellence in Development Work, Maya Kirti Nanan, Founder of the Autism Siblings and Friends Network (ASFN), was chosen as the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year for 2023.

She received the award from His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Edward, and the Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland KC, at an event held on Thursday, 14 September 2023 at St James’s Palace in London.

The project, based in Trinidad and Tobago, is a non-profit organisation that creates opportunities for those with special needs. ASFN operates Rahul’s Clubhouse, an autism centre where people with autism can have equal access to developmental and social programmes. The organisation is actively developing educational, social and skills programmes for over 10,000 autistic persons. Ms Nanan was also awarded the regional prize for the Caribbean.

There were also four other regional winners:

Mawuse Christina Gyisun – Africa Regional Winner
Soumya Dabriwal – Asia Regional Winner
Yi Fei Chen – Europe & Canada Regional Winner
Raeed Ali – Pacific Regional Winner

Commonly known as the Commonwealth Youth Awards, they recognise the contribution that young people aged 15–29 make towards strengthening democracy and achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The awards ceremony took place in the margins of the Commonwealth Youth Ministers Meeting. Government ministers, senior government officials, youth leaders and other stakeholders attended the Awards as a part of the week-long ministerial meeting.

The glittering awards ceremony was also used to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. The awards are one of the ways in which the Commonwealth Secretariat works to empower, engage and encourage as well as amplify the voices and work of youth across the 56 member states.

A total of fifty outstanding young people have been highlighted for their work this year. Those shortlisted include social entrepreneurs, environmental champions, innovators, and human rights activists, from across the Commonwealth. Twenty of those were chosen as finalists, which was then narrowed to five regional winners. Each of the 20 finalists will receive a trophy, a certificate and £1,000 as their prize. Each of the regional winners will receive an additional £2,000.

The Commonwealth Secretary-General congratulated all fifty of the awardees for the impact they are making in a world that often sees young people as challenges instead of agents of change. She said:

“These Awards are one of the most inspiring and delightful parts of our work in the Secretariat, and my work as Secretary-General. As is reflected in our Ministers’ and High Commissioners’ presence here today, they love these awards. But they are not simply just a feel-good moment – these awards resound, and they are extremely important.

“They recognise and dignify the valuable contribution thousands of young people across the Commonwealth make to human development, embodied in the outstanding efforts of our winners and the winners here today.”

His Royal Highness, The Duke of Edinburgh, remarked:

“To all of the finalists, congratulations. It is brilliant work that you are doing and I hope this will stimulate you to do more. [The Commonwealth Youth Awards] are a fantastic demonstration of what happens when you give young people those opportunities and encouragement – I wish you all the best of luck.”

Just under 1,000 entries, from 39 Commonwealth countries, were received this year. Following a rigorous judging process, those shortlisted were selected across each of the award’s five regional categories: Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and Canada, and the Pacific. The panel of judges included high commissioners, development experts and youth leaders from across the Commonwealth.

The 2024 Awards will be held in March next year to return to the usual event cycle.