An Inside Look at SXSports

Paul Teeple, Director, Sport for Development

While watching a live band perform at one of the many parties at the huge Austin, Texas based South by Southwest (SXSW) Music, Film, Technology, and Interactive Festival, a veteran sportswriter leaned over to me and said, “I’ve interviewed a lot of interesting people and done a lot of cool things, but I’ve always wanted to perform on a stage.”  I agreed, being a rock star is one of those childhood dreams that has never gone away.  While I may never bring down the house with my vocals, representing Partners of the Americas’ A Ganar program at SXSports was definitely way up on the “cool” list.

This year, SXSW Interactive featured three days of discussions and presentations focusing on sports called SXSports.  Attended by well-known athletes, top journalists, sports business leaders, academics and many others, SXSports was thought provoking, a great place to network, and just plain cool.  Discussions ranged from new technologies in sports, how to get kids out of the house and into a sport, links between domestic violence and sport, to challenges faced by LBGT athletes and how they are changing sports and society.

I was asked to represent Partners on a panel called  “Sport for Social Development: Affecting Societal Change.”  Hosted by Dave Mingey, President and Founding Partner of the sports business advisory group, GlideSlope; along with Matt Geschke, U.S. Director of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation; and Olympic Gold Medalist Speed Skater Joey Cheek,  our panel looked at what really is sport-for-development and how brands can effectively partner with programs such as A Ganar for good business and social impact.

What a great honor to be on the same stage with such important people.  Dave and his organization help guide brands to effective sponsorships that make business sense and achieve real development goals.  Matt leads a foundation that funds great sport-for-development programs across the world.  In 2006, after winning gold and bronze in the Torino Winter Olympics, Joey Cheek donated his bonus to a sport-for-development organization working with refugees in Africa. Since, he has raised millions of dollars to raise awareness about and end the crisis in Darfur, Sudan.

When looking at what is sport-for-development, I like to classify the field in four categories:

  1. Sport events or major constructions that positively change neighborhoods or bring new infrastructure that serves the greater community These are common promises by politicians, developers and large sport-money interests but they do not always deliver.  But one good example in my opinion is how the Washington Nationals stadium in Southeast Washington is slowly transforming that neighborhood.
  2. Issues highlighted in sport open greater dialogue and change societies Jackie Robinson broke more than baseball’s color barrier when he first played for the Dodgers in 1947.  The recent domestic violence cases in the NFL have led to more discussion and hopefully more action to end domestic violence throughout society.  LBGT athletes are breaking down doors today and leading to a more open society for all people.
  3. Sport-plus programs are those great programs like Little League and YMCA Basketball that provide great sport activities for youth, plus they offer platforms for leadership and educational development, mentoring and many other great outcomes.
  4. Plus-sport programs are those like A Ganar that have a development focus and use sport as the mechanism for reaching them.  In our case, we are a youth workforce development program that uses sport.  We don’t develop athletes, we use sport to develop the next generation of great workers and community leaders.

When we look at how brands can make a profit while supporting sport-for-development programs, A Ganar has several win-win examples.  For A Ganar Mexico, PepsiCo provided cash and in-kind support for training.  Their employees and members of their value chain have volunteered as A Ganar mentors helping youth but also improving their own abilities to engage community members.  At a time when beverage companies are often under attack, PepsiCo has presented an image of a company committed to supporting youth and strengthening communities in Mexico.

In Jamaica, Sandals Resorts teamed with A Ganar to train youth in the communities where they operate.  An A Ganar graduate, Yanquie Gordan, was named the 2013 Sandals Royal Plantation Employee of the Year.  Yanquie, her family and her community benefited from her getting training and a great job.  Sandals benefited by investing in their host community and getting a great employee. 

We’ve seen tremendous growth in sport-for-development and A Ganar over the past 10 years. A field that was first thought of as all about play, is now being taken more seriously by government and private donors.  USAID is investing heavily in evaluating the value of sport in A Ganar.  Evidence of success is building and each year we can say with greater confidence that investment in sport-for-development programs are cost effective and productive.   A Ganar has grown from 3 to 19 countries as we have served over 14,000 youth in Latin America and Caribbean.  It is a success that has been built by donors willing to take risks and by courageous local program leaders and youth who risk their lives to improve their communities.

Getting invited to SXSW is evidence that this work is being noticed and that the future of A Ganar and sport-for-development is bright.  GlideSlope will continue to lead a discussion on private sector involvement over the next year via a comprehensive report ranking the top sport sponsors who contribute meaningfully to sport-for-development.

As I left SXSW, I found myself wishing all of our A Ganar youth, facilitators and coordinators could feel the joy of being recognized at an event like SXSW.  They are the ones who made it happen.   And while presenting at SXSW might be as “rock star” as some of us ever get, let’s remember that our A Ganar youth, facilitators and coordinators are true stars.  With creative energy, dedication and a sports ball, they are changing the lives of thousands of youth.  Hopefully SXSW will continue to highlight sport-for-development.  Our time has come and we need to rock-on...