Jamie Rocha, Director of Sport Strategy at GlideSlope, served as a mentor during a Partners of the Americas Sport for Community (S4C) program to several Brazilian emerging leaders in the sport for development field. In September 2015 she traveled to Rio de Janeiro through Partners' S4C program to work one on one with emerging leader Gabi Pinheiro and her organization, Luta Pela Paz (Fight for Peace). What follows are some of her reflections from the trip.
The word “miraculous” gets thrown around rather casually in sports, whether it’s for a difficult catch in an NFL end zone, or a dramatic three-point buzzer beater that wins an NBA playoff game. But sometimes real miracles are accomplished through sports, with little fanfare, in out-of-the-way places, and with outsized benefits that should get just as much attention but dont.
One such miracle is the work being done by Luke Dowdney, a former amateur boxer, in one of the world’s poorest slums, the Complexa da Marè favelas in Rio de Janeiro, the city which is preparing to welcome the world in less than 10 months at the 2016 Olympics. His program is called Luta Pela Paz (Fight for Peace in English), an apparent oxymoron, but a spot-on name for a boxing and martial-arts club that is saving lives in Rio and branching out globally to do the same elsewhere.
A Little Background
Dowdney is an Englishman who earned his Masters in Social Anthropology at Edinburgh University with a dissertation on the violence suffered by Brazil street children. Between 1987 and 2001, almost 4,000 children under the age of 18 were killed by gunfire in Rio, most of it perpetrated by three drug gangs that compete to rule the favelas. In 2000, Dowdney was working with an NGO in Rio and looking for a way to connect with the hardest-to-reach young people who were likeliest to join the drug gangs. “Boxing was extremely important to me as I was growing up,” he says, “and I knew it was a way for me to engage and talk with young people who were not going to school, who were not getting involved in social projects, who had decided that those things weren’t interesting to them for a host of reasons.”
What started as a boxing club, where participants talked about the violence in their community after training, has developed into an international NGO that uses a Five Pillar methodology—boxing and martial arts, education, employability, social support and youth leadership—to assist young people affected by violence. In 2007 the Fight for Peace blueprint, having been proven in Rio, was replicated in London to work with young people there, and in 2011 FFP extended its reach worldwide by training other community-based organizations in areas affected by extreme violence through the Global Alumni Programme (GAP).
Through a combination of research and engagement, FFP has developed a series of interventions to reduce violence, tackle conflict- related issues such as entrenched gang membership and freedom of movement, and helped establish peaceful and positive futures for its members through education and employment. Through the Rio and London Academies, more than 15,000 young people have been directly supported by Fight for Peace, and 250,000 are being supported worldwide through the global program.
Why Martial Arts?
Fight for Peace operates in communities that suffer from high levels of violence, poverty and unemployment. It very deliberately uses boxing and martial arts because they are high-adrenalin sports that successfully attract and connect with young people who are used to high-risk situations. These sports offer intensive life lessons on themes such as hard work, consequence, respect and resilience. Plus, the bond between a fighter and a coach provides a powerful example of positive adult-to-young person support.
Worldwide, more than half a million men, women, and children die every year as a result of armed violence, but war zones are not the biggest killers. “It’s a fact that nowadays the number of young people killed by arms fire outside of conflict zones is greater than that of those killed in conflict zones,” says Dowdney. “The great majority of these deaths happen to males between the ages of 15 to 24.” That makes Fight for Peace, which particularly targets that age group, a compelling organization to watch.
GlideSlope’s Point of View
At GlideSlope we see organizations like Fight for Peace as prime candidates for brands to develop partnerships. We strongly believe in the concept of Shared Value: companies seeing tangible benefits for their shareholders, business, brand and employees if they also invest in supporting positive change in society. In particular, sports can be a very effective tool to drive social goals and address development issues, so much so that the U.N. has its own Sports for Development arm. In this light, Fight for Peace can be viewed as a valuable “property,” with which to partner, having a number of assets that can create positive brand association and long-term reputation enhancement for brands that become sponsors. In the same way that brands choose to sponsor sport properties, we ask: What about Sport for Development properties? There are certain brands that have taken strides in this space, and GlideSlope looks forward to working with Fight for Peace on some of their existing relationships and, hopefully, many new ones.
If you’d like to know more about the work GlideSlope is conducting in the Sport for Development space contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog was originally published on GlideScope.