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  • purposelypodcast

Returning home, embracing change and dealing with adversity

Updated: May 6

Welcoming Emma Brown, CEO of The Duke of Edinburgh's Hillary Award, to Purposely, where she shares her organisation's mission and her career journey, from public relations executive to non-profit leader.

Emma shares details of her recent cancer diagnosis, how she coped with the news, and how she has navigated work while leading an organisation and receiving treatment.

Born and raised in Auckland, New Zealand, Emma moved to the UK in 2007. Marrying a Brit, they had three boys and settled into London life. In the first decade in London, Emma put her PR skills to work for several top brands, including Debenhams, Weight Watchers, Heineken and others. In 2017, Emma swapped the corporate world for a role focused on purpose. Partly inspired by her children, she joined The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award Foundation (DOEIA) as their Head of Communications, later being promoted to Director of Brand and Communication. The Foundation is an international charity supporting young people to find their purpose, place, and passion in the world. The accredited program is active in more than 120 countries, available to all 14 to 24-year-olds with the aim of being inclusive of all backgrounds, locations, cultures, and abilities. The aim is that each young person becomes part of something special while developing their individual interests, skills, and helping them to reach their potential and realize their dreams.

Founded in 1956, the Award highlights the value of Non-Formal Education and Learning. Today, there are consistently over a million young people taking on the Award’s challenge to believe in the power of their potential, make a difference in their community, and take control of their future.

In New Zealand, the International Award was launched in 1963, later rebranded as The Duke of Edinburgh’s Hillary Award, reflecting the impact Sir Edmund Hillary had on the Award in New Zealand. Locally, as it is globally, the focus is on helping young people to develop a skill, get physically active, give back to their communities, and take part in an adventure. The Award challenges young people to leave their comfort zones.

Emma has the unique position of having been involved in the Award in both the UK and New Zealand, although she quietly confesses to having started the Award herself as a young person but not completing it. She is passionate about the work they do and the difference they try to make in young lives. Emma points out that they are essentially an education framework that relies on their partner organisations to provide the Award's participants with a quality experience, one that is going to help add value and, in some cases, transform lives. Emma also talks about the uniqueness of the New Zealand Award, particularly in their commitment to biculturalism and upholding the mana of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Leading the Award in her country is a huge privilege for Emma, and her passion for the organisation she leads and her team is palpable. Despite all she has been through since taking on her first CEO role — moving countries, starting afresh in a new city, settling children in schools and buying a house, organising a Royal visit, dealing with breast cancer treatment — Emma is resilient and full of energy, and excited about the future of her organisation and the work they do to help young people reach their full potential and realise their dreams.


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