Utilizing sport for community belonging, peacebuilding, and employment opportunities: A human-centred design approach
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soccer players on a dusty pitch
With the growing interest around sport and refugees, highlighting how sport may be used to enhance lives, and how to structure sport programs according to refugees needs, is critical.

Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) in Kampala, Uganda, is one of the many organizations around the world doing important work in relation to sport and refugees. With Uganda being host to over 1.4 million displaced people, including from neighboring countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, South Sudan and Somalia, there is a great need for on-the-ground and refugee-led actors to support those forced to migrate in urban communities.

YARID’s sport programs are multifaceted in nature and connect with their other social and economic initiatives, including education, women empowerment, microfinance groups, and livelihood training. The sport programs seek to address four key social issues: ethnic violence, youth unemployment, public health and community conflict.

Ethnic violence and community conflict: Using football (soccer) to bring together male and female youth, sport is utilized to encourage cultural belonging and conflict resolution between different ethnic refugee groups. In some cases, intercultural conflicts between refugees in homelands prior to displacement were underpinned by tribal and ethnic differences. Sport is used in a welcoming and friendly environment, led by trained YARID staff, to promote community cooperation and peacebuilding to unite refugees and promote solidarity in positive ways despite potential history of conflicts. In addition, YARID moves beyond a focus on refugee communities to also include local Ugandan community members in sport programs in order to destabilize misplaced assumptions about the burden of refugees in Kampala. Instead, sport seeks to bring together different groups of refugees and Ugandan citizens to create intercultural relationships and understanding about refugees and their experiences of displacement.

Youth unemployment: Youth unemployment in Uganda, particularly for refugees, is at an all-time high, and with the impact of COVID-19, unemployment numbers will most likely rise. Sports teams and groups, in addition to participating in football training and friendly tournaments, also meet to discuss employment opportunities, build social networks that refugees utilize to locate and share livelihood opportunities amongst one another, and are connected with other YARID programs (e.g., livelihood training, computer-based education, English courses and job readiness training) to foster opportunities for sport participants to gain sustainable employment.

Public health: Both during and after sport programs, YARID staff teach life skills including in relation to HIV/AIDS, physical fitness, and hygiene and nutritional life choices. These life skills are intended to enhance refugees’ wellbeing and healthy lifestyles due to the challenges of displacement refugees often face, including loss of social and economic resources. YARID staff also use sport and meetings prior to and after sport programming to inquire with, listen to, and learn about what refugees require further from YARID for community development.

We value the work of various organizations that is taking place through sport in the lives of displaced peoples that has been posted to sportanddev this week and also view the call by Carla Luguetti and Ramón Spaaij to co-design sport programs with refugee-background youth as critically important. YARID’s refugee-led and community-based approach seeks to co-develop sport programming around the needs of refugees and what they identify as important through a human-centred design approach.

Human-Centred Design Approach

Human-centred design (HCD) seeks to solve social problems in communities by directly involving community members (i.e. refugees) in the design of programs to develop solutions. Refugees identify the social issues that they see as most pressing in their lives and communities. Staff, in collaboration and consultation with refugees, create program-oriented solutions to be considered.

YARID importantly adopts an HCD approach for their own program creation and implementation, but also train refugees in this approach to foster development of additional initiatives and solutions by refugees within their own communities (outside of the YARID setting). Interviewing community members is a key part of ensuring that the views of refugees are considered, and interview skills are also taught by YARID members for the purposes of the HCD approach.

In 2016 and 2017 with funding from UNHCR Youth Initiative Fund, YARID implemented the “Soccer for Peace Project” where youth from different communities (including youth from the host population) participated in a tournament. Three youth were selected from each of the eight teams that participated to be part of 10 capacity building trainings to help them acquire knowledge and skills. Topics of the trainings included: rules of football, human centered design, refugee rights, family planning, sexual and reproductive health, business skills, peace building, HIV/AIDS, gender based violence and leadership skills. The emphasis of the HCD training was to teach the youth how to solve issues affecting their communities.

A step-by-step outline of the HCD approach for community members to practice its implementation is as follows:


1. Introduce and define the HCD approach.


2. Select an exemplary community issue (e.g., conflict resolution) for the purposes of explaining the approach.

3. Engage in group discussion with refugees about questions they could ask people in their communities about conflict resolution and who will conduct interviews and take notes with individuals and groups.

4. Small groups go into their community and interview members.

5. Feedback is then provided to the group seeking to create solutions.


6. Discuss the practice of brainstorming together, including having one conversation at a time, deferring judgement amongst group members, contributing and welcoming a multiplicity of ideas, using visual prompts and resources (explaining to imagine ways that solutions can happen), encourage non-traditional ideas, stay on topic, and build ideas collaboratively.

7. Engage in brainstorming exercises (e.g., mind map) to suggest solutions.

8. Group and cluster similar ideas together for organization.

9. Group members vote on idea(s) that they perceive as most likely to be successful in the community.

10. Group members begin to expand on the idea(s) chosen.


11. Group members share their ideas with community members to identify and confirm a workable approach for the idea to come into fruition.


12. Work with community members who were involved in discussions during the observation stage (and others who were not) to ask questions about the idea being implemented, such as: What do you like about this idea and approach? What do you not like? What could be improved?


13. After feedback, refine the idea based on community member’s perspectives and advice, and refine until community members support fully the approach.


14. Implement the idea and approach that was agreed upon by community members.

Whilst this is a general and condensed overview of the HCD approach, we believe that starting with refugees’ ideas, perspectives, and opinions on what is most needed in their communities presents an on-the-ground and refugee-led framework for implementing relevant sport programs for refugees.

About the authors

Mitchell McSweeney is a PhD candidate at York University in Toronto, Canada, whose research focuses on sport and physical activity, international development, entrepreneurship, and refugee communities. He has worked with various sport for development organizations in Uganda, Eswatini, Canada, and India.

Robert Hakiza is a Congolese refugee living in Uganda since 2008 and is the co-founder and executive director of YARID in Kampala, Uganda, with extensive experience as a refugee advocate for urban refugees. He holds a degree in Agriculture from the Catholic University of Bukavu (DRC) and a certificate in forced migration from the International Summer School of forced migration at Oxford University. Robert is also a founding member of the Refugee-Led Organizations Network in Uganda, a founding and steering committee member of the Global Refugee Network representing the sub-Saharan Africa Chapter, a TED Fellow 2017, Aspen Institutes Fellow 2017, and Obama Emerging African Leader 2019.


Congo - Kinshasa
South Sudan
All sports
Sustainable Development Goals
16 - Peace, justice and strong institutions.
Target Group
Displaced people

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