The annual Beyond Sport Summit was just held in Philadelphia this past week under the umbrella of Beyond Sport, a global organization which promotes, celebrates, funds, and supports the use of sport to trigger positive social change in communities around the world. As promised, a gathering of "influencers" and "innovators" from sports, government, business, development and philanthropy shared ideas on how sport can be better used as a tool to address social issues such as inclusion, sustainability, education, health and conflict resolution.
The theme of the conference on 9/11/13 was Courage. Whether it was a practitioner working within a community in a war-torn country or a daring CEO pushing the envelope on how business should be done, innovating or challenging the norm were at the forefront of the conversation. As I sat in the audience as an attendee, and then as I participated in the panel on sustainability, I was struck by what the word "courage" brought to the table. I knew I was heading a few days later to Haiti for the ribbon cutting of a small school in the slums of Cite de Soleil, where "courage" was part of daily life. But the Beyond Sport Summit was making me aware of a shift in the paradigm and giving me renewed respect for the value(s) of sports.
The day started with a moment of reflection in memory of the men and women who gave it their all to try and save lives, and who showed what "courage" meant beyond all expectations. The speakers and panelists who then shared their stories and reflections and who came from around the world all agreed that sport was an incredible leveler and facilitated conflict resolution. There was Oliver Percovich, the Founder of Skateistan, a non-profit organization using skateboarding as a tool for empowerment, connecting youth and education through skateboarding in Afghanistan and Cambodia. There was Luke Dowdney, Founder of Fight for Peace, who had started his program in the favelas of Rio and São Paulo in Brazil but was now expanding his message of strength through peace to other countries. He gave his boxers the "courage" to leave deadly violence outside the boxing ring, ultimately reducing the use of guns in their daily existence. Even former Pennsylvania Governor and former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell stressed how sports embodied teamwork and provided the skill set needed for leadership. Will Greenwood, Rugby World Cup winner, and Brian Dawkins, former Philadelphia Eagles player, both consummate athletes, also had similar messages. Neither would have succeeded both off and on the field had it not been for rugby and football. Greenwood, now also a coach, had used his School of Hard Knocks to give sports an economic component that provided the possibility of a job in areas where unemployment among young men was very high. The opportunity to work and grow and learn through sport was what he strongly believed in. Dawkins, similarly, had used "courage" as part of his personal journey, learning to harness his emotions and then channel them to affect positive impact in a world beyond sport.
These stories with strong ties to sport made it feel like all these people were part of one large global family who believed that the world of sport dared many to start anew. And whether their "courage" was as a trait that existed in or beyond sport, it was that trait that was propelling them forward with fantastic life lessons.
And then came a story that touched me the most, probably because the protagonist is someone who works indirectly for me. Korinne Dennis, a Beyond Sport Young Ambassador, had decided to share her journey with all those attending the Summit. Unbeknownst to me, she had grown up in a home with no father and a drug addict mother. An angel mentor had made sure she realized her potential to get to college, in this case Temple University, where she showed up with all her belongings in two plastic bags: one had a few clothes, one had underwear. There she excelled academically, recognizing, though, that her childhood had left her with some emotional and psychological scars. And then came the day when she started to run and a whole new world unfolded. Running taught her that no matter what kind of past people had, they could endure anything moving forward. She further applied that lesson when she helped run our Champs program. She used Skype to connect 6th grade inner city schoolchildren with children in a remote village in Iraq who were going to receive our sponsored land mine sniffing dog. Through their weekly dialogue, she came to understand that landmines existed not just in the fields affected by war but also inside all human beings and that those landmines were the ones that were often the hardest to overcome. That realization took enormous "courage" to accept but it allowed for a fresh start beyond the initial mark. It was harnessing sport as part of life's journey, overcoming internal scars, and then using it as a tool to excel in collaboration, in leadership.
We all have that possibility...