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Social Innovation in community sport and

physical activity

Great work is already happening and there are many opportunities ahead


 Webinar at Monday 9th November  2020 1pm GMT


Learn about best practice, how to forge great partnerships and develop really powerful projects

Social innovation is a concept which is gaining in traction the world over. It focuses on solutions (products, services, models, markets, processes etc.) that simultaneously meet a social need (more effectively than existing solutions) and lead to new or improved capabilities and relationships and better use of assets and resources. In other words, social innovations are both good for society and enhance society’s capacity to act.

 Within sport, whether using ice hockey in Northern Ireland to bring Catholic and Protestant communities together, Nagin Ravand, an Afghan football-mad refugee is getting other females from a multi-cultural community in Denmark to play football or Salaam Peace who runs a community engagement programme that uses sports and social education to bring people together from diverse backgrounds in East London, the innovation we are seeing in sport for change is extremely important for engaging and bringing communities together.

 We are also experiencing that the traditional sports bodies are missing out on various non-sports opportunities such as inclusion, public health, education and integration where community organisations, housing associations, patient organisations, etc. as these are being perceived as having a closer relationship with those inactive and disengaged people that the traditional sports bodies have struggled to engage with.

Salaam Peace uses sport to create social integration which resolves differences

So, what is social innovation in sport (SCIP)?

 SCIP comes in many forms and covers several areas but right now I would suggest that it is about  ‘people and groups who are looking to develop and deliver innovative ways to engage with new groups through sport and develop more active and engaged people and a real impact in our communities.

It is my experience that SCIP works best when it is ‘people out there’ who create activities and initiatives for people around them. People like themselves. Then it has credibility and its genuine.

 At the same time, we are also experiencing various organisations, such as GAME in Denmark and Our Parks and Sported in the UK who are delivering really great and innovative work in several locations adapting to local needs and conditions.  So, how do we ensure a wider reach and local engagement?

 We also need to become more and honest about works and doesn’t work. Like with any other innovation not everything goes to plan and there is always room for improvement and development. But, we have seen (too?) many cases where projects which didn’t really work were somehow forgotten/ignored, so the lessons weren’t learned. From personal experience, I can confirm that you probably learn more from failures than from successes.

Get local

 Every social innovation in community sport and physical activity begins its life as a hunch, living inside only a few minds. Then, through discussion, action and more discussion, often over long periods, it comes to be named, represented and codified.

 All good initiatives around engaging with disengaged people and groups are developed with, and often by, local people thus ensuring they can become sustainable and relevant.

 Good social innovations in sport are local

So, how do we support social innovators and social innovations within community sport and physical activity? Here are some suggestions that could/should be tested:

  • New sources of finance-focused specifically on innovation, including public and philanthropic investment in high-risk R&D, targeted at the areas of greatest need and greatest potential
  • ​More open markets for social solutions, including public funding and services directed more to outcomes and opened up to social enterprises and user groups as well as private business
  • New kinds of incubator for promising models, and ‘accelerators’ to advance innovation in particular areas such as, for example, chronic disease or the cultivation of non-cognitive skills;
  • New ways of empowering users to drive innovation themselves – with tools, incentives, recognition and access to funding for ideas that work
  • New institutions to help orchestrate more systemic change – linking small scale social enterprises and projects to big institutions, laws and regulations
  • New institutions focused on adapting new technologies for their social potential – such as artificial intelligence… as well as more extensive, rigorous, imaginative and historically aware research on how social innovation happens and how it can be helped

Social innovation in sport communities (SIC) could help to engage with change agents and support their work to grow their impact. However, due to the availability of digital platforms and other online tools, getting a new SIC started has become relatively easy and in principle requires no such resources.

Ballyhaunis GAA – Integration Day brings multi-cultural communities to the club 

Ballyhaunis GAA club has made the integration of immigrant children a priority, from Pakistanis and Syrians to eastern Europeans

Around the county in the North West of Ireland, some 5,000 people live in more than 30 of asylum centres. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work or to receive social welfare. Instead, they are given full-board accommodation and allowances of €19.10 per adult and €9.60 per child per week.

The roughly 250 (mostly African) residents packed into the Ballyhaunis centre today are separated from the local community by even wider chasms of language, culture and circumstance.

Ballyhaunis is Ireland’s most ethnically diverse town. The foreign-national population here was 42 per cent at the 2011 census. A majority of children in the local primary school, do not speak English at home. And the refugees housed in the Old Convent are only a small part of that ethnic mix.

“We don’t know each other really,” says Gerard McGarry, president of the local GAA club… Ballyhaunis GAA is a vibrant club, winning senior hurling and intermediate football county champions in 2014.

To help the refugees and asylum-seekers to integrate into the community (and to attract players to the club), they hosted an integration day at the local pitch at the end of May last year and based on the number of volunteers mobilised today, backing for the initiative was widespread.

The integration day was the brainchild of Darran Conlon, a hurling coach and police officer and former boxing champion. Conlon says his own two boys mix freely with children from different backgrounds at school. “They play together and go to birthday parties with the eastern European kids and the kids in direct provision. They have respect for each other’s cultures and I hope that continues.”

Hundreds of young people, and their parents turned up, played and watched hurling and the other Gaelic Sports which are completely unknown in their native countries.

A couple of hours after the crowds disperse here, organiser Darran Conlon tweets a photo of local black, white and Asian children holding up a large

“Give Respect, Get Respect” banner.

“Every day is Integration Day in Ballyhaunis GAA,” he writes. “Today we just celebrated it.”

Three examples of how one person can start a global social sports movement

Mixed ability sports was started by a young man with Cerebar Palsy who wanted to play and 11 years later it is growing across the world

Back in 2009 Anthony Brooke – a determined young man with Cerebral Palsy and a Learning Disability – wanted to play rugby union. He refused to be signposted to the disability-specific provision, in fact, he fiercely opposed ‘adapted’ rugby, demanding instead his right to play the mainstream full-contact version of the game. Assisted by his tutor Mark Goodwin, Anthony wrote to England Rugby and was introduced to Goodwin’s local rugby club committee.

At Bradford and Bingley Rugby Club, the Bumble Bees rugby team was founded, different only because it included players with and without disabilities playing together against local clubs in competitive, yet friendly games.

With an established home at the club and support from players at other community clubs, the Bumbles now have over 40 registered players with and without disabilities and play regular fixtures against able-bodied teams.

The Bumble Bees celebrate after a match

International Mixed Ability Sports are now taking mixed ability sports across the world helping to break downs barriers

Godgym…helps you doing good while you are getting fit

In September 2009 Ivo Gormley started a group of 11 people in London, which became Goodgym and they are now a UK-wide community of runners who get fit by doing good.   The word “community” is really important there. They are really a group of people who get together and try to achieve something positive, and their retention rate of their runners is quite staggering.

 Goodgym started by one man and is now a social movement

Parkrun, another world-wide movement started by one person

 Parkrun was founded by Paul Sinton-Hewitt on 2nd October 2004 at Bushy Park in London

There are now over 5 million runners were registered worldwide. Parkrun is funded mainly through sponsorship, with local organisers only needing to raise money when they launch an event.

Events take place at a range of general locations including city parks, country parks, national parks, stately homes, castles, forests, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, canal towpaths, beaches, promenades, prisons, racecourses and nature reserves. 

 All Parkruns are 5 kilometres (3.1 mi) in length and are free to enter

Often social innovation has to deal what has been called the Nonsumer – that is why social innovation in sport is so important

The Nonsumer often has an intense dislike of taking part in any sport or physical activity. The last place they want to go to is the traditional sports club or leisure centre.

They often have underlying health problems and/or addictions, so any improvements in their level of physical activity can have a considerable positive impact.

The Nonsumer wants understanding and patient support.

And, finally: Here are SMN’s eight rules for social innovation in sport:

  • Social innovation is never a single event. It is a constant journey
  • Social innovation is combining ideas, learnings from all over the place and from all kinds of people
  • First, ask the right questions. The first step toward solving a difficult problem is asking the questions you need to define your approach.
  • There is no “right” size for social innovation. It is for startups and the big ones
  • Encourage open social innovation to expand your scope and capabilities
  • Disruptive social innovation requires new business models
  • In the digital age, we need to use platforms to access ecosystems of technology, talent and information
  • Collaboration is the way forward – find some partners and create some synergy

If you want to discuss how you can develop social innovation in sport, please get in touch. Svend Elkjaer +44 (0) 1423 326 660 svend@smnuk.com