Local participation in SfD: Paving the way for community empowerment
The contemporary applications of sport in the field of development are often part of the mainstream discussion that sport has the capacity to provide positive experiences, engage youth and disadvantaged communities and contribute to individual and collective benefit. The value of sport as a vehicle for social development and progressive social change has been much debated. Significant amount of Sport for Development (SFD) research concerned with understanding social change has used a behavioral or psycho-social theoretical lens, thus tending to focus on the experiences of individuals and whether or not they derive transformative benefits from sport-focused development initiatives. In addition, there have been recent attempts to move towards cultural understandings of social change, particularly via Freirean theorizing of SFD. Nevertheless, there is still a gap in situating SFD impacts within a community level and whether they contribute to sustain the existing social and political order or have the potential to change the current structure.
Reflecting on the role of sport in achieving social transformation brings an interesting conversation to the SFD narrative. It goes without saying that, for transformative change to happen, it should include an empowering process, with a shift of power to those who are local and poor. In addition, this cannot be discussed without touching upon who is being empowered by this social change and who is being marginalized. This goes beyond understanding how SFD is impacting communities in terms of inequalities but is also concerned with aspects that disadvantage southern players. The external and ‘international’ frameworks and strategies imposed from a donor perspective and how they can marginalize the marginalized more. The need to priorities local needs and building local capacities, and the inclusion of local voices in defining what is development are all key topics needed to be addressed to guarantee that SDP goes beyond providing positive experiences to fostering transformation and sustainable development.
One way to understand this further is to analyze how SFD organizations could have an impact on a community level through fostering authentic local participation. An example to look at is Generation Amazing Community Club (GACC), one of the four pillars of Generation Amazing Foundation (GAF). Through analyzing how a GACC operates, the aim is to understand to what extent participation and co-creation contribute to community empowerment.
GACC is a multi-purpose ‘hub’ that addresses social issues facing the community where it exists, acting as safe space and incubator for youth development and community empowerment to promote sustainable social development. To establish a GACC, GA work collaboratively with local community to identify the community needs and deliver projects that are contextualized after consultation with the community members. Each GACC is established to create a platform that addresses the specific development needs of a community where it exists. By adopting the GACC model, GAF is adopting a participatory approach ensuring active engagement of the local community and encouraging co-creation in different phases of the project cycle.
In GAF’s project in Rwanda, the GACC set up is based on two components, the first is working with a local Community Based Organization (CBO) and second is building capacity of the local community. In Rwanda for example, GAF has worked closely with the local government and local CBOs to ensure GAF is delivering a community club that is compatible with the local community needs and context. Another component of GACC is capacity building and providing trainings for the local community which are key to ensure ownership of the project by the community groups. Building the capacity of the community is part of expanding the project resources to the marginalized to advocate for their needs and demands. This process of engagement is critical to ensure that local community voices are heard, which was evident in the outcomes of Rwanda’s GACC. The engagement of the local community did not only result in ensuring that the programme is contextualized to the local community needs and demands, it has also led to delivering trainings to the local coaches and staff to build their capacities, in addition to the co-creation of a hybrid programme that was developed by the local delivery partner in collaboration with GAF SFD experts.
The whole project was designed and delivered with a participatory attitude, ensuring that local community members are engaged since the beginning of the project and they feel that they have been a vital part in the planning and delivery phases designing the project in a way that fits their community needs. Although this is a crucial component in empowering local communities, but it is important to acknowledge that the existence of empowerment or its opposite among community groups cannot only be attributed to their participation in this project. On the contrary, we should not overlook power dynamics across gender, cultural background, and hierarchy which might have implicitly created barriers during this process.
It is crucial that we move beyond analyzing the impact of sport on an individual level, but try to investigate its power on a more collective dimension moving closer to focusing on the initial conception of empowerment which is more about a multidimensional process that is concerned with the collective facet of power as well as the individual dimension. We have to reflect critically on the field of SFD and disengage from the notion that sport is the solution to development challenges, focusing more on how sport engage and intersect with other factors and how this might lead to social transformation.
We need to be honest about what is possible through SFD. Sport is unique in its ability to address development challenges, but it needs to be delivered in a conscious manner to be able to achieve social change. Furthermore, while we recognize that transforming social structures remains intangible, it is important not to underestimate smaller-scale changes that can, and do, result from SFD programmes.
About the author
Amina Hamad is an international Delivery Senior Officer at Generation Amazing Foundation. She holds a Masters in Development Policies and Practices from the Geneva Institute. With more than 7 years of experience in the Sport and Development sector, Amina has worked on multiple projects that have used sport as an enabler for youth leadership, community building and overall sustainable social development.