SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please considering donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!

FeaturesInterviews

The Diana Award in 2020: An interview with CEO Tessy Ojo


Photo: The Diana Award

“Harry and I feel that our mother lives on in the countless acts of compassion and bravery that she inspires in others.” – The Duke of Cambridge

It’s hard to imagine what the world might be like if Diana, Princess of Wales, was still with us on her 59th birthday today. Although her life was cut short, her legacy lives on through The Diana Award, the organisation created to focus on her belief that young people can change the world.

The Diana Award, which was created in 1999, shines a spotlight on inspirational young people, aged nine through 25, who have carried out exceptional humanitarian or social action work. It’s considered the most prestigious award a young person can receive for charity work.

In addition to the award itself, which is given annually, the charity offers mentoring and anti-bullying schemes. The Diana Award pairs volunteer mentors with young people in need of a role model, giving them career skills training and also working to develop a campaign around a social issue that affects their local community.

Through their anti-bullying scheme, The Diana Award works to train ambassadors to help reduce bullying in UK schools. The charity has worked with more than 3,000 schools since the campaign’s inception in 2011 and is part of the Royal Foundation Taskforce on the Prevention of Cyberbullying.

Prince Harry learned more about The Diana Award’s mentoring programme at a school in Scotland during a 2016 visit with CEO Tessy Ojo. Photo: The Diana Award

Royal Central checked in with Tessy Ojo, CEO of The Diana Award, to hear more about their initiatives, what it’s like working with the Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex, and what’s ahead for the charity this year and beyond.

Kristin Contino: First off, how have you been doing during the pandemic? Can you share how the coronavirus crisis has changed the way you work and the projects The Diana Award has been carrying out?

Tessy Ojo: The pandemic has brought a whole different set of challenges for us, largely because across the UK, children and young people who should be at schools are therefore currently facing prolonged periods at home due to the closure of schools. As a result, “checking in” – a critical aspect of our work with young people, which happens all the time – in classrooms, at our training events or during our sessions, group work, and directed activities – has stopped. Checking in is therapeutic, particularly when working with vulnerable young people who are affected by multiple disadvantages ranging from chaotic homes, poverty, poor housing, mental health challenges, and more.

The result of this period of forced isolation and social distancing has, therefore, led to both short and long-term implications for young people ranging from increased mental health challenges to a huge skills deficiency as sadly, young people are missing out on the exposure to the extracurricular activities they have on offer through the schools.

At the start of lockdown, we consulted with young people to help us understand their key areas of concern, and the result showed us that over 90 per cent were concerned about their mental wellbeing. Other areas of concerns were online safety, loss of productivity, and family relationships.

Findings from our Covid survey demonstrates that young people would benefit most from support on protecting their mental health and wellbeing, continuing to engage in social and community action, staying safe online, promoting healthy relationships within their household, and maintaining productivity while at home. 

Therefore, in direct response to this, we pivoted, bringing together our organisational wide expertise across both digital safety and youth mentoring to create a unique emergency programme of support in a virtual and safe space called The Digital Care Package.

The Digital Care Package is a two-stranded emergency digital support programme underpinned by robust and structured e-mentoring support. This digital package includes our first-ever virtual award ceremony, celebrating the incredible achievements of over 180 young people from across the world on the 1st of July – what would have been Diana’s 59th birthday!

Prince William and Tessy Ojo during a 2015 engagement with some of The Diana Award’s anti-bullying ambassadors. Photo: The Diana Award

Your anti-bullying campaign is doing some extraordinary work in training more than 24,000 young people to become anti-bullying ambassadors. What kind of results have you been seeing from the campaign? How can someone get involved?

Our flagship anti-bullying ambassadors programme is seen as a leader in its field. We know that young people are at the heart of making change and we’ve seen this happen in thousands of schools across the country. At The Diana Award, we train young people up to act as anti-bullying ambassadors in their schools and communities – giving them the power to tackle bullying both online and offline. Training in schools is currently on hold, but we have a host of support materials online for anyone interested in getting involved – https://www.antibullyingpro.com/join 

The recent incidents across the world have thrown a spotlight on injustice affecting black people across our societies and what we see on our screens is again, young people saying enough is enough. We know that using our anti-bullying training model, we can empower young people in schools and colleges across society to become actively anti-racist, ensuring that our schools and communities are inclusive and safe for everyone.

How does the nomination process work for The Diana Award? What types of things are you looking for in an ideal candidate?

The Diana Award is the most prestigious accolade a young person aged 9-25 years can receive for their social of humanitarian work. Young people who receive the award come from all walks of life and across the world. They have all changed society for the better whether it’s through campaigning, volunteering, fundraising, fighting injustice or overcoming extreme life challenges.  Although their causes and backgrounds are varied, what they all have in common is that they are changing their communities and the world.  

Award Recipients are put forward by adults who know the young people in a professional capacity and recognise their efforts as a positive contribution to society. Through a rigorous nomination process, these nominators have to demonstrate the nominee’s impact in five key areas: Vision, Social Impact, Inspiring Others, Youth Leadership, and Service Journey. There are 13 Diana Award Judging Panels representing each UK region or nation and a further two panels representing countries outside of the UK. Each panel consist of four judges; Two Diana Award Recipients, an education or youth work professional, and a business or government representative. The panels have an important main purpose: to determine which nominations from each UK region/nation will receive The Diana Award.  

Nominations are judged using the Criteria Guide and Scoring Guide which have been created to measure quality of youth social action. To make a nomination and find out more visit – https://diana-award.org.uk/award/nomination-centre/

Both princes were on hand to present the charity’s 2017 Legacy Awards at St James’s Palace. Photo: The Diana Award

Prince William and Prince Harry have both dedicated themselves to carrying on their mother’s legacy and part of that is their involvement with The Diana Award. What has it been like working with them?  

It’s been an absolute honour to see both Diana’s sons carrying on their mother’s legacy with The Diana Award. They are both close to our work and have engaged with all our programmes over the years. They have an immense impact on the young people they meet who are so proud to carry on Diana’s legacy. The Duke of Cambridge is particularly involved with our anti-bullying work, and The Duke of Sussex supports our mentoring programme. 

What kind of initiatives does The Diana Award have planned for the rest of the year and 2021?

The Diana Award understands that young people, like the rest of society, are facing monumental changes in their lives. We’re ambitious for young people, and this will be reflected in our programme of work for this year and beyond. We are committed to ensuring that physical distance does not lead to disconnection and disorientation. 

Employment and education disruptions throughout society have a negative compounding effect on our youngest citizens as they chart their future. Whether they are facing inconvenience or instability, it remains critical that young people, through the power of relationships, are supported to recover emotionally, socially and economically, driving towards a more equitable world.  

Our digital care package; a two-stranded emergency digital support programme, will support young people and professionals, through a two-pronged approach of intensive mentoring support and training ensuring the provision of connection, stability and the continuance of emotional support.

At The Diana Award, we know that in this time of physical distancing, relationships matter more than ever to provide belonging, connection, and stability.  We are committed to ensuring the continuance of essential emotional support and mentoring that a young person needs in a time of uncertainty and upheaval– sometimes providing the lifeline and connection to hope and the future.

Today, the first-ever virtual ceremony will be held for The Diana Award at 3 p.m. BST and is free to watch on the organisation’s YouTube channel. If you’re watching along during the ceremony today, tag @DianaAward on Instagram and Twitter and use #2020DianaAwards.

About author

Kristin is Chief Reporter for Royal Central and has been following the British royal family for more than 30 years. Kristin has appeared in UK and U.S. media outlets discussing the British royals including BBC Breakfast, BBC World News, Sky News, the Associated Press, TIME, The Washington Post, and many others.