Helping a U.K. Charity Support Young People

Jan 24, 2023

The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a 66-year-old non-profit that has made a difference for millions of young people, received a roadmap from Morgan Stanley’s signature pro bono program to expand its offerings in the workplace.

Key Takeaways

  • Our signature pro bono program, the Strategy Challenge, pairs teams of rising talent within the firm, both in the U.S. and the U.K., with nonprofits in an effort to help them solve strategic problems hindering their ongoing success.
  • Teams present their plans to panels of experts, who judge the results and name a winning team.
  • Last year’s winning team in the U.K. helped the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, a 66-year-old nonprofit that equips marginalized youth with positive habits and valuable life skills, devise a plan to reach even more young people.

Among young people in the United Kingdom, most have heard of The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, popularly known as the DofE. Since it was established by HRH Prince Philip in 1956, the program has benefitted millions of young people aged 14 to 24, including many facing marginalization.


The DofE, which works with schools and community organizations across the U.K., aims to equip participants with positive habits and valuable life skills, including self-confidence, a sense of purpose and an appreciation for helping others. The program has four components: volunteering, taking part in regular physical activity, learning a skill and going on an expedition. The impact has been measurable: In a national survey, employers gave DofE top marks for instilling in its participants leadership, teamwork and communication skills, as well as self-motivation, self-confidence and an ability and willingness to learn. 1


The DofE charity has long sought to build on its success and expand its mission to assist young people starting out in the workplace. But its division focused on the workplace is relatively small. What was the best—and most economically feasible—way for the DofE to expand its reach?


To seek answers, the DofE leadership team sought advice from Morgan Stanley, whose Strategy Challenge pro bono program—now in its 15th year—matches nonprofits with rising talent within the firm to help solve key strategic issues. The program culminates in a presentation to a panel of judges. who name a winning team from those competing, with the organization represented by that team receiving a monetary prize intended to help it address those issues.

Thanks to the Morgan Stanley pro bono team, we now have the confidence that the model we’ve developed is relevant and needed in the workplace
CEO of the DofE

Understanding the Mission

Of the five Morgan Stanley Strategy Challenge team members working with the DofE, only one—Will Coombs—had grown up in the U.K. and was therefore intimately familiar with the program. “If you’re from the U.K., most schools offer it,” says Coombs, a Vice President in Institutional Equities who himself completed the program. “It’s really a household name here.” Still, the entire team spent time making sure they had a firm grasp of the organization’s mission before they considered how to help it target a broader demographic.


Besides Coombs, the team included Paige Beaumont, a Vice President in Human Resources; Atinuke Dasaolu, a Vice President in Legal and Compliance; Allison Boylan, a Vice President in Firmwide Operations; and Pieter Oudshoorn, a Vice President in the Fixed Income Division.

Conducting an Assessment

The team’s work came at a timely moment. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people are entering the workplace less prepared—and less resilient—than in recent memory, notes Ruth Marvel, CEO of the DofE.


“There has always been a need to support young people as they're transitioning into the workplace, especially those who haven't had access to non-formal learning opportunities,” she says. “But the pandemic has meant that more young people than ever are dealing with huge deficits in educational outcomes and are additionally struggling with mental health and social development. There have been fewer opportunities to build the skills needed to prevent and cope with these issues, by being out in the world, engaging with people and doing things like volunteering, which is a big part of the DofE.”


The organization's goal is to reach one million young people with a life-changing DofE program by 2026, and partnering with employers is a large part of achieving this. By teaming up with organizations that hire young people, the DofE can help them attract, develop and retain diverse talent, who then benefit by learning valuable business-relevant skills. However, the workplace initiative run by the DofE at the moment did not seem scalable, based on its pricing structure and the resources employers need to devote to supervising participants. “The current framework requires a heavy lift from employers,” explains Beaumont.


To develop a sense of how to revamp the corporate program, the team spoke to employers in such industries as retail, law, accounting and hospitality. They learned that while there are an estimated 8,700 apprenticeship programs in place in the U.K., few have the holistic reach of the DofE’s offering, Beaumont says.


However, for a training program to have broad appeal, the Morgan Stanley team advised that it needed to be a stand-alone, “plug and play” model, requiring less involvement from the employer. They recommended that the DofE initially partner with third-party vendors and eventually develop the expertise in-house to oversee the entire offering.


The program the Morgan Stanley team conceived—which they named DofE Pro—is expected to break even within four years, according to Boylan. The Morgan Stanley team provided the DofE with a financial model, which they trained the organization’s staff to use.

The goal of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award is to reach one million young people with their life-changing skill-building program by 2026.

Off and Running

DofE quickly embraced the idea and is already seeking partner organizations as well as employers willing to pilot the new initiative, “kicking the tires and giving us feedback to refine it further,” says Marvel.


Marvel says the foundation provided by the Morgan Stanley team has helped them immeasurably. “They did a phenomenal amount of work for us in a short amount of time. It was a robust piece of insight-gathering, so we now have the confidence that what we’ve developed is relevant and needed in the workplace,” she says.


The Morgan Stanley team members also expressed satisfaction at the project’s completion and hope to remain engaged as DofE Pro goes to market. “Realizing that we provided a product that the charity is already in the process of piloting is quite a proud moment for us all,” says Coombs.