Ben is often asked the questions ‘How did you become a Polar Explorer?’ and ‘Why?’ His answer always refers to the time he spent working at the John Ridgway School of Adventure on the west coast of Scotland, and his love of the outdoors.
Alongside leading expeditions and giving talks, Ben is a patron of the British Exploring Society, a charity which helps young people develop stand-out skills through challenge and expeditions. Ben asked Honor Wilson-Fletcher, CEO of British Exploring, to write a post on the importance of adventure, and the qualities young people can develop on expeditions in a way that they don’t have the opportunity to in formal education.
94% of employers say that life skills like teamwork, leadership and resilience are at least as important as academic results for the success of young people, but 68% say school leavers don’t have those required skills.
75% of young people in the UK now spend less time outdoors than prison inmates. What is going on? Perhaps all young people would benefit from more adventure as part of growing up? They should certainly be outdoors more.
I was the child who could reliably be found at some point on any day out sobbing on a rock, wailing to go home. If anyone had suggested to snotty seven-year-old-me that I would have grabbed the chance to cross the Eastern Desert in Egypt, slept in a corrugated hut high in the Alps, or tolerated a frozen sleeping bag for a second, I would have assumed they were mad. But I am, gleefully, that person. The wild and remote outdoors is liberating and exciting, once you know you are capable of. It is all about building confidence and self-belief. I have run my own companies, and worked for some of the most exciting individuals and leaders in amazing charities and arts organisations, too. I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had, and for the role the outdoors has played in building my confidence and skills.
To be quite clear – I am NOT like Ben Saunders. Ben is an exceptionally disciplined explorer and athlete. I hugged him before he left on his latest expedition, and it was like cuddling a (friendly) filing cabinet. I nonetheless now have the exceptional good fortune to run British Exploring Society, the oldest youth development charity of its kind in the world – and Ben is one of our patrons. We help explorers like my younger self develop resilience and mental toughness, and foster the confidence to road-test real-life problem solving, decision-making and genuine team work in wild and remote environments. We push them further, give them access to the best and most extraordinary version of themselves – the one they don’t often get to meet in a classroom. We also give them access to the most exciting and stimulating learning environments on earth, where their sense of accountability for the planet, and their personal priorities and morality, can be significantly impacted. When they complete a programme with us, we hope that our young explorers will have the independence of mind and self-awareness to be able to start to shape their futures, armed with the practical skills to tackle whatever challenges lie ahead with enthusiasm, or at least determination.
In 2017, one of our young explorers from a particularly challenging background reported that: “For the first time in my life, I could say that I felt bigger and stronger than anything that could stand in my way…’. That’s what it’s all about.
Ben Saunders is an exceptional athlete and ridiculous over-achiever. He is also thoughtful. What makes him a particularly great patron and role model for us are his capacity for reflection, his modesty, his mental toughness and his sense of perspective. His sense of the ridiculous is also fairly irresistible. He can talk brilliantly about the value of adventure and he shares our belief in its power to unleash potential in young people – including those who are struggling in the classroom. I am sure employers would agree with Ben. If, like me, they had hugged him, they probably wouldn’t dare disagree.
Ben is a great supporter of ours. He is slogging through a remarkable and gruelling personal challenge at the moment – and has probably had more than enough of the ‘stimulating learning environment’ he is stuck in – so we’d be very grateful if you would support him in any way you can. His fundraising effort for The Endeavour Fund can be found here. Thank you.
Photo (top) credit: Hamish Steptoe