April 6th is the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace (IDSDP). Formally recognized by the United Nations, the day is an opportunity for organizations around the world to show how sport has made a positive social impact in their communities.

Nelson Mandela famously said that sport has the power to change the world. But how has it truly made an impact? UNICEF and the Barça Foundation came together to create Getting into the Game, a study on Sport for Development (S4D) programs around the world and how those programs are affecting the lives of the youth they work with.

Why is Sport for Development Important?

Sport for development benefits for young people is particularly evident throughout various programs worldwide. Per the study, benefits for youth include improvements in life skills, self-esteem, education, health, and general well-being.

The term “sport for development” applies to any initiative that uses sport as a tool for social change, or to achieve personal or social development for their participants. For example, the Mathare Youth Sport Association in Kenya engages over 30,000 young people in sport activities, with programming that helps them with work readiness and employability. Sport is what brings the young people in- then you have programming that helps improve their lives.

UNICEF’s S4D programming, Just Play, in the Pacific Islands had some very positive results: 35% improvement in child protection, 29% improvement in health and wellness, 20% improvement in social inclusion and 19% improvement in gender equality.

So if sport for development programming is so beneficial, why is it still so unknown to so many people?

The answer: the programming is not one size fits all. The diversity and flexibility of S4D programming makes it a great tool to translate to many communities, but that very same diversity and lack of uniformity makes it hard to track success. If one organization is in a rural village in Kenya and another is in an impoverished urban community in the US, success is going to look different for each organization.

But, there are still some standard measures of success that organizations can look for and work towards.

Getting into the Game: The Survey Results

The goal of part one of this two part study was to strengthen the evidence base on sport for development practices and how to effectively use S4D to promote positive social change. Researchers focused on the following areas: Education, Social Inclusion, Child Protection and Empowerment.

Research from this study came from 106 participant organizations from 47 countries. Beyond Sport has recognized 2,258 organizations that are conducting 2,985 sport for development programs in 148 countries.

The survey highlighted the following strengths and challenges organizations cited for S4D programs.

Photo from Getting into the Game study.

Sport appeals to people young and old and also has a significant amount of government attention. However, fundraising can be a challenge, especially when the measurements and outcomes of programs aren’t clearly laid out. It can also be hard to incorporate programs in a school setting in some communities vs. after school or community centers.

Whether social inclusion, education, empowerment or child protection, the results indicated that a lot depends on the training of the coaches, educators and facilitators. The importance of having well-trained staff that can form relationships with the youth in the programs makes a big impact. The study also highlighted the importance of engaging stakeholders in the community to ensure the program’s success- working with families, community leaders, schools, and even engaging former participants as mentors or coaches.

To read the full study, check out Getting into the Game.

How Can IDSDP Help?

The IDSDP was created by the United Nations to highlight the positive influence that sport can have on the advancement of human rights, and social and economic development. The day is all about raising awareness for and celebrating organizations working in S4D programs around the world to make positive social change.

Each year on April 6th, Peace and Sport has a #WhiteCard Campaign and organizations promote how they are celebrating IDSDP on sportanddev.org. Now that organizations like UNICEF and the Barça Foundation are helping stakeholders and organizations understand the evidence behind sport for development programming, the next step is to create buzz around those organizations making a difference.

The IDSDP can be a huge fundraising opportunity for sport for development organizations if they can utilize measurements and evaluations to communicate to stakeholders. Organizations can create a campaign around their S4D program culminating in an event on April 6th where local stakeholders come out to see the organization’s impact firsthand and how they can get involved.

As the data starts to grow, we hope to see some major sports organizations, brands and athletes take notice and throw their weight behind sport for development programming in their communities too.

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