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We are the people we’ve been waiting for

My address to delegates of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Forum 2015 in Toronto, Canada

Your Royal Highness, Honourable ministers, Chairman, My Lord, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good morning.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for.

I was in the office of a ‘master of the universe’ the other day. Or at least that’s what we used to call people in the financial services industry. He’s responsible for the business of one of the world’s largest banks and we were talking about hiring the right people from university. “The problem is”, he said, these kids have brilliant qualifications, but they have absolutely no interpersonal skills. They can’t work in teams; they don’t relate well to customers; they can’t plan effectively. And these are the brightest of the brightest – fighting to get on our graduate trainee programme. If I have to read another application letter that tells me that a young person has wanted to be a merchant banker since she was eight years old – I will scream. I will genuinely scream.”

And then we talked, as he knew we would, about The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. How it helps young people broaden their horizons.  And I won’t say there was a sudden epiphany. My friend, the master of the universe, didn’t suddenly spring from his chair and punch the air, screaming eureka at the top of his voice. But he did say that he would look much more closely at a candidate’s resume for mention of The Award on it. Because a mention would tell him a great deal.

As Michael Smith of the law firm Baker McKenzie, a great supporter of the Award here, in Canada and the USA, says, ” We employ people from many different countries and we are proud of the diversity of our workforce. Being an Award holder shows that a young person has developed exactly the range of skills, behaviours and attitudes that we’re looking for in our new starters.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for.

I have no doubt that you have similar conversations every week. There’s a growing awareness in governments around the world that learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom. That a concentration over the last 30 years of educational reform on academic qualifications, to the exclusion of the wider non-formal educational curriculum, has led to young people leaving school poorly equipped for life and work.

To be equipped properly for life, young people need to develop the qualities of perseverance, grit, curiosity, optimism and self-control. Economists might describe these qualities as non-cognitive. Psychologists might call them ‘personality traits’. To the rest of us, they’re just known as ‘character’ and the development of character is the business of The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award.

Some of you were in Malta – so you know that I’m quite challenged when it comes to dealing with modern audio visual technology. The other day I was doing some clearing up at home and found one of these.. young people have never seen these. But for a moment, let’s just imagine the technology of the cassette recorder is still cutting edge. Let’s rewind, pause and fast forward.

If we rewind a moment, we’ve spent the last three years an Award family trying to get to grips with what in Malta I described as ‘Transforming the Award’. We’ve discussed much of that this morning and this afternoon there will be an opportunities to review some of the tools and services we’ve put in place. Thank you to all of you from NAOs who filled in the survey about your relationship with the Foundation. It’s told us a great many things – and we’ve posted the raw results on the Online Learning Hub for you to peruse.

What’s come across to me, from the survey and from conversations with many of you, is that you generally like the direction in which we’ve been moving. 83% of respondents to the survey said yes to the question, “do you think that the Award is heading in the right direction?”

But as one of you commented:

“There are aspects of the change which are positive. E.g. the need for global standards, governance and licensing across all NAOs but, some of that change process has not been managed or supported as well as it might have been. There is still a need for the Foundation to “listen” more, involve all NAOs in the change and, not rush into specific timescales for some of the strategic changes.”

I liken the last three years to coffee making.

Cafetière and percolators.

We know we’ve been pressing down hard on the plunger of change. It’s now time to pause. And talk. And percolate.

I hope this Forum will give us exactly that opportunity. When I wrote to you earlier this year, I said

“I’d like this Forum to be one that’s remembered for its straight talking; its creation of a space where a whole range of views can be heard and, more importantly, listened to; where leadership is shown by all stakeholders; where the instruments of decision making are clarified; and where our discussions lead to further action after Forum that will galvanise us all, enhancing the ability of the Award internationally and increasing the international capacity of the Award to grow.”

So now to Fast Forward. We’re all going to get an opportunity tomorrow to do some dreaming, but to do so within a framework that really helps us to plan for the future. And we’re delighted that Group Partners, a consultancy team that are no strangers to the Award, are going to help us all with our thinking.

But perhaps I could put some of this in context. Let me talk of the young people with whom we work.

We’ve had the ‘silent generation’, ‘baby boomers’, ‘Generation X’ and the Millennials. Each generation has its own characteristics, behaviours and attitudes, developed through the experiences of its formative years.   And now there’s a new generation, – the Twenty-First Century’s first generation, born after 1996. These are the children and young people we’re working now to educate. And, like each succeeding generation, they’re not the same as “us”.

Their childhood has taken place during a period of economic depression not felt since before the 2nd World War. Their Generation X parents have been absorbing the impact beyond the obvious financial strain; promotion opportunities have been obstructed by Baby Boomers postponing retirement and the rising tide of Millennials are already clamouring for a place at the decision making table. At the moment, this new generation are relatively compliant, but they are growing towards and through adolescence in an atmosphere of mistrust of “the system” – Will they, like the Silent Generation who lived through the Depression, react in a way that spawns the equivalent of the anxt of James Dean? The passion of Martin Luther King? The attitude transforming writing of Germaine Greer?

They are being parented in a very different way from the Millennials. Millennials were generally parented by Baby Boomers. They were taught that there would be prizes for everyone; that it was the welfare of a whole class of children that was important, not necessarily the individual; they were told that they could be anything, do anything – aspiration was all;

Today’s young people are being parented by Generation Xers. They are being taught that only the best win; that their personal welfare is more important than their classmates; that they should do their best but be realistic in their aspirations. This is having an effect on the developing mind-set of this new Generation.

They are growing up in a society that is more diverse than ever. They are more likely than anyone born before them to have friends that come from different social backgrounds, races and faiths. Gender roles are blurring. Diversity is mainstream. But there are massive challenges to face. This is the post 9-11 generation. Islamaphobia is continuing to grow. Extremism finds fertile ground to develop and grow in communities that struggle financially and where there is a high level of unemployment.

Research suggests that girls aged 8 to 15 have greater expectations today than ever before in obtaining a university degree, helping others live a better life and changing the world. They care more about their results at school and getting feedback from parents and teachers to help them do things better. Girls place a higher value than boys on being respectful, ethical and trustworthy, whereas boys favour being loyal and fun to be with. The women’s liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s has created a generation where girl power dominates. As this generation grows up, could it be the first truly to see equality in opportunity and success? Or will boys’ achievement levels in many countries continue to fall behind those of girls, leading to a new dynamic and a generation of dissatisfied and angry young men?

This is the most connected generation ever. Will the easy access, even by the youngest of this new generation, to devices that enable fast and continuous communication change the way they learn to communicate? As the Communication Lifestyle spreads and is adopted, will schools and businesses have to change? I think they might. Will this new generation, as adults, see themselves not as global citizens, but simply as connected ones – taking the global bit for granted? I think they might. And if that’s the case, then perhaps we need to look closely at how the Award, through its digital tools, can help connect young people – and leaders. We’ve taken the first steps in this area with the ORB and particularly the online learning hub, but what might follow?

When HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Kurt Hahn and John Hunt launched the Award nearly sixty years ago, it was to a different generation of young people. Hahn said that “There can be no doubt that the young of today have to be protected against certain poisonous effects inherent in present-day civilization. Five social diseases surround them, even in early childhood. There is the decline in fitness due to modern methods of locomotion; the decline in initiative due to the widespread disease of spectatoritis; the decline in care and skill due to the weakened tradition of craftsmanship; the decline in self-discipline due to the ever-present availability of tranquilizers and stimulants, and the decline in compassion, which William Temple called “spiritual death.”

Perhaps the world has not changed so very much after all. What goes around, comes around.

What we can be certain of is that the Award has an important part to play in dealing with those “poisonous effects”. We know that it does so in a way that allows young people to take control of their own destinies, guided and supported by great adults.

But we only reach a million young people. And that’s not enough. I know that some people see a tension between growth of the Award and its quality. I don;t buy that. Growth and quality do not exist at two ends of a continuum. HRH spoke of this earlier. We can, and MUST, plan for universal access to good non-formal education and to the Award. I’m not sure how we achieve this – and tomorrow’s conversations can help to debate this matter – but I hold hard to a (perhaps naive) but very simple view. If the Award really is the wonderful thing that so many of us believe it to be, then it is nothing short of our duty (an old fashioned term perhaps, but one that I believe in); our duty to bring the Award within the reach of as many young people as we possibly can. And to do that with rigour, with skill and with urgency. I don’t know how far in the tape we have fast forward to find universal access. But it’s there on the tape. Somewhere.

So just before I finish – and remove the cassette tape from the deck – let me just share with you something that might help others get a feel for the power of the Award – and might help them think about volunteering to help young people. We know that when offered the Award there are few young people who reject it. One of our problem lies in persuading adults – whether policy makers, influencers, community leaders, teacher, youth workers, parents – that the Award is worth resourcing with their time, their talent and a financial commitment.

Results of our recent survey suggest many of you not getting as much help as you would like to grow the Award.

Many also asking for support with communications materials to grow awareness of the Award.

Impossible to grow the Award without growing the number of trained Award volunteers, especially Award Leaders.

Delighted therefore to premiere today a new film which may help you to recruit more teachers as Award Leaders.

[play film]

I hope you’ll agree that this film breaks new ground for the Award.

We’ll be making this film available to all NAOs in early December.

You’ll be able to edit the voiceover to translate it into a local language, and the URL, so that you can direct people to your own website.

We will also be producing a shorter version which will be suitable for social media and broadcasting.

Special thanks to Victoria Selano from The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award – Canada who has done an amazing job in helping us to produce this film, to Edwin, our Africa regional director, whose voice you will hopefully have recognised, and to the many Award participants and volunteers who took part. This film is very much a product of the Award.

Not all learning goes on in the classroom. Our Award participants and their leaders demonstrate this every day of the year in more than 140 countries and territories. They are the people the world has been waiting for. Our challenge is to swell their ranks.

And, quite frankly, quite simply, quite outrageously, with them, to change the world.

Facebook Comments


  1. Oscar Penayo Oscar Penayo

    The film will help a lot to undestan many things ! We will wait 4 it! Cheers from ParaguaY!

  2. Oscar Penayo Oscar Penayo

    I did it !

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