RYLA: The Rotary Youth Leadership Award

I've previously mentioned going on RYLA, but I've finally got round to putting my thoughts together in writing. This is a very slightly edited version of what I've written for my firm's internal newsletter.

Last month I was lucky enough to attend the Rotary Youth Leadership Award (RYLA), a week-long course organised by the Rotary Club each year at Grafham Water near Huntingdon.

To be quite honest, when I was asked by my firm to go I was more than a little apprehensive. The website is quite vague as to what’s actually involved, although it makes one thing very clear: you will be challenged mentally and physically. I didn’t know anyone else who would be going this year. Would it really be my sort of thing?

As it turned out, the website’s warning was entirely accurate, but I can honestly say that RYLA was one of the best things I’ve ever done.

After driving down to the Grafham Water Centre on Saturday, we started off by getting to know the other 41 RYLA candidates before being sorted into the five different teams in which we would be working for the rest of the week. The first of our daily team review sessions finished at 10pm, at which point we then set out for what our itineraries had described as the Night Walk. I think most were expecting a short stroll around the Centre before bed. As it turned out, each team was given an OS map and a series of map references to follow. By 1.30am when we finally reached our pick-up point, we were quite proud of our successful navigation, and it was hard to believe we’d only known each other for a few hours.

There was a good balance of physical and mental activities. We spent the second day on the water, sailing, canoeing and kayaking, which was a lot of fun, and over the course of the week we did archery, rock climbing, raft building and a series of team practical initiative activities. There was also a business simulation, in which we tried to set up and run a toy company, several presentations to deliver, and a series of workshops on leadership, public speaking, different personality types, creativity and other topics. It was very intense!

One of the highlights was the expedition. We set off on Wednesday afternoon carrying our equipment, again navigating by map, although this time as well as a lot of walking we also had the chance to put our new-found skills in sailing and canoeing to use. That night we made our camp and cooked dinner on a camp stove, and then bedded down to sleep for a bit before setting off once more in the morning.

A big strength of RYLA is the diversity of the candidates, who ranged from 17 up to 26, from all different sorts of backgrounds and at various stages of their careers. We all had different strengths and everyone struggled with different parts of the course, so we were all able to support each other and everyone could take the lead at different times. As much as I learned from the course itself, I probably picked up just as much from the other candidates.

The week ended with everyone delivering a final presentation. We all agreed that we felt far more self-confident than we had seven days ago, and ready to apply everything we had learned. It was sad to say goodbye to friends that we felt we’d known for years, but of course we’ve kept in touch.

Coming back to work I’ve done my best to put into practice the various lessons learned and be a more effective leader. I was later asked to attend the Rotary District Conference, where along with several other past candidates I took part in a panel about RYLA. If it hadn't been for RYLA then I very much doubt I would have felt comfortable standing up in front of the hundreds of delegates to answer their questions!

If I haven’t already made it clear, I think RYLA is an incredible worthwhile thing to do. If you get the chance to attend next year you should definitely take it. Some people like me are sponsored by their employer, but most were paid for by their local Rotary Club. And if, like me, you think it’s probably not the sort of thing you’d put yourself forward for: you’re probably the sort of person who’s going to get the most out of it! If you want to know anything else about it, do get in touch.