Play 31

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Play 31

Kono , Moyamba , Kailahun , Koinadugu, Sierra LeonaCopenhagen, Dinamarca
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Play31’s mission is to use the unifying power of football (soccer) to bring together people who have been torn apart by war. By organizing community tournaments and workshops focusing on human rights and conflict resolution, we contribute to the creation of peaceful societies where children can fulfill their right to play.

As all fans of the Beautiful Game will know, football brings out emotions. So, too in our tournaments; particularly when villages, who were enemies during the war meet on the field. This gives us an opportunity to facilitate the peaceful resolution of conflicts and to build on the initial contact by organizing peace summits where communities come together to officially put old grievances behind and look to the future. Our workshops build capacity among our Peace Ambassadors who serve as role models and share their knowledge about conflict resolution and basic rights.

On a typical match day, games between the girls, boys and junior teams are played throughout the day. After the matches, players and fans get together for communal dinners and the day ends with a big “disco” which lasts until sunrise. The host community allocates huts for the guests and as such the participants end up not just playing, dining and dancing together, but even spending the night in the same village. These activities are often times the first steps toward reconciliation.

Sierra Leone went through one of the most brutal civil wars in recent history. Brothers turned on brother, women and girls were subjected to sexual violence and children were forced to kill. The social fabric of the country and the traditionally strong sense of community suffered. Our tournaments and workshops give people eager to move on a chance to start the process of reconciliation and of rebuilding a sense of unity.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Play31’s mission is to use the unifying power of football to bring together people and communities torn apart by war. Sierra Leone, the country where we’ve built our model, suffered one of the most brutal civil wars in recent history. Brother turned on brother and young boys were forced to kill and rape. The social fabric of the country was destroyed along with much of its infrastructure. Although The Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission did good jobs in promoting transitional justice, little has been done in terms of reconciliation at a micro-level, among the people who suffered the most. This lack of healing and reconciliation maintains rifts between communities and impedes economic and political development.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

By organizing community tournaments, social gatherings and peace workshops, we bring together and educate people who have lived through the civil war. Our program promotes reconciliation and contributes to the development of peaceful and tolerant communities. Our program, designed in cooperation with our local partner and beneficiaries, has been organically tailored to address the needs of the communities and through continuous dialogue with these communities we make sure that the format stays flexible enough to address the ever-changing challenges on the ground. In our tournaments, we have seen former combatants play together on the same team. We have seen women walk proudly onto the field with the eager backing of their entire communities. And we have seen on-field conflicts being resolved in a peaceful way between people who just years ago would have preferred to let their weapons do the talking. In short, Play31’s objective is to translate peace on the field to peace off the field.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Over the last years, the field of peacebuilding — which is the sphere our work falls into — has become strengthened with increased attention from, among others, the UN. The field lies between conflict transformation and economic/political development and still struggles to attract resources because it doesn’t always fit traditional conceptions of the field. So it is in Sierra Leone, where the majority of organizations promote agricultural programs, good governance and other traditional areas, not taking into account the communal component of the country’s rebuilding. This is true for most post-conflict countries, and as such there are few peers in the field. While I appreciate the positive effect of competition I genuinely do not see organizations working in the same field as competitors.
About You
Background Information
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The competition is only open to people between 18-34 years-old and resident in UK, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark or the Netherlands. Does this apply to you


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Tell us about your personal background. Why are you passionate about this issue? Making an idea a reality takes innovation, dedication and strong leadership. Do you have the necessary entrepreneurial skills to realize your vision?

I conceived of the idea of Play31 when I was volunteering in Sierra Leone in 2008. I had spent the past weeks learning about the reconciliation and healing processes, which were starting to build after a decade of brutal civil war. One morning, three little boys asked me if I wanted to play a game of football. I did, but as we started kicking the ball, I realized it was rendered useless by a big cut. I bought the boys a new ball and the enthusiasm and joy that resulted was what gave me the ‘revelation’ of building Play31. I understood that the game I loved could be used not just to spread joy, but to bring people, who had been torn apart by war, together again. It’s the best idea I’ve ever had and there’s nothing I’m more passionate about than achieving Play31’s goal of bringing social change through football.
I have a strong entrepreneurial background in human rights and conflict resolution with a master’s degree from Columbia University, work experience from NGOs, government, and think tanks, and participation in various leadership programs. I have built teams of volunteers, staff and board members on three continents and I have learned invaluable lessons in leadership, organizational change, and structured processes along the way.

About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, CC, Copenhagen

Country where this project is creating social impact

, Kono , Moyamba , Kailahun , Koinadugu

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The Model: Walk us through a specific example of how your solution makes a difference; include your primary activities

The project can be summarized in 5 steps: working with our local partner, we undertake a thorough sensitization process in which the goals of the program are discussed. Second, we select key individuals—ranging from 10-50 in age—and organize Peace Ambassadors workshops, where they are taught about human rights, children’s rights, trauma healing, and conflict resolution. The Ambassadors play important roles as custodians of respect and peace in their communities, particularly around match days. Third step consists of the actual Play31 tournament, wherein each chiefdom plays one home and one away match. On each match day, there are children, female, and male games. Elders of both sexes are always strongly represented among the supporters, which is important because of the air of authority and respect they lend to the program. After the matches, everyone gathers for communal cooking and dining. Finally, later at night, the “disco,” a big party where everyone is invited, begins. The host village allocates a number of houses where the visitors can sleep. As such, the communities end up not just playing football, cooking, eating, and dancing together, but also spending the night in the same village. Football thus becomes the facilitator for further interaction between communities that have been torn apart by war and a step toward rebuilding trust and friendship across former enemy lines.

Select the stage that best applies to your business

Operating for 1-5 years

Social Impact
What is the social impact you have had to date and how you measure it?

We measure our impact both quantitatively and qualitatively and are currently strengthening our M&E system in collaboration with inFocus and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.

More than 130 teams from 50 chiefdoms have played in our tournaments. We have engaged approx. 2,000 players and more than 500 people have been educated in our Peace Ambassadors workshops. We have reached well above 45,000 people of whix approx. 60% are female.

Participants in our workshops have a substantially increased knowledge of human rights and conflict resolution.

We have several concrete and tangible examples of our impact; one is the case of Mende-Buima and Luawa Foya sections, which came together and signed the first joint Peace Accord since the end of the war in connection with our tournament.

What barriers might hinder the success of your business? How do you plan to overcome them?

In Sierra Leone, many of the root causes that led to the war are still present and the peace is considered somewhat fragile. A new outbreak of hostilities would seriously impede our work and possibly put it to a halt.

We aim to build sustainable peace and that takes sustainable and structural changes. This requires sustainable institutions to be built and that is a tough challenge in Sierra Leone. We aim to overcome this challenge by building local capacity among our Peace Ambassadors and the local chapter of Play31, which is expected to develop into a semi-independent organization. and maintains its work on the ground.

How does your model address financial, social, and environmental sustainability?

Given that we work in one of the poorest countries in the world—and plan to continue to do so as we spread, post-conflict countries tend to tank the human development index — we will not be charging our beneficiaries for our services. Our financial sustainability will depend on raising funds sustainably (see below) and develop a social enterprise model, which we are currently working with PwC to do.
Our model for social sustainability is touched upon above.
We do not work explicitly with environmental sustainability but our work certainly has a minimal adverse impact on the environment: people attending our tournaments and workshops walk and we have no other energy consumption on match days than powering the music for the disco at the end of our matchdays.

Awareness & learning
How do you see social entrepreneurship contributing to the improvement of developing countries?

I am a big believer in growth in the local and national private sectors as the panacea to developing poor nations. Although there is no question many countries are in dire need of development aid, it is clear that sustainable growth comes only when the local economies take off and create local employment. Not only does this contribute to the economic development of a country; it also crucially takes young men off the streets. As one former child soldier in our program told me: “if I am employed and someone comes and hands me an ak47 and asks me to take up fighting again I’ll tell him to go away: I have a job to take care of.” On the other hand, the developing world is full of examples of how an uncontrolled private sector can aggravate already fragile situations, deepen income gaps and even increase poverty among some groups. Social entrepreneurship is positioned uniquely to address the need for sustainable growth throughput the developing world.

What aspects of your stay in Uganda as part of the competition do you think you will find most challenging and rewarding?

Uganda is, in fact, one of the countries where I would like to see Play31 expand to within the foreseeable future. The North of the country, in particular, has faced many of the same challenges and much of the same community-splitting brutality, that Sierra Leone experienced. It is moving out of conflict and the love for football is as great. So I would love to test our concept and ideas with local stakeholders and use their feedback and input to shape our model, not just for expansion into Uganda, but to build a replicable model that can be implemented across the globe in post-conflict settings.
Aside from that, I have consistently found that the best generator of creativity is to be surrounded by smart, energetic people who share my passion for doing our little bit for changing the world for the better.