Lessons from mean streets of London

Over the next few weeks, in association with the Sir Peter Blake Trust, we will be talking to leaders about what they have learned, who inspires them and their proudest moments. Today: Sir Ray Avery.

In 2003, Sir Ray founded the international development organisation, Medicine Mondiale.
In 2003, Sir Ray founded the international development organisation, Medicine Mondiale.

Where were you born and educated?

I was born in Kent, England and self-educated by reading Encyclopedia Britannica in public libraries, while living rough on the streets of London. Later on I received formal education at Wye College, England.

What is your first memory of being a leader?

At 12 years old I organised a council house street battle, re-enacting the battle of Hastings 1066, with over 100 local kids armed with dustbin lids and makeshift bows and arrows.

What did you want to be as a child?

I used to repair bicycles that were harvested from the local tip, and sell them to my chums. I wanted to be a businessman that owned a string of bicycle outlets.

Tell us about someone who has inspired or been a mentor to you?

Jack Wise, teacher, social worker and prison counsellor, who found me living rough under a railway bridge. He mentored me and gave me an education and a moral compass that are given to so very few.

As a leader, what's the secret to getting people to support and share your vision?

To have a vision, which reflects the highest goals and aspirations for us as a people, and to be able to deeply and articulately communicate this so that it becomes their vision.

What will be a significant business or societal issue in the next decade?

Leadership. Good global leadership may fix all of our global problems. We need to create a new paradigm for generating leaders who espouse the best possible traits of our species, rather than the worst, and can initiate a call to action. Think Sam Johnson, founder of the Student Volunteer Army.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?

Hopefully alive and building my charity, Medicine Mondiale, into a global business, which will make affordable high quality medical care accessible to everyone.

What is the best part about being a Blake Medallist?

To hopefully leave behind a legacy of what it is to be a great leader, and to nurture leadership talent as an investment in the wellbeing of our planet and our species.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise people?

Although I am acknowledged as a scientist and inventor my first love is art. I am an accomplished painter and sculptor with works held in international collections.

What is your favourite way to relax?

Teaching my two girls, Melia, 4, and Anastasia, 2, chemistry and science, and how to make the mother of all vinegar and sodium bicarbonate interstellar rockets.

How would you like to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as someone who inspired others, no matter how challenging their circumstances, to dream big. Trust me, one man can change the world you just need to start.

If you could give your 15-year old self some wise advice, what would it be?

None. I am in awe of this little chap who survived years of abuse and neglect.
Oscar Wilde said famously, "I am not young enough to know everything."
This young man knew everything about survival. I have nothing to teach him.

Sir Ray Avery

Sir Ray Avery, GNZM is a leading scientist, inventor and social entrepreneur who has made a major contribution to the development of New Zealand's domestic and export pharmaceutical industry.

In 2003, Sir Ray founded the international development organisation, Medicine Mondiale, which is dedicated to making quality healthcare and equipment accessible to the poorest developing nations around the world. In 2010, Sir Ray published his autobiography Rebel With a Cause which charts his life from a childhood spent in English orphanages and foster homes to the knighthood he received in 2011. Sir Ray, who is in his mid-60s, is the Sir Peter Blake Trust 2010 Blake Medallist.

- NZ Herald

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