How can a participatory approach make your organisation more effective?
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A short summary of Thomas Harris’s 2022 academic research of a grassroot Sport for Development (SfD) organisation in Uganda working on WASH (Football 4 Wash) and Mental Health (BUREF). The research explores how stakeholders played a role in reaching a more holistic and sustainable development praxis.
This article was submitted as part of our call for articles on participatory approaches in sport for development. For more information and to find out how to submit, read the call for articles.

A limitation with SfD projects

Although SfD programs educate, raise awareness, provide opportunities and empower participants – their influence remains limited to the sphere of the individual. Organisations don’t challenge nor reshape the structure which maintains young people in a disadvantaged situation. “SDP, in this sense, focuses on securing upward mobility more so than challenging the structures of inequality” (Darnell and S.C., 2012). In sum, programmes that promote positive participant development “may help to beat the odds (i.e. the context), but they do very little to change the odds” (Jones et al., 2020).

What can we do about it?

Capacity Development is the process through which individuals, organisations, and societies obtain, strengthen, and maintain the capabilities to set and achieve their own development objectives (UNDP). Capacity Development is basically local stakeholders bringing their knowledge and skills together to secure their own development. Knowing how sport can bring people together, Capacity Development is an interesting framework to overcome the individual scale of action held by SfD organisations.

Sport would therefore act as a community leadership platform where common problems are addressed and solutions are found within the community. A collaboration and partnership between the community and with the organisation to take a shared responsibility and delivery of a project.

Did it work? Here are the finds of the case study

The findings reveal that all stakeholders have played an important if not crucial role in the 2 programs of our grassroot SfD organisation. At the same time, none of them covered all dimensions of capacity development. This means the program and its development within the community highly depend on the specific position, skills, knowledge, and contribution of each distinct actor. In other words, each stakeholder has the ability to enrich the development program in specific areas they are most attuned to; none of them has the exclusivity of the know-how in a way that can undermine the attributes of another. For example, the community may not be engaged in the formulation of policies and strategies; but local NGO’s have the sufficient skills and knowledge to help the SfD organisation design a solid project plan (e.g. a Logframe). However, they do not have the exclusivity of this process because coaches and schools also have an important input on this as they help refine the strategies and make them easily applicable (e.g. the activities).

To help summarise the results obtained in this research, each stakeholder was allocated a contribution score in the different dimensions of capacity development. The scores attributed are not precise quantitative measures, rather they’re an overview (derived from the qualitative data) to help visualise the patterns across the different stakeholders.


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The data in the table is represented in the graph below.


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The other main finding of this research is to be allocated to the coaches, participants, parents and schools engaged in the program. In different ways, these stakeholders changed the nature of the program by reversing the logic of who is helping who. For instance, coaches help the SfD organisation implement their program; the result is that coaches took over so much that it the organisation who is now helping them implement the project. For example, the school runs continuously the Football 4 WASH drills, parents make sure participants implement the project at home; participants and coaches regularly do the clean-ups, with the community supporting them. The stakeholders, firm belief in the values of the project leads to their ownership outside the reach of the SfD organisation. This illustrates the mindset of the actors and carry the expression of the will to change the circumstances in which they live; thus improving the overall context; for participants, but also for non-participants.


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Engaging a variety of stakeholders in different aspects of the program considerably enhances the capacity development of this organisation; the development potential is drastically improved. SfD organisations should emphasise on engaging stakeholders as a viable and robust complement to monetary funding.

In light of this example, organisations may be highly supported and even taken over by local stakeholders, facilitating and expanding outside their initial development boundaries. Involving and sharing the development project with enabling stakeholders holds a huge potential not only for its sustainability but also as a credible and holistic development praxis – who doesn’t limit itself in helping a few, but attempts to make it intrinsic.

Neither sport nor the program itself is the finality. If “Sport” is today considered a platform to build trust between participants, then the SfD program is equally a platform to build trust within the community and build common development goals and actions.

If you are interested in the full research, have questions or would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact me at [email protected]

About the author

Thomas Harris is currently a Project Assistant at the Swiss Academy for Development (SA4D) and currently working on the Moving Youth! project in Uganda. Thomas is dedicated to make Sport for Development projects more holistic and sustainable.

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/thomasmharris1/


Darnell & S.C. 2012. Sport for Development and Peace: A Critical Sociology., London.

Jones, G. J., Edwards, M. B., Bocarro, J. N., Svensson, P. G. & Misener, K. 2020. A community capacity building approach to sport-based youth development. Sport Management Review, 23, 563-575.

UNDP 2015. Capacity Development: A UNDP Primer.


Project Assistant
Swiss Academy for Development


Football (Soccer)
Sustainable Development Goals
10 – Reduced inequalities
8 - Decent work and economic growth
Target Group

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