History of the Award

The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award grew out of the efforts of three men -
HRH Prince PhilipKurt Hahn, a German educationalist, and Lord Hunt, leader of the first successful ascent of Everest - who were aware that young people’s development was lacking in certain key areas.

After the Second World War there was a growing concern about the development of boys, due to the gap between leaving school at 15 and entering National Service at 18.

The Award in the UK

Based on the philosophy of Hahn, founder and headmaster of Gordonstoun School in Scotland, the Award was designed around four sections: Rescue & Public Service Training, the Expedition, Pursuits & Projects, and Fitness.

Although initially only available to boys aged between 14 and 18, there was great demand for a similar scheme for girls, and this was launched in September 1958. The Award continued to evolve over subsequent decades, until 1980. At this point, the upper age limit was extended to 25, and the Award took on its current four section format of: Service, Adventurous Journey, Skills and Physical Recreation.

The Award goes global

As soon as the Award was launched there was great interest from outside the UK. It spread initially through the enthusiasm of international schools, but soon youth organisations across the British Commonwealth were running the Award.

By 1971 the Award operated in 31 countries; this had increased to 48 countries by 1989 as it spread beyond the boundaries of the Commonwealth. Such rapid expansion led to the formation of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award International Association in 1988. 

Many countries adopted different names for their Award, particularly those outside the Commonwealth. These different names still exist today. You can find out more about how the Award is known around the world by visiting the Award Near You. The main thing to remember is that whatever the name, the Award’s the same.

For all young people everywhere

Global expansion over the last 50 years has enabled the Award to reach more and more young people. Today there are over 140 countries and territories delivering the Award – 63 of these on a national basis. However, the Award is now expanding in other ways, targeting those who have not previously had opportunities to develop themselves. Recent Award projects around the world have focused on involving young offenders, those with disabilities, street kids and aboriginal communities. The impact of the Award on many of these young people is extraordinary: it transforms their lives.

The spread of the Award across the globe is testament to its universal appeal and the vision of its founder. However, even HRH admits that this took him by surprise:

“When the first trial of the Award was launched in 1956, no one had any idea quite what would happen. In the event it was an instant success, and the Award has been growing and expanding worldwide ever since.”

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh has remained committed to the Award since its birth over 50 years ago. He continues to be involved, particularly in recognising the achievements of Award participants and the adults who support them. 

The Award has come a long way since 1956, when it was launched in the UK. It is as relevant as ever and has something to offer every young person in the world, wherever they are, and whatever their circumstances.