If you had 20 million dollars to give to an organisation to use sport to change the world whose door would you knock on first?
Sport organisations convene peers around compelling activities and create a supportive, safe space to challenge norms and stereotypes. It gives access to mentors who show people what is possible and can guide others through difficult life stages. It gets the attention of the community and offers high profile major events to which communication and fundraising activities can be attached. The sport product can be adapted to reach diverse groups and can be a vehicle for a range of changes behaviours.
Development organisations on the other hand are great at working with the communities. They know how to support authentic design processes, consider safeguarding, design communication for behaviour change activities and create monitoring and evaluation processes. The organisation's familiar and trusted brand and commitment to fulfilling a community's core need gives a sport-based program some gravitas, especially for parents and other gatekeepers. They often have front seats at policy discussions and know how to unearth a wider range of development income.
Then there is the for-purpose breed of organisations, set up specifically to undertake sport for development activities. They are the beautiful droughtmasters and seem to thrive in extreme conditions where sport structures are insufficient or culturally uninteresting, populations are very high or very low and the need for social change is urgent. Many of these organisations are incredibly effective. Some come and go pretty quickly. They were the founders of the sport for development industry and while they are still relevant, the industry will strangle itself if this is the only model we take forward. The niche is an important but narrow one and not everyone belongs in it.
I have always been a fan of changing systems rather than filling in gaps which leads me to focus on the interplay of the sport and the development sectors for the rest of this article. It's where I would put my 20 million.
Whether you use sport as tool for social change or achieve social change by using sport is mostly related to which desk you sit behind. Sport people go for the the former and development people go for the latter and, apart from some program nuances that are almost unrecognisable to beneficiaries, it is easy to ask why it matters beyond semantics. It matters because it influences both the degree of change possible within each of the sport and the development systems as well as the structural integrity of the systems that hold up and influence the integration of sport in social change structures.
A colleague from a high profile development agency mentioned that she sees 2 ways to transform a community and that was via sport and/or faith based organisations. These are activities around which people not only convene weekly, if not daily but also let permeate many aspects of their lives.
To my knowledge faith based organisations seem to be intent on building better faith based communities, making sure their faith-based activities serve more people and ensuring they are in positions where they can influence policy and big picture strategy on issues that concern their everyday operation. They are already convening and influencing people so it makes sense that organisations that are interested in bringing about change in areas that concern the congregation partner with the faith-based organisations.
It begs the question why sport has peeled off and created a stand alone sport for development industry in which a small element of a sport organisation is devoted to doing good while the rest of the organisations can do as it pleases. It becomes confounding as to why donor funding mechanisms isolates a weak sport for development funding trickle rather than engaging sport in mainstream community development funding streams. Equally, it is fascinating that sport is not yet considered as a tool that is applied to most areas of development programming.
Where is the opportunity?
If sport is going to be an authentic tool to contribute to the SDGs then the whole range of sport assets need to be considered across all areas of development. Most programs narrow the focus to one grassroots program for one demographic that is linked to one or two development outcomes. The opportunities lies in creating change across organisational culture, harnessing major events for communications and fundraising purposes, experimenting with different ways of managing activities to change power dynamics, recognising the diversity of the sport communities and mainstreaming safeguarding activities. The is a chance to use these activities to make sport more accessible to new markets, more embedded in the community structures and matter more to decision makers. We sport and development organisations are working together on these outcomes, they open the door to resources that comes with meeting corporate social responsibility and marketing objectives.
Why don’t we do it?
Because it’s really hard. It is much easier to cordon off project areas and commit to doing those things well. It’s neater, easier and there is much less potential for things to go wrong. It’s the equivalent of lobbing the balls into the middle of the tennis court rather than playing a winning shot closer to the sideline. My guess is that organisations are going to be able to play a safe game for a few more years while the industry is still considered novel but pretty soon many will be languishing in the land of missed opportunities or adapting quickly.
Where do we start?
1. Insist that all programs that use sport to do good include a sport partner and a development partner. The structure of the partnership options is limitless and probably fluid.
2. Make sure the development outcomes cuts across to 2 to 3 areas of both the sport and development organisation’s core business e.g. grassroots programs + event activation for fundraising and communication + policy development. Let the systems change, not just the beneficiaries.
3. Seek diverse funding from mainstream funding mechanisms. Don’t be content to sit under the sport for development trickle.
What’s worked for you? Do you have any stories to tell about creating partnerships in the sport and development sector?