Episode #5: John May - Unleashing the power of young people

09 October 2018

John May, Secretary General of the Duke of Edinburgh's International Award

In this episode, I talk to John May, the secretary general of the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award. He describes himself as a campaigner, storyteller, teacher, youth worker, independent diplomat, writer, broadcaster, urban cyclist, avid parkrunner, habitual chocolate cake eater and mischief-maker. 

He has spent his career working with, and for, young people in the UK and across the world. He was formerly the chief executive of Young Enterprise, and the founding CEO of Career Academies UK, which became Career Ready. He worked to get businesses involved with supporting education through Business in the Community. And he was set up for all of this by his earlier stint as head teacher for Manor Farm School in High Wycombe.

In this interview we talk about what he learned by cutting his teeth as a teacher in one of the most challenging and deprived areas in the country. We talk about the experiences that can help young people to become active citizens, and whether those have changed with the rise of the post-millennial generation. And the one imperative that keeps John – and rather a lot of other leaders – awake at night.

Show notes

What is the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award? (02:09)

What is John May’s personal purpose? (4:33)

What the world looked like to the young John May (5:10)

What early indication was there of the values that would define John in later life? And how did these develop through his early life? (6:50)

How did the experience of working in a disadvantaged school make John reflect on his upbringing? (12:28)

The time when John provoked complaints at a Scouting conference with a surprising outcome (15:33)

How did John advance so quickly to the status of head teacher? (18:40)

What were the most challenging aspects of being a head teacher? (20:05)

Why did John leave teaching to work with businesses through Business in the Community? (21:00)

What did John do with businesses to engage them effectively with the education agenda? (24:27)

From John’s travels across the world with the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award, what has he picked up about the current state of young people around the world? (29:05)

What are the hard-to-measure aspects of development we’re missing in how we measure our progress in development? (32:01)

How different is the current generation of young people, and what distinguishes it from what came before? (34:53)

How much is generational conflict now a fact of our reality? (38:52)

What has been learned in recent years about how to motivate young people to become active citizens? (40:30)

What are the concerns that keep John awake at night? (42:05)

One practical change John would like to make before retiring (46:15)

What advice would John give to his younger self? (46:52)

What change-makers have inspired John and why? (47:36)

What mistake has John made that led to some better outcome or personal growth? (49:01)

What book has influenced John or made a difference to his life? (49:57)

What advice does John give to young people seeking to make their mark on the world? (51:18)


John May on twitter

John May's blog

Duke of Edinburgh's International Award

The Silver Sword, by Ian Serraillier