Striving above the Arctic Circle on the 2023 Strive Challenge

Richard Branson on the 2023 Strive Challenge - hiking above the Arctic Circle
Adam Slama
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 6 March 2023

The 2023 Strive Challenge was one of those perfect weeks. We spent a week in Lapland, striving across the snow – 170km above the Arctic Circle. February is often described as ‘The Deep Winter’ in Lapland, which meant -30°C temperatures, waist-deep snow, untouched forests, Northern Lights, and sleeping in 200-year-old lumber jack cabins with no electricity or running water. Over the course of the week, we snow-biked, ice dipped, snow-shoed, skied and half-marathoned our way across frozen rivers, fells, national parks, and mountains. During the daytime, our bodies were pushed to their absolute limits, but our evenings were spend huddled together around a bonfire brainstorming ways the education system could be transformed.

Everyone who takes on the Strive Challenge has also been impacted by the education system in one way or another, and is determined to transform it for the better. Over the years, the various challenges have raised over £7.75m for Big Change – which has spent a decade backing different education leaders and projects that are challenging the system. Big Change recently launched the Big Education Challenge - a £1m prize fund to identify and support people with bold ideas that could transform education and learning in the UK. The Challenge is specifically supporting young innovators like Jaiden Corfield, who joined us on Strive this year. Jaiden runs Outliers – an organisation that empowers young people to be better represented in places where decisions are made, and better recognised for their talent, strength and diversity.

The 2019 Big Change Impact Event.
Image from Big Change

With Big Change's support, Jaiden also helped set up a supplementary school called Rekindle in Manchester, which helps young people left out of the education system find a love of learning. Hearing Jaiden speaking about his experiences and how he managed to turn his life around, even when the education system was working against him, and help others do the same was incredibly moving and inspiring. On one of the last days, we were on the home-straight of the winter marathon when I looked behind me to see Jaiden striving towards me. He strode past me and beat me to the finish line. I was so impressed by his resilience, and how he is showing the world that with great challenges can come great strengths.

Richard Branson on the 2023 Strive Challenge above the arctic circle
Adam Slama

One of my other favourite things about Strive is spending precious time with my family. The challenge was invented by my son, Sam, and my nephew, Noah, 10 years ago and the time we spend striving together is so precious. This year, we witnessed the Northern Lights together – which was one of the most mesmerising and breath-taking sights I’ve ever seen. The only time I’ve ever seen them before was on a Virgin Atlantic flight over the Arctic.

Richard Branson's photo of the Northern Lights in Finland on the 2023 Strive Challenge
Branson family

All in all, the 2023 Strive Challenge was as exciting, invigorating, trying, and insightful as ever. I’m so proud of everyone involved – from Sam, Noah, Holly and everyone at Big Change, to the brilliant change-makers they support, and everyone who embarked on the challenge and raised funds for them.

Richard Branson and Sam Branson on the 2023 Strive Challenge
Branson family

I hope one day that everybody in the world can be part of an education system where everybody is included, and where everyone finds a love of learning that they take into their lives.