Social innovation plays a vital role in sport. Sport can be played, viewed and organised in a way that involves new ideas, change and renewal, and forms of innovation. Sport can also serve as an important tool to integrate different cultures. Social innovation in sport includes many activities, e.g. integrating immigrant populations, empowering women and girls, building relationships between communities, educating about HIV/AIDS, and so on.

In this article, we expose eight remarkable examples of social innovation in sport.  


Homeless World Cup Foundation

The Homeless World Cup Foundation is probably the best-known initiative for football and social innovation. It is a unique, groundbreaking charity that uses football to support and inspire homeless people to change their own lives and to change perceptions and attitudes towards people who experience homelessness. Through a network of Street Football Partners, they work in over 70 countries to support football programmes at the grassroots level. By organising and hosting an annual world-class international football tournament for national teams of men and women who are homeless, they focus on and celebrate their year-round activities. The impact of the Homeless World Cup Foundation extends well beyond the 500 players who participate in the annual event.[1]



Skateistan is the first international development initiative to combine skateboarding with educational outcomes. It all started with one man and his three skateboards on the streets of Kabul in 2007. Although it launched in Afghanistan, Skateistan now runs in Cambodia and South Africa too, reaching thousands of children and youth. What started with a board and four wheels is now an award-winning, international NGO (non-governmental organisation) with a mission to empower children and youth through skateboarding and education. They run five programmes within their Skate Schools for children aged 5-17: Outreach, Dropping In, Skate and Create, Back to School and Youth Leadership. The programmes combine life skills with fun, freedom and creativity to help create leaders for a better world. Skateistan also runs The Goodpush Alliance, a global platform which supports other social skateboarding projects to develop and thrive.


Waves for Change

 Waves for Change is a South African social enterprise that uses surf therapy to combat violence. It began when British surfer Tim Conibear laid the foundation stone of the charity in 2009 by founding a small surf club in Cape Town’s Masiphumelele Township.

Ten years after its creation, an important social enterprise has been set up around three therapy centres on the beaches of Monwabisi and Muizenberg, giving hope to vulnerable children who want to escape a cycle of abuse and poverty.

The weekly surf therapy sessions teach local children the skills they need to deal with stress, regulate behaviour, build healing relationships and make positive life choices – something from which impressive mentors Chemica Blau and Luxolo Ponco have derived enormous benefit.

They are among the 20 full-time staff of the charity, also known as W4C, who work in a surfing or life coaching capacity to improve mental health and provide safe environments for vulnerable young people living in unstable surrounding communities.

Using the untapped healing power of surfing to help thousands of young adults escape the endless cycle of gang warfare has proven so successful that there are currently plans to expand the programme to the Liberian capital of Monrovia and also to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia.[2]


ChildFund Pass It Back

ChildFund Pass It Back is part of the ChildFund Alliance, which works in partnership with children, their families and local organisations to achieve lasting change, respond to humanitarian emergencies and promote children’s rights.

ChildFund implements programmes to improve education, healthcare and child protection. It also delivers programmes to build the resilience of children and youth, including sport for development.

Their training sessions offer a safe space for coaches to engage players in a wide range of important life skills, where the participants learn through rugby. Since the children in many of the communities where they work often have no experience of rugby, they teach them how to play. Those interested can also take up the opportunity of further training to become coaches.

Their approach is focused on how change for children is driven at three levels: players, coaches and communities.[3]



Mifalot Education and Society Enterprises (“Mifalot”) is the largest and most diverse sport for development and peace organisation operating in the Middle East. Founded in 1997 by the then owners of the Hapoel Tel Aviv football team, their mission is to use sport to create positive social change by way of life skills training for disadvantaged populations and promote understanding and coexistence among different groups in Israel and the region. Mifalot harnesses the power of sport for enrichment and values education, to teach life skills to children with special needs, promote the integration and inclusion of immigrants and refugees, and create bonds of friendship among children from diverse backgrounds, as well as helping them maximise their potential and ability. Mifalot has over 26,000 annual participants from underserved peripheral communities, in over 500 programmes across Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.

Mifalot’s approach suggests the use of sports in general, and soccer in particular, as a vessel for social change. Programme evaluations and feedback have shown that teachers, parents and civic leaders believe the projects have made a real difference in their communities. With over 17 years’ experience in developing and implementing local projects, Mifalot’s activities have become rooted in many neighbourhoods where children have access to little else in the way of informal education.
Mifalot’s programmes impact Arab Israeli communities in 7 main ways: shared society; personal development; community empowerment; special needs populations; civil rights; female empowerment; and employability.[4]


Street Football World

 Street Football World is a global NGO that harnesses the power of football to tackle some of the greatest social challenges of our time. The organisation’s work supports an international network of over 100 grassroots organisations that use football as a tool to address deep-rooted community issues – ranging from refugee integration in Ireland to gender equality in Kenya. Collectively, the network empowers over two million disadvantaged young people per year.[5] 

Football-based development programmes present a unique approach to empowering young people. But they are not always easy to create. That’s why Street Football World use a simple methodology, football3, that allows community organisations to implement tailored programmes in line with their local need. They also provide their partners with the opportunity to invest in these and many other football-based development programmes being carried out around the world.[6]


PLAY International

PLAY International opened the first collaborative space dedicated to social innovation through sport and play: the Playlab. A place of co-creation, sharing and accompaniment, their aim is to enable sport to help reinvent the way children grow up, to reconfigure health or employment responses, respond to crises, humanitarian workers, etc. PLAY International is convinced that sport is a source of social innovation that meets the challenges faced by society. Sport’s potential for positive social impact (on social, individual, emotional and intellectual capital) is under-exploited. The scope of possibilities is still very broad.[7]

The main ambition of PLAY International is for collective solutions to emerge through sport that facilitate the education, inclusion and well-being of all. Since 1999, PLAY International has realised humanitarian and educational missions in more than 20 countries.


Help Africa Swim

The Help Africa Swim foundation aims to promote and encourage swimming in Africa. The main goal of The Swim Education Foundation Gambia is to promote and teach swimming and water safety in Gambia. The majority of the population has never learnt to swim safely and confidently in water, with 99.3% of people unable to swim. Their mission is to inspire individuals, families and young people to learn to swim. They will teach exceptional, development-oriented swimming and fitness skills that build self-esteem, confidence and character.

They focus on working with local people and organisations with the vision that a project can only be sustainable if it takes into account local customs and traditions.[8] 


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