Tessy Ojo's lifelong commitment to empowering and supporting children and young people has led to recognition in the Queen's Birthday Honours list 2020.
Tessy, who is CEO of The Diana Award, has been appointed Commander of the British Empire (CBE), the highest of honours, for her services to children and young people.
"October will be exactly 20 years since I made the move from the corporate sector to the charity sector, so it just feels magical for me that on my 20th anniversary of coming into the sector," Tessy tells HELLO!
"My motivation was to champion young people and 20 years later to receive the highest honour for that is incredibly magical."
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Tessy's nomination was led by young people, recipients of the Diana Award and participants of its anti-bullying and mentoring programmes.
"Knowing that the instigators were young people who had benefited from my work makes it incredible," she adds.
The Queen's Birthday Honours list, which is usually published in June, was delayed until autumn this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. It has been an exceptionally busy year for Tessy and the team at The Diana Award, with a survey conducted by the charity to meet needs during the COVID-19 crisis, revealing that 85 per cent of young people said that mental health is a high priority.
Tessy has been made a CBE
September saw celebrities such as Peter Andre and Will Poulter join forces with The Diana Award and Nationwide Building Society to host the first ever virtual The Big Anti-Bullying Assembly. And the charity has recently launched their One hour, One Young Person, Our Parliamentarian Mentoring Campaign to connect youngsters with an MP.
Tessy tells HELLO! about the importance of supporting young people post-lockdown. She says: "As we go into recovery, it's so easy to think of recovery in terms of the business or economy, but actually we can't truly recover if our young people are left behind. To me, that is really the big focus for us at The Diana Award.
"But also, personally for me it's much more than The Diana Award. Across the charity sector, how do we really change the dial? How do we fix some of the things that we realise are broken in the system? Only a few months ago, for so many people the inequalities around race were spotlighted. I feel a deep sense of responsibility, as a charity sector, we need to lead the way in creating a new system that truly works for everyone."
The charity is a legacy to Diana's work
The Diana Award was established in 1999 in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, and her belief that young people have the power to change the world. The charity, which runs anti-bullying and mentoring programmes, also rewards young people who carry out inspiring work. Each year thousands of young people are nominated by individuals and their communities to highlight these selfless acts.
When asked what she thinks Diana would be doing if she were alive today, Tessy says: "What I know from her track record, she often went where there was pain. You could see that she went where people were hurting or where she wanted to challenge.
"I have no doubt in my heart if Diana were here right now, she would be looking at what part of society is hurting the most right now and she would be there. Because we are a legacy to her work, to her values and beliefs, I know she would be where young people are."
William and Harry at the Diana Award's Legacy Awards in 2017
The Duke of Cambridge and the Duke of Sussex both continue to support The Diana Award. Tessy tells HELLO!: "It's such an honour to have their support. It's great also, not just the support at events, but the fact we have lots of conversations with them about our direction of travel, about the work we're doing, being able to share some of the things that we're seeing, the impact we're making.
"Although they might not physically always be there at engagements, there's a constant dialogue and understanding, they're deeply connected and passionate about seeing the difference that our work is making. It’s such a privilege and we're so lucky to have their support."
For more information, visit diana-award.org.uk
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