Development is in our blood – Sport makes it flow
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To mark the International Day for Sport and Development and Peace, Bond has asked a few international NGOs why they use sport in their development work. How does it add value to what they do? This article is from the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.

The Sustainable Development Goals, SDGs, are the blueprint for a better future for all. They are our collective aspirations for where we want to be as a global community in 2030, and it sets out the roles and responsibilities for all of us. 

More than the world of sports, more than the pantheon of history’s greatest athletes, the SDGs are our bearings when we navigate the world of international development with all its local and global challenges, and a better future for especially vulnerable children and young people is our North when we set the direction at Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.

In October 2018, at the World Investment Forum, the under-secretary general of the United Nations, Michael Moeller emphasised again the UN’s belief in the power of sport: “With its universal reach and appeal, sport is an important enabler of sustainable development and a key tool to reach the Goals by 2030. Sport, physical activity and play can strengthen governance, empower women, and promote human rights and integrity”.

With this statement Mr Moeller echoed Nelson Mandela’s famous words from the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards in the year 2000: “Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people”. This belief seems to have become the mantra for our entire sector, and it continues to inspire and mobilise people across the world.

At Laureus Sport for Good, we are witnessing the sport for development and peace movement in the making, and we have done so for almost twenty years. Since 2016, we have increasingly positioned ourselves thoroughly within the framework of the SDGs recognising that by employing the power of sport, we can make our own little contribution to help the global community towards a better future.

The Social Focus Areas

The SDGs are a big mouthful for any organisation. Laureus is no exception. Therefore, to help find our ground in this vast landscape, we have gone through an extensive strategic process aiming at turning the global SDGs into concrete targets we can aim towards in partnership with local organisations across the world. Based on research, commissioned by ourselves as well as looking into the plentiful material which is out there and which I would recommend everyone to dive into, we turned seven of the SDGs into 6 Social Focus Areas:

  • In Health we are committed to enhancing mental wellbeing and encouraging healthy behaviour change
  • In Education we commit to help increase access to and completion of education
  • In Women & Girls we promote and pursue gender equality, women and girls’ empowerment and leadership, as well as putting an end to violence against women and girls
  • In Employability we support partners who develop skills and create pathways to employment for young women and men
  • In Inclusive Society we work with programmes that help communities embrace physical, ethnic, and cultural differences, and
  • In Peaceful Society, we aim to engage with communities that aspire to reduce violence and build peace where there was once conflict
Just looking at Inclusion and Peace

Sport has the power to contribute in all these Social Focus Areas, but if we just look at Inclusive Society, to pull out one example, there are compelling reasons to explore the potential of sport in bringing people on the edge of society to its core.

People living on the fringes of society have most often not chosen to be there. They are there for one reason or another most often out of their immediate control, and the mechanisms for keeping them there are strong and ingrown in society, taking the shapes of discrimination, stereotypes, exclusion, marginalisation, etc.

Sport can provide a forum where disparate groups come together.  When programmes are carefully established to build commonality, rather than emphasise difference, they can be used to build a bridge between demographics which do not normally engage with each other. Positive interaction and engagement promote respect and understanding between communities which are divided along ethnic, religious or other lines. When linked with mediation and other suitable community interventions, these programmes can begin to build more inclusive and even peaceful communities.

When wishing to break down barriers, sport can be used to challenge the stereotypes and prejudices that sustain them. These are the types of things we see in programmes that work to address all sorts of exclusion, whether it is changing people and communities’ perceptions of children living with disabilities in Thailand or Ethiopia, supporting ex-offenders to find their way into jobs in the UK, or building symbolic bridges in communities torn by ethnic conflicts in Israel and Jordan, and so on.

A role beyond grant making

As an intermediary funder committed to using sport to end violence, discrimination and disadvantage, to proving the power of sport in international development, we see our role as going well beyond that of just providing grants. Of course, you cannot run a marathon on an empty stomach, but just as energy intake is not enough to reach the finishing line after 42.195 km, funding is not enough to generate deep and sustainable impact. Therefore, our commitment to the individual grantee and to the wider sector goes well beyond grant-making.

Currently, we support more than 160 programmes across 40 countries, ranging from small, local community based organisations where sport plays only a small but crucial part, to large international organisations where sport is the impetus. Any organisation who aligns with the same SDGs as we, and whom we believe can generate a deep and lasting impact in its community, could potentially be a partner for Laureus Sport for Good.

Our support takes the shape of funding (yes, you do need energy as well to run a marathon) as well as technical assistance on a series of organisational issues, ranging from Monitoring & Evaluation, Gender Equality and Safeguarding to Governance and Financial Management. I struggle to find a single organisation in our portfolio that cannot develop and strengthen, and this includes ourselves at Laureus Sport for Good. Working together we can address our weaknesses and build our strengths. Therefore, to complement our bilateral engagement with partners, we also strive to create spaces where we can support each other, whether they be Learning Communities of partners organised around distinct SDGs or our Global Summits, most recently held in Paris in October 2018 where more than 140 of our partners were gathered to discuss Gender Equality and Inclusion over three days.

The Sport for Development and Peace movement is small, but growing, and we have had a tendency to look inwards. The international development sector as well as wider social development at all levels are spaces we must look into if we intend to grow our global impact. To support the SDP movement in this endeavour, Laureus Sport for Good also invests in research, in developing the evidence base that can prove the compelling power of sport. Last year, we published two pieces, one looking into women and girls in sport for development programmes, and the other looking into the state of evidence in our sector. This year, we look to publish several new pieces, including one on the role of networking and collaboration (in partnership with Women in Sport), and another showing the first ever impact data from Laureus Sport for Good’s programmes.

The big “H”

Your childhood community is not only where you come from, it is not only where you grew up, it is who you are. When you come from disenfranchised and poor communities where violence and discrimination and abuse is part of the daily life, this becomes part of you, and it requires great effort to break the cycle of reproduction – it requires great effort to find a way to break with the patterns your past. However, our research shows it, our anecdotal evidence shows it, visiting these communities gives us the evidence again and again: when you grow up with nothing but despair, Sport can give you Hope.