From a growing refugee crisis to widening digital divide to a surge in youth unemployment, the world is not exactly lacking in pressing social issues. Against the backdrop of Festival 16, the Football for Good Summit 2016 explored the potential for sport-based programmes to drive social change around the world. 

 

More than 100 community organisations were represented during an energetic and, at times, emotional day of discussion. It was as passionate as it was profound.    

 

"Being a lawyer would have been cool," said streetfootballworld network board member Fatuma Abdulkadir Adan during a particularly memorable moment. "I would have been driving a Mercedes by now. But i didn't want that. I wanted to stay in rural Kenya. I wanted to play football. And I wanted to change my community." 

 

Her sentiment was echoed time and time again throughout the event, with many guests speaking of the sacrifices they've made in the name of football for good. 

 

The day began with a presentation of the KickApp Cup: a streetfootballworld and SAP collaboration that combines football and technology. Technological literacy is increasingly crucial to success in today’s global economy. And yet, as the digital divide continues to widen, many young people are deprived access to technology and, by extension, opportunities for employment. The KickApp Cup sought to address this concern through an international series of events that used football as a hook to equip young people with vital tech skills. 

 

SAP's Gabrielle Hartmann, who created the concept, was on hand for the session, where she emphasised the need to help young people thrive in today's digital economy. Audience input was also lively, with discussion covering a range of practical topics - such as using emojis to assit illiterate children in voicing their opinions.

 

Part two of the summit explored youth unemployment - a source of growing concern in Europe. European youth aged 15 to 29 face a raft of barriers that limit employment opportunities and hinder social inclusion. And football has emerged as a useful means of tackling this problem. 

 

With support from European Parliament, streetfootballworld teamed up with 16 community organisations in 2015 to engage 'hard-to-reach' young people and facilitate their re-entry in employment or training. The initiative, known as Team Up for NEETs, reached thousands of young Europeans and established an on-going system of non-formal education and cross-border collaboration.  

 

"We work with 16-25 year-olds and aim to improve their futures by increasing their employability and key life skills," explained Saad Mohammed of Sport for Life. "In the UK youth unemployment is such a big issue, especially in Birmingham, which has the highest rate of youth unemployment in the UK out of the core cities. It is not easy for us to tackle, and that's why it's good to share expertise with everyone in the room today." 

 

This idea of knowledge exchange was further reinforced by Arne Dreyer (Rheinflanke) who said he would, "take the mentoring programme from Sport dans la Ville back to Germany and implement it." 

 

The summit concluded on the topic of refugees, with two workshops followed by a panel discussion. "If we're going to work with refugees it's very important we're well informed," said Perry Ogden (SARI) during a rousing opening speech, before outlining the history of refugees in Ireland. 

 

2015 was, by many measures, a tumultuous year for the football industry. But the uplifting work carried out in support of refugees has helped remind us of the positive power of the game. Over the course of the year, we witnessed football clubs donate millions of euros to the cause, fans brandish ‘refugees welcome’ banners on match days and legends of the game offer homes and food to those in need. We have also seen a wealth of grassroots organisations rise to the occasion and expand their football-based programmes to accommodate more refugee participants.

 

Speaking via a translator, Ossamah Al Abed Almohsen, the refugee who was notoriously tripped up by a camerawoman in Hungary last last year, described football as "a message for peace to the world - we only need to play football together to get to know each other better." It was a fitting note on which to close the summit. And let's hope this message for peace continues to ring loudly long after Festival 16 winds down.

 

The Football for Good Summit 2016 was made possible thanks to support from the German Cooperation and Erasmus+.