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The Sustainable Development Goals – one year on

The Sustainable Development Goals – one year on

Adam Fraser discusses what impact the SDGs have had on the sport for development sector.

A friend, working in international development but outside the world of sport for development, asked me the other day whether I thought, one year on from their announcement, that the Sustainable Development Goals had made a difference to this sector. It felt like a trick question. The UN’s statement in the literature accompanying the SDGs – “We recognise the growing contribution of sport to the realisation of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives" – made a difference as soon as it was published. Suddenly it has felt, in conversations with funders, institutions and individuals, that we are no longer explaining that sport can be a force for positive social change, but moving immediately to discussing how.

Instead of explaining the concept that sport can be a tool to break into areas otherwise resistant to social change – from reducing gang violence in South America, to supporting mental health and wellbeing in South African townships, to addressing a lack of educational opportunities for girls in Cambodia – we are now being given the opportunity to prove it – which is not, of course, a small challenge in itself. How the sector responds to that challenge will take longer to answer, but it should be seen as an opportunity not a threat. Whether you are working for a major funder or on the front line tackling one of the issues mentioned above, the SDGs have provided a common rallying cry.

At times, especially when working directly with youth and communities through grassroots programming, the SDGs can feel a long way away; a distant concept that is nice to think about but bears little connection to the reality of working day to day. Moving beyond that mindset, though, can open new doors for any organisation. For those of us working in programme delivery, it places our efforts as part of a bigger mission and offers food for thought on everyday issues affecting our work. For those of us working in monitoring and evaluation, it provides the framework to inform what lessons we need to learn and what proof points we need to provide to the wider world. For those of us working in fundraising, it gives us instant credibility and a new way to frame the stories we try to tell.

At Laureus Sport for Good, we have devoted significant time this year to recasting our vision, mission, methods and structures in the light of the SDGs. Some organisations will dive even deeper; some might not feel they have the time and resource to do more than consider some top-line thoughts about their work in a wider context. But any organisation in this space should at least decide where on that spectrum they fall. It is a conversation we would be delighted to have with anyone unsure of where to start.

At the first Laureus World Sports Awards, Nelson Mandela told us that “Sport has the power to change the world.” It has become a rallying cry for this sector over the past 15 years. Over the next 15, with the SDGs tacitly endorsing the truth behind President Mandela’s words, it is up to us all to prove it, and turn the ‘growing contribution’ acknowledged by the UN into a genuinely mainstream solution.

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Friday, September 30, 2016 - 00:00