Multilateral organizations of all hues and designs abound in the rapidly globalizing international system. All multilateral entities define and redefine their existential purposes, rendering both a spatial and temporal understanding. And, the Commonwealth has always had to fight its colonial image to prove its sustainability with changing times. As an air of obscurity hangs over the Commonwealth group of nations, it needs to prove its mettle in finding the common purpose of thought and action among its member countries. This is easier said than done, given that many of the major countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia and India are engaged in the pursuit of various regional and global interests, with the commonwealth hardly appearing on their radar screen.

 

The commonwealth has professed its priority areas as dealing with larger aspects of human rights, gender disparity, youth development and affordable and quality healthcare. However, diverse countries have been witnessing different paces of advancement and have been mired in distinct challenges. Hence, establishing the common ground wherein all member countries can ensure national progress aligned with broader organisational goals has been perceived to be a rhetoric.

 

One of the benefits perceived among the commonwealth countries is the youth population, or what is usually referred to as the demographic dividend reflecting the large number of working population available in these countries. Young people in the age bracket of 15–29 constitute 28% of the population of the Commonwealth countries. More working hands are often perceived as leading to greater productivity and hence an unmistakable recipe for growth and development. However, this statistic, encouraging as it may seem, also entails caveats and conditions which if not efficiently managed might turn the demographic dividend to demographic liability. Developing countries within the Commonwealth that accounts for most of this youth dividend are also replete with restraining factors like unemployment, poverty, illiteracy, etc. that can sap the potential among this youth population.

 

Though unemployment rate in South Asia at 3.9% in 2014 may reflect a better position for some of the major countries in the region, the quality of jobs and the percentage of people engaged in ‘vulnerable employment’ paints a bleak picture for sustainable development. Meanwhile, strong growth rates expected in Sub-Saharan Africa of approximately 5.8–6% in 2015–2016 does not ensure a comprehensive social protection system considering the costs involved in stemming Ebola-like epidemics. These factors create a vicious socio-economic milieu leading to young people taking to anti-social and anti-state activities creating both human security as well as state security problems. The recent evidences of ISIS enrollment primarily from countries like Nigeria, Malaysia etc. testify to the acute vulnerability of the youth population, whose needs if not fulfilled, may create mayhem in the same society that they would have helped develop.

 

Furthermore, one of the most notable aspects is the percentage of unskilled labour that forms a part of the productive demographic among the developing countries of the Commonwealth. Unskilled labour has been partly a reason for the phenomena of migration to relatively ‘attractive’ developed nations of the Commonwealth such as the United Kingdom and Australia. So, how does this population form an asset for the source country?

 

Development is not synonymous with urbanization and migration to more developed areas within borders and abroad cannot be an antidote to aspirations for a better standard of living. The challenge really is to create opportunities across sectors that cut through the rural-urban divide. Moreover, relatively cheap automated labour is rapidly transforming labour-intensive economies into mechanized economies, thus widening the disparity that has emerged among the developing economies concerning its productive demographic. What is the scope of influence of an organisation like the Commonwealth to mitigate these challenges?

 

The Commonwealth has more recently focused on issues of Gender disparity with regard to bridging the gap that gender-based discrimination has forged in the developing nations of the Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Plan of Action (PoA)  proposed the ‘Gender Five’—the primary policy recommendations proposed by the Organisation to inculcate equality in a largely discriminatory society. This PoA has been in place during the last decade but has failed to make a large-scale impact on the overall face of the developing economies. Maternal Mortality Rates are still as high in many of the developing countries in Asia and Africa, while affordable and quality healthcare in these countries is still a pipedream. Women in leadership positions still form a negligible part of the demographic. Representative women in policy-making structures constitute a questionable percentage of the total representation, even after the implementation of affirmative action measures to aid induction of women in the national parliament.

 

Thus, the scope of the implementation of the PoA has been the fundamental aspect of concern. This year will witness the culmination of the ‘Commonwealth Gender Plan of Action’ and will set the development agenda regarding the PoA for the next decade that underscores the idea of ‘Youth’s role in Sustainable and Inclusive Development’, which is in line with the United Nations’ goals of Sustainable Development.

 

However, with most of the Commonwealth nations mired in numerous fundamental problems within their own borders and the essential self-help logic of global realpolitik, will the idea of sustainable development take root? With national security interests assuming a larger role for these countries, how can securing the youth of these nations become a prominent issue area? A failure to secure the future of the bulging youth population in the commonwealth could mean unleashing a ticking time bomb against national and international security. The core challenges lies in the implementation of policy goals, a lackadaisical approach on the part of the national governments with regard to its implementation and, most importantly, lack of able leadership to guide the realization of the goals.

 

Is the Commonwealth Group of nations, as a multilateral framework, equipped to facilitate the execution of the broader agenda of securing Human Rights and Sustainable Development? With countries looking at regional multilateral organisations as a panacea for resolving broader challenges, it becomes all the more imperative for the Commonwealth as an organization to better define its significance in the face of emerging global challenges.

 

The Commonwealth comprises a number of countries that are at different levels of development, with varied experiences of national governance. While these differences could create divergences, the challenge is in weaving together shared experiences of best practices. The Commonwealth should commonly ensure that the common (wealth) of the youth is not squandered away to the detriment of global peace and harmony.

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article are personal