Canada: Aaron Joshua Pinto, 24, was among 60 exceptional young people from across the Commonwealth to receive the inaugural Queen’s Young Leaders Award handed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II herself at a very special, star-studded ceremony in Buckingham Palace last week.
High-profile guests like David Beckham, David Walliams, Sir John Major, Rob Brydon, Duncan Bannatyne, Steve McQueen, Stephanie Linus, Gemma Cairney, Jamal Edwards, and John Bishop attended the ceremony to congratulate the recipients.
World-renowned footballer David Beckham told the audience: “I was fortunate to work with some incredible captains and managers throughout my career each bringing their own qualities to leading a team. As a captain myself there was no prouder moment for me then when I led my country into a major tournament. I’m honoured to be here today to celebrate your achievement, with people like you I have no doubt the world will be a better place.”
Former UK Prime Minister Sir John Major said: “The Commonwealth is a unique institution. History has seen nothing like it, and the future is unlikely to have anything to compare with it. You exemplify the very best of what the Commonwealth is today, and our hope for what it will be tomorrow.”
HRH The Duke of York, HRH Princess Beatrice, TRH The Duke and Duchess of Gloucester and TRH Prince and Princess Michael of Kent also attended the event, along with former BBC Radio 1 presenter Fearne Cotton.
Aaron and the others were recognized by HM The Queen for taking the lead in transforming the lives of others and making a lasting difference in their communities.
“This is a very special award in that it is the first of its kind to be named after the Queen. Her Majesty is extremely passionate about the Commonwealth and this award was set up to encourage and inspire the next generation of leaders in those countries,” Samantha Cohen, assistant private secretary to the Queen, said at a royal briefing in the South Drawing Room of Buckingham Palace.
The Award recipients all receive a unique package of training, mentoring and networking, including a one-week residential programme in the UK in association with Cambridge University.
Before receiving his award at Buckingham Palace, Aaron and the other young leaders met for breakfast with UK Prime Minister, David Cameron as well as executives of the UK headquarters of the global social networking company Twitter, and the BBC World Service.
After the awards ceremony, the recipients attended a grand dinner at St. James’ Palace, the official residence of the British sovereign, hosted by HRH The Duke of York.
Following the ceremony, the Queen’s Young Leaders spent four days in the UK taking part in a residential development programme as part of the Awards package. The programme included a two day residential at the University of Cambridge to continue the online leadership course they have been taking part in since January. The Young Leaders had then went on to meet with UK business leaders, attended a reception with High Commissioners at Canada House, and visited life-changing social action projects, among other things. The residential week finished off with an intimate celebratory dinner at the top of the BT Tower in London.
This year’s Award winners, aged between 18 and 29 and who come from all four corners of the Commonwealth, are working to support others, raise awareness and inspire change on a variety of different issues including: education, climate change, gender equality, mental health and disability equality.
Aaron Joshua Pinto was born in Bahrain and came to Canada with his family after the Gulf War. He recently completed his Honours Bachelor of Arts at Western University, focusing on International Relations and French.
Years of passionate engagement in social issues have taken Aaron from the crèches of post-Apartheid townships in Cape Town to the bustling streets of Mumbai all the way to the hilltop villages of indígena in Puerto Carreño.
Aaron’s avid interest in global affairs led to his selection as a Junior Team Canada ambassador on a trade and development mission to Central and South America, as well as a domestic mission to the Canadian Arctic.
Back in secondary school, Aaron co-founded a scheme to help people in Canada who are living below the breadline. The project delivers food hampers to migrants, the elderly and survivors of abuse.
Upon returning from a year’s exchange in Europe and a development internship in Central Russia, Aaron went on to establish the Canadian Youth Think Tank, an organization which offers opportunities for young Canadians to produce written articles on Canadian and global public policy news, developments and events.
Aaron was formerly a World Vision Canada Youth Ambassador, a member of the Globe and Mail Student Advisory Board and a Junior Research Fellow at the NATO Council of Canada. Aaron was previously elected as a Youth Councillor and Chair of the Mississauga City Youth Council and he was also selected to be Canada’s Youth Ambassador to the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe, engaging in negotiations for a Youth and Security Action Plan.
Last October, Aaron travelled to Ukraine as one of 90 Canadians to be an International Election Observer monitoring the Verkhovna Rada parliamentary elections.
In the past, he has also met with HRH Prince Charles and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu; climbed South Africa’s iconic Lion’s Head (during nighttime); and celebrated Christmas mass with the Pope.
In the long term, Aaron intends to pursue a career in international law and justice, and eventually in the Foreign Service.
“I never imagined that I’d ever be inside Buckingham Palace. I’m humbled and honoured to be one of the first recipients of the Queen’s Young Leaders Award. To be presented with an Award by Her Majesty The Queen in recognition of my work is an incredible honour.”
“Over the course of the residential week, I’ve met some wonderful and inspiring people, young and old, from across the UK and beyond. From my many conversations and meetings, I’ve learned that, ultimately, passion and hard work can, indeed, triumph over personal challenges. It is passion for the work you do, passion for the community that can keep a person going. For me, this is most rewarding and is what continues to make me tick.”
“The Commonwealth is one big family, comprised of 53 countries from across the world. Meeting the other Queen’s Young Leaders has been great and I have been positively challenged by the experience. Learning about the work of these young people – from combating domestic violence on the Solomon Islands to advocating for disability rights in India to encouraging effective sustainable development and the protection of the oceans in Mauritius – this has all certainly given me a boost. I feel very encouraged and excited.”
The Queen’s Young Leaders Programme is an initiative established by The Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust in partnership with Comic Relief and the Royal Commonwealth Society in recognition of The Queen’s lifetime of service to the Commonwealth.