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Context-specific approaches to sport for development

Copyrights: UNICEF Guinea

Context-specific approaches to sport for development

For sport for development programmes to be truly effective, locally relevant indigenous practices coupled with strengths-based approaches are needed to develop local youth capacities.

The reality of the current times is that of a deeply unequal global landscape which has ignited an era of global change. Gender, ethnicity and socio-economic status continue to determine opportunity and gaps continue to emerge. Today, the world is not only battling the COVID-19 pandemic, but is inundated with human rights abuses and inequalities.

Sport too has been in the spotlight, facing challenges around existing inequalities. This has sparked difficult but necessary conversations. However, a crucial question that resonates immensely and one which all should reflect on is: What future do we choose and what really matters to us?

The current landscape

As we find ourselves within a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, this question must spark change. It is essential that we emerge from our current crises and take positive steps towards achieving a better and more sustainable future for all. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals indentify areas that need to be addressed and have recognised sport as a crucial tool for attaining development.

Sport for Development (SFD) drives positive social change by harnessing the power of sport, to positively impact livelihoods and drive holistic community development. One development outcome gained from sport is that of leadership. Youth leadership development holds great potential for human benefit; to empower, create opportunity, improve livelihoods and provide purpose.

Integrating youth leadership development within SFD where sport has been shown to inspire, unify and transform communities holds huge promise to be life changing. Leadership development enhances long-term sustainability, develops entrepreneurial skills, establishes successful partnerships and equips individuals with the experience and foresight to take positive action. Thus, effective leadership development can be seen as a beneficial step to achieving global development.

Incorporating lived experiences

There is a clear need for SFD leadership that incorporates lived experiences, is culturally sensitive and context specific, and in order for leadership to be successful, it needs to be sustainable and of capacity. However, currently it is common in SFD to utilise top-down leadership approaches and external change agents, or to see those from developed nations influencing the developing. Conversely, local understanding, knowledge and practice are crucial to the success of SFD programmes and organisations, which find themselves at the heart of developing communities.

In areas where deprivation is high and resources are scarce, a challenge arises surrounding how best to grow, empower and change for current and sustained development. One approach which I am suggesting as fit for future practice within SFD is the deliberate use of a combined strength-based, indigenous youth leadership development approach. This holds potential to aid capacity building, social cohesion and sustainable development.

Strength-based approaches

Strength-based leadership practices have emerged from the field of positive psychology. The importance of strength-based approaches is their focus on growth potential by developing strengths rather than solving problems and fixing weaknesses. Strength-based approaches such as Asset-Based Community Development and Appreciative Inquiry hold potential in local SFD where limited resources exist. These approaches focus on identifying and mobilising existing resources, namely human and social capital through affirmative practice to achieve beneficial development outcomes.  

For the youth to positively influence and impact developing communities, it is essential that this approach begins at a grassroots level where local youth have the opportunity to be re-engaged through SFD programmes as community leaders and internal change agents. These young individuals sit at the heart of their local communities, therefore understanding the cultural context and needs.

Context-specific SFD

Coupling indigenous practices, which are essential at the community level, with complementary strength-based approaches enhances the impact of leadership capacity and sustainability. Indigenous knowledge in context-specific communities, where SFD could be highly influential, cannot be developed or acquired externally. Indigenous understanding is innate, inherently rooted, a way of being and is developed throughout one’s lived experience.

Leadership development from an indigenous perspective is an ‘inside-up’ approach, which goes further than a traditional bottom-up approach as most suitable for developing communities and nations, typically in the global south. Developing young leaders through deliberate strength-based indigenous leadership practices allows the opportunity to guide the local youth as future community leaders. This speaks to creating success over time by building human and social capital and holds the potential to foster sustainable leadership of capacity for the future of context specific SFD.   

The future

The future of SFD will continue to drive positive social change as we enter the ‘new normal,’ illuminated from the global pandemic. However, most importantly, now is the time to reimagine the global landscape and act upon building sustainable global development for human benefit. This creates an opportunity for SFD to further enhance inclusive and holistic development and build pathways guiding our future generations and young leaders. Thus, purposefully developing culturally in-tune and context-specific leadership through strength-based indigenous leadership in young individuals holds promise as fit for the future of SFD and ultimately for the benefit of global development.


With a Master’s degree in Sports Business and Leadership from Loughborough University, Tarryn Lee Horner is an aspiring young South African female leader in the field of Sport for Development. She currently represents the CYSDP as the Scientific Focal Point and works in grant management for developing grassroots sport at the Football Foundation.


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Wednesday, August 4, 2021 - 08:05

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