Indian young leader Alina Alam is among 20 extraordinary young individuals from 18 countries who have been announced as finalists for this year's Commonwealth Youth Awards.
The awards recognise outstanding Commonwealth young people whose projects are transforming lives in their communities and helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
More than 1,000 entries from 43 Commonwealth countries were received last year. The finalists were selected across each of the award's regional categories following a rigorous judging process.
This year, the awards have expanded to include five regional categories: Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and Canada, and the Pacific.
The top finalist from each region will be announced as the regional winner at the official awards ceremony on March 10. The ceremony will be held virtually for the first time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Of these five regional winners, one outstanding young person will become the Commonwealth Young Person of the Year 2021.
All 20 finalists will each receive a trophy, certificate and Â£1,000 to expand the impact of their projects. Each regional winner will receive Â£3,000 and the overall pan-Commonwealth winner will take home a total of Â£5,000.
Indian winner Alina, who was shortlisted for the Decent Work and Economic Growth category, is the founder of 'Mitti Cafe'; which trains and employs persons with intellectual, physical and or psychiatric disabilities to work in inclusive kitchens and cafes in India.
The organisation's outreach initiative also helps create awareness about inclusion and disability rights. Mitti Cafe has trained over 700 persons with disabilities and served over one million meals to vulnerable communities and homeless groups.
Speaking ahead of the announcement, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: "Every day, in all parts of the Commonwealth, young people are delivering a vast range of impressive innovations. Much of what they do may go unnoticed or be taken for granted.
"Yet, often it is what young people do which makes all the difference, especially now at a time of unimaginable human suffering inflicted by the pandemic and economic crisis.
"The finalists remind us that there is no lack of ideas or talent, but of support mechanisms necessary for young innovators.
"So, our initiatives such as the Youth Awards put a spotlight on outstanding young people who are bringing innovative ideas and creative solutions to support, lead and deliver a future of peace, prosperity and progress." The call for nominations was announced on International Youth Day on August 12, 2020. The judging panel included high commissioners, development experts and youth leaders from across the Commonwealth.
This year's ceremony will also recognise a select number of young people who have successfully addressed the challenges posed by the pandemic in their communities.