The Award USA in year two

Published: 26 Apr 2018

In July 2016, doors opened to the new Award USA national office in Chicago. Since then, participant numbers have doubled, national partnerships have been forged and new innovative platforms are being piloted. 

With 43 million young people aged between 14 and 24 living in America today, The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award USA has a huge opportunity to help young Americans find their purpose, passion and place in the world. With America’s growing obesity rates and the challenges of an ever-changing social landscape the Award helps to build confidence, resilience and adaptability in young people in ways that few organisations can.

When staff opened the doors to their new national office in July 2016, they knew they were set for an incredible journey. A journey of huge opportunity and challenges – not least of which, trying to ascertain how best to implement the Award in a country with such an expansive population – and the third largest land mass in the world. The question was not ‘if’ the Award belonged in the USA, but ‘how’.

“From the start,” says Elizabeth (Buffy) Higgins-Beard, “this was an undertaking to build a model that could be replicated in other large countries, so we were determined to make sure we created something which would not only benefit young people in the USA, but also translate to benefit others in new countries around the world as well.”

Working closely with The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Foundation, the Award in the USA set out to firstly learn from other large Award markets – including Canada, Scotland and Australia – as well as via experts well versed in growing national footprints.

The Award USA in year two

Building a solid foundation for scaling and growth

“In order to succeed, we needed to ensure we had a transparent governance framework and sustainable funding,” says Buffy. “Therefore, we knew that our first two years of operation were not intended to see explosive growth; rather, to build a solid foundation with which to operate.”

Among early challenges was calibrating staffing to the size and complexity of the USA.  By the end of year two, five people were employed full time to cover all aspects of the Award; another two will be added in the coming fiscal year.    

Work centered on uniting ad hoc Award Units and USA legacy activity dating back to 1986 and ensuring adequate training and quality assurance was in place to propel them forwards. It also focused on piloting new approaches that could be scalable.

“Our volunteers are the lifeblood of the Award and for this reason, a great deal of time has been spent working with, training and celebrating volunteers who have, and are, helping us to make Award USA a reality.”

“In 2017, the inaugural Award Guild national meeting was held, in which ideas and best practices were shared, training was undertaken and perhaps most importantly, the amazing work of our volunteers was celebrated.” 

“A great deal of time and focus has also been spent on training,” continues Buffy. And by the end of March 2018, volunteer numbers had tripled.

The hard work of the past two years continues to pay off, with participant numbers doubling and the Award now available in 12 states. And 2018 has already seen the signing of a partnership between the Award USA and The Boy Scouts of America. A range of other pilots are also underway, working with established large-scale youth providers to test, demonstrate and - following success - expand in partnership through their networks. 

Using new platforms to cover a huge country

In order to allow as many young Americas access to the Award as possible, a new Virtual Award Program (VAP) was launched. The VAP brings trained and background-checked corporate volunteers together with participants who couldn’t otherwise do the Award.  Initial responses have been positive; currently 55 participants are working with 16 trained volunteers and another 150 await pairing, as additional companies are onboarded. 

“We were delighted to welcome our corporate Award in Business national partner RSM, to help us facilitate VAP in four US cities and we will see the first Bronze Awards as a result of the programme in the summer. As an extension, a nationwide summer Adventurous Journey practice and trip were also set up, with funding in place to ensure that the costs did not exclude any participants.

The Award USA in year two

The Award USA’s phenomenal supporters

Through the hard work of the team at The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award USA and the incredible generosity of the Award’s volunteers, corporate and individual supporters, World Fellows from the USA, as well as the support of the Award family around the world, the Award USA has gone from strength to strength in the past two years and is on course for incredible things to come.

Special thanks must go to Jim Dicke II; a Diamond Fellow whose personal gift helped the Award USA focus on building a solid foundation.  RBC Foundation USA was another key funder over the period of the launch.  Initial Charter for Business Champion companies have been pivotal in Award USA’s growth including Hub, Zurich, and C.N.A.  And finally, the backing by the International Award Trustees to see this through to success has been instrumental to the Award USA’s launch. 

“We are incredibly grateful for the support and happy with the work that has been done to date,” says Buffy, “but this is just the beginning. We have ambitious targets and plans for the future, with many more exciting things to come.”

More information

To find out more about how The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award USA, or how you could get involved or support, visit, or follow on social @TheAwardUSA.