Pro Sport Development’s 10-year Learning Journey
In 2013, I founded Pro Sport Development (PSD) with the vision of enabling young people from marginalized backgrounds, who had the talent but not the means, to develop their sporting abilities and assist them in achieving laurels in sport. Fast forward 10 years, and our work at PSD has been completely transformed – we have turned the concept of sport on its head in order to use it in its broadest sense (including physical activity and play) to facilitate the holistic development of young people, in order for them to be able to access better futures.
This change in approach at PSD took place after the first few years of implementing sport programs on the ground. While helping young people hone their sporting talents in one of our initial projects, we learnt that sport was having a much larger impact on them, especially on girls, by positively impacting their academics, inculcating crucial life skill and values, and enabling them to negotiate with their families to continue their education. We felt that sport should be utilized more holistically and inclusively to enable all young people, not just athletes, to develop personally and socially for future success and enable them to demand access to their rights.
Today, PSD works at the intersection of sport and social change, with the objective to build an ecosystem where the power of sport is leveraged by various stakeholders to empower young people to become confident, competent and gender-sensitive leaders. We directly implement sport-based programs for young people, and also work with trainers and facilitators as well as organizations to create sustainable impact using the power of sport.
As a founder, it is difficult to articulate the successes achieved during a finite period in an organization’s journey, as I believe that our work is always in progress towards achieving something larger. However, the impact that our work has had on developing young leaders, while providing young people their fundamental right to participate in sport, stands out as one of PSD’s main achievements in the past 10 years. The stories of Subhashree, Khadija, Rishita, Biswapriya and Sai Sarthak are testament to PSD’s impactful work through sport.
Moreover, PSD’s ability to successfully forge and maintain impactful, long-term partnerships with various organizations in the sport and development sector, from grassroots organizations to intergovernmental institutions, points to our ability to work collaboratively and our emphasis on cooperation in scaling the impact of sport.
I believe that PSD’s core values of professionalism, transparency and empathy developed over the past 10 years have enabled us to work with a wide-variety of stakeholders, forming trusting and caring relationships, while delivering high impact through sport and physical activity.
As in sport, in life and work too it is the challenges and failures that teach you more than just the successes. Embracing challenges, learning to deal with them effectively and coming up with innovative solutions is a key aspect to building an organization and team that is resilient.
One of the major challenges that we have faced as an organization has been the mindsets and attitudes of a variety of stakeholders towards sport – viewing it from the narrow lens of performance and winning accolades, without valuing its all-round ability to create change at the individual and collective levels. This has meant that we’ve spent considerable time and resources in communicating, advocating and convincing key stakeholders about the potential of sport beyond winning medals and achieving results. It has been a slow, and at times, frustrating process – but we continue with the knowledge that the impact that sport can have, especially on young people.
Another challenge in PSD’s journey has been the scarcity of long-term, reliable and sustainable investments to scale-up our work over the years, with major funding focusing on elite and performance sports, rather than sports and physical activity at the grassroots.
Moreover, though some fantastic work is happening in sport and development at the grassroots in India, being carried out by a variety of stakeholders such as governments, civil society, the non-profit sector and the private sector, most of this is being undertaken in silos. There has been limited collaborative effort to scale-up the work of the sector, share resources and exchange knowledge and ideas, though this is slowly changing with concentrated efforts by stakeholders. This has meant that PSD, like other organizations working in sport and development in India, have had to re-create the wheel during our journeys, resulting in duplication of effort.
PSD’s renewed vision in 2015 highlights our ability and desire to embrace change, process learnings and adapt our work to the needs of the young people and the local contexts in which we work, while not compromising on the social impact that we can create. As an organization, we have prioritized and institutionalized learning processes that help us re-imagine, re-create and innovate in our work. Some of our key learnings over the years have been:
- Stick to your social mission – As an organization, we have learnt that staying true to our social mission, which is to empower young people in order for them to access better futures, is critical in order to for us to function authentically, which enables us to maximize the impact of our work.
- Plan for the long haul – Over the years, we have learnt that it is imperative to align our work keeping in mind the long-term changes that we want to bring. We have also learnt that this is very challenging, working in a space where we are mostly engaged in shorter-term projects. A balance between executing short-term projects while keeping long-term goals in mind is critical for success.
- Be the change you want to see – Cliched as it may sound, working to enable social change through sport requires organizations and the individuals associated with it to change mindsets, attitudes and behaviors to be able to facilitate that change in other individuals and communities. This means that we have to embrace sport and physical activity in the workplace and in our daily lives, while also prioritizing capacity building which helps us develop our own life skills, gender perspectives and collective values.
- Build a committed team – Working at the intersection of sport and social change requires a dedicated and committed team who embrace learning and tackling challenges, given the uniqueness of the sector, and buy into the long-term vision of the organization.
- You can’t do everything yourself – Over the past 10 years, our team and I have come to realize that we cannot do everything ourselves, and need to focus on doing what we do well, while collaborating with partners on other aspects. Similarly, scaling-up the social impact of sport cannot be done by us alone, or any one organization, and hence collaboration becomes key. Don’t be afraid to seek support from others, and likewise, be generous in your own support to others.
I believe that our learnings from the first 10 years of PSD’s existence will serve as a platform to develop our work and organization further, scale-up our initiatives and deepen the impact that our work can have. PSD, along with many other organizations working in India, have an important role to play in the next 10-year journey of Indian sport and recreation, with a focus on enabling every young person’s fundament right to participate in sport. This can only be done when all like-minded stakeholders work together and support each other to achieve these shared objectives.
About the author
Suheil F. Tandon is the Director-Founder of Pro Sport Development (PSD), a sport for development social enterprise working at the intersection of sport and social change in India since 2013. Suheil believes in the power of sport in catalyzing social transformation, and has led the conceptualization and initiation of several sport and development projects in the past decade.