This week, we had the opportunity to attend the first annual Laureus Summit, hosted by Laureus USA in Los Angeles, CA. The event was held on July 18th, on the 100th birthday of their founding patron Nelson Mandela. The focus of the summit was to shine a light on the sport’s positive impact on youth and communities worldwide.
Per the event description, “The Laureus Summit is designed for youth-serving organizations, corporates, foundations, leagues and athletes to come together and celebrate Nelson Mandela’s vision that sport has the power to change the world.”
The city was playing host to both the ESPYS and ESPN Humanitarian Awards so the event was packed full of influencers and change makers in the sports philanthropy space. The extraordinary speakers shared their best practices, advice and challenges in the world of sports philanthropy with the diverse group of attendees from around the world.
There was a lot to learn about the importance of sports philanthropy and all that sport for good can do. Here are our big takeaways.
Takeaway 1: You Don’t Have to Be An Athlete or a Celebrity to Give Back
Dr. John Carlos, a US Olympian and Humanitarian who won a bronze medal in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, is known for holding up his fist with teammate Tommie Smith as a symbol for black power during the Civil Rights movement. He wanted to ensure the audience knew that he isn’t the only one who can make an impact. “You don’t have to go to the Olympic Games to step up. You can step up,” Dr. Carlos said to the audience of sports philanthropy and sport for good executives. “There’s a responsibility for all of us to make this world a better place. You have the same opportunity.”
Fellow panelist, activist, entrepreneur and US Olympic Medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad, reinforced Dr. Carlos’ point. “We owe it to our communities to look at ourselves first and ask what we can do,” said the Olympic fencer. Muhammad spoke to the audience about the threats she had received simply for being a Muslim American competing at the Olympics. “Things haven’t changed all that much in the 50 years since Dr. John Carlos held up his fist in Mexico City. Even changing the conversation our own homes, we can make a difference.”
This is important to reiterate. You may think that because you don’t have millions of followers on social media, or millions of dollars in the bank that you can’t do much to help others. That’s far from the truth. Time and effort are just as important as influence and money. You can make a difference in someone’s life from just being there for them in a positive way. No matter who you are or what you do, you can give back. Volunteer your time, donate your skill set to someone in need, or mentor someone who looks up to you. Change happens one good deed at a time.
Takeaway 2: Coming Out in Support of Social Change is Hard
When the panel titled “The Athlete Voice” was asked about how they would address the National Anthem controversy in the NFL, WNBPA President and star of the Los Angeles Sparks Nneka Ogwumike gave us one of the most profound takeaways of the summit. “Coming out in support of positive social change is hard,” said Ogwumike. She recalls how the Sparks stayed in the locker room for the National Anthem at the 2017 WNBA Finals– there was a big debate among her teammates on whether or not they should be out on the court. She made it clear that the decision to go out there was not a unanimous one but it was an inclusive one.
Ogwumike said it’s impossible to represent everyone’s viewpoints on a team because of the diverse beliefs and backgrounds present. She added, “But it is important to have the conversations in the locker room and come out to represent the community the best that we can.” The idea that making a decision to stand, kneel or abstain from the National Anthem is something professional athletes take lightly is just untrue. These athletes are protesting for a reason, and it’s important to put as much thought and consideration of perspectives into our opinions on the subject as the players do on what their collective and individual stances.
When asked how she would respond to someone telling her to “shut up and dribble”, Ogwumike came out in defense of professional athletes, specifically her fellow WNBA players. “There were a lot of things I knew how to do before dribbling,” she said. “That’s amazing that it’s a question we have to address. 90% of WNBA players have degrees. We have business owners, poets, and chefs.” She finished by adding, “For anyone who asks me to stick to dribbling, I’d say ‘let me see you dribble first’”.
Takeaway 3: Authentic Strategies are the Most Effective Ones
Ibtihaj Muhammad talked about her love of Barbies from a young age and how her mother always bought Barbies that looked like her to show her that she could be whatever she wanted to be. Muhammad spoke about how Barbies let her escape into her imagination, and be a firefighter, a scientist, a homeowner with a pool or a teacher. Her positive experience with Barbie inspired Muhammad to partner with Mattel to create the first Barbie that will wear a hijab (and the first that is a fencer). This is just one example of authentic partnerships and programming that was discussed at the summit.
The first panel of the day, entitled “Sport for Good Los Angeles” featured speakers from the local LA community working hard to make change there. Tony LoRe of Youth Mentoring Connection shared his perspective of how mentoring youth makes all the difference in their lives. He shared the story of a young boy from Los Angeles who struggled with his weight and was depressed because of teasing at school. Through the Youth Mentoring Connection, he became interested in surfing, after which he was assigned a mentor who taught him how to surf and got him involved in the surfing community. That boy, now an adult, lost more than 120 pounds and is still active in the YMC’s surfing community. “Engaging kids at the local level and commitment to community are keys to sports-based youth development,” LoRe said.
Takeaway 4: Sport is Helping Women Around the World Find a Voice
On the “Sport as a Global Language” panel, discussions focused on sport making a positive impact the world. Moderated by Mark Clark from the Jordanian organization Generations of Peace, the panel discussed the social projects they participate in around the world and the impact that sports can bring. Panelists Dima Alardah, Cynthia Coredo of Boxgirls Kenya, and Vivian Puerta of Foundation Colombianitos spoke about the impact their program has on young people around the world.
“Having a support system and a mentor gave me the confidence to continue on in hard situations”, said Coredo, Executive Director of Boxgirls Kenya. “In my nation of Kenya, sport helps young girls have a voice. It gives them hope, it gives them a sense of identity — that’s what sport does for these girls.”
Dima Alardah works with young Syrian refugees in Jordan through youth sports programs. “Positive role models are key to engaging and empowering girls and women through sport,” Alardah said. Moderator Mark Clark added, “You cannot be what you cannot see. Girls need to see female role models, and we also need male role models to change global attitudes about females participating in sport.”
During the panel “Putting Women in the Lead”, speakers discussed how girls can be empowered through sport. The speakers came from diverse areas of the sports philanthropy space, but one theme was common- sport inspires confidence in women and gives them power. Caitlin Morris from Nike spoke about fear holding girls back and how sport can give girls the confidence to face their fears in all aspects of life. “Fear is such a powerful emotion. Fear of getting hurt, fear of making a mistake. Girls are falling further and faster behind. It’s because they lack confidence. But when they do take advantage of sport, they punch through the imaginary walls.”
Asani Swann, VP of Business Strategy at Melo Enterprises, shared her story and perspective on the importance of pushing forward up your mountains in life. She compared her transition from corporate America into sports as an ascent up a mountain- just because you don’t make it to the top doesn’t mean you haven’t succeeded. “You are already in the lead when you make the decision to move,” said Swann.
Meghan Duggan, Captain of Team USA’s Women’s Hockey, spoke about how her most important win of the year was not their gold medal in the 2018 Olympics against Team Canada, but rather their win off the ice in pay equity for her teammates compared with her male counterparts. She closed by imploring the audience to speak up when faced with inequality. “Don’t be afraid to stand up and say ‘This isn’t right’.”
Takeaway 5: Athletes Should Give Back to Leave the “Athlete Bubble”
During “The Athlete Voice” panel, a question was asked on why serving non-profits in the community is an important responsibility for professional athletes. The panel agreed wholeheartedly that serving local non-profits was one of the most important parts of being a community influencer.
WNBA player Nneka Ogwumike brought up the athlete bubble. “There is such a thing as an ‘athlete bubble’,” she said. She describes it as such- athletes live a very regimented and protected lifestyle. Their schedules are set for them, they see most of the same people every day, and they are surrounded by people that are experiencing similar life challenges. She says it’s easy for athletes lose touch with the rest of the world while they are stuck in their routine. “It’s important for professional athletes to serve community non-profits to get out of that bubble and make a larger impact”.
Athletes have fairly easy access to non-profit engagement with their team and league programs. But athletes shouldn’t be afraid to go out on their own and find an organization that means something to them. Again, authenticity is the key to success. If you are passionate about a cause, it shows in the content and meaningful engagement that comes out of the programming and your participation.
Takeaway 6: The Key to Any Successful Program is Community Buy In and Data
In a panel called “The Power of Collaboration”, speakers involved with corporate partnerships spoke on what makes successful collaborations. Tamika Curry Smith of Mercedes-Benz USA talked about what their team looks for in a partner. “For us, it’s about ongoing sustainable commitment.” Three things that her team makes a priority when choosing partners are opportunities for employee engagement, brand alignment, and evaluation to produce outcomes. Curry Smith added, “If I can’t say, ‘so what?’ at the end of the day, it won’t work—we want to know the impact, and understand the ROI. We are interested in outcomes.”
On the “Sport for Good Los Angeles” panel, Nichol Whiteman of the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation spoke about the work that the Dodgers Foundation does with youth based programs in the community. “Our youth development program is about more than baseball,” said Whiteman. “We see youth development as direct service to youth. We put metrics around it. It’s about more than a jersey.” The team is involved with a variety of youth based programs around the city. She discussed how evaluation and data is key to learning what programs are working and what are not. When things aren’t working, that’s when you need to strategize again and see what you can do better. She was asked what was the most important part of successfully implementing local community projects. “It’s about community activation- how do you get parents, coaches and fans engaged in bettering their communities,” Whiteman said.
Thank you to all the organizers at Laureus USA for such an impactful summit. Did you have more takeaways from the sport for good event? Comment below and let us know.