Football for Reconciliation

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Football for Reconciliation

Sierra Leone
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
$10,000 - $50,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

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

Play31 uses the power of football to unite people who have been torn apart by war and as a mechanism that contributes toward reconciliation processes by helping build peaceful and tolerant societies where children are able to exercise their right to play.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

In Sierra Leone—as in most post-conflict countries—war has ended but proper reconciliation remains a distant reality. Many of those who fought each other in the war literally live side by side—some are even family. Others live in close village communities which prior to the war enjoyed a true spirit of fraternity. While national-level justice initiatives have had some impact in terms of post war transitional justice and macro-level catharsis, very little has been done to bring emotional relief and reconciliation to those who bore the brunt of the war. Those who were raped, had limbs amputated, saw their villages being burnt down or loved ones killed have seen close to nothing in terms of opportunities of rebuilding their lives and forging relationships with neighbors. In essence: the sense of “one world” that was so innate to Sierra Leonean society was ruptured along with the social fabric of the communities. This has left a tremendous need and desire for micro-level community-based reconciliation.

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

The people we bring together have oftentimes not seen each other since fighting wars against one another. Our community tournaments capitalize on the enthusiasm for football by bringing former enemies together to play side by side. While some participants may have seen each other since 2002, typically their relationships have been severely strained due to memories stained with violence. This is particularly devastating considering the traditionally strong sense of community in Sierra Leonean society. While the love for the “Beautiful Game” in West Africa dates back countless years, representing one’s community, locally known as chiefdom (a chiefdom typically includes 2-10 villages- of anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand people) on a football pitch is a novel thing for those who participate in our tournaments. This is especially true in the case of women. In the majority of the places where we currently work, there have never been female football teams before. And even though men previously had semi-organized teams, there has not been any formal structures for matches in place. Our community tournaments are often the first opportunity for people to reconnect—or even just reacquaint—themselves with people they once considered family. Our approach addresses the need for reconciliation in war-torn societies both at the community and individuals levels. An important component of our work is our emphasis on local ownership. We do not prescribe any methods, activities or timetables; rather we create an environment where people can come together, feel safe, and share a vision. Thus, we facilitate a space where the wounds from the war can begin to be addressed and the process of healing and reconciliation can begin.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

With 65+ teams from 32 chiefdoms having played in our tournaments, we have engaged over 1,100 players: men, women and children. In total, 30,000+ people have taken part in our programs, whereof the majority (approx. 60%) are women. In evaluating our work, we found the following: · Women’s matches were the most popular aspects of the tournaments. Men said they were excited to cheer for the women’s team and the female players glowed with pride. · In virtually every match there were former combatants from different sides of the war on the field. Many respondents said they saw former combatants interact with no “bad heart” and in a spirit of “one world.” · Almost all interviewees met old friends and made new ones. People reconnected during our matches, and many met friends they had not seen since living in refugee camps in Guinea or Liberia in the late 1990’s. · Several respondents testified that before the matches they had had “bad heart” with some neighboring communities, but after the matches they would not hesitate to visit them and in fact visits between communities rose. Two anecdotes illustrate how our work addresses both individual and communal divides: 1. During a match, a woman saw the man who raped her during the war. After the man's community was contacted, their respective communities sat down under the "Peace Tree." The man, who had been forced into the rebel army as a child, told the woman he was profoundly sorry about all he had done in the war. Also, he begged her for forgiveness and apologized for the pain caused. She ultimately forgave him and the two communities took part in the ensuing healing ceremony. 2. Two chiefdoms that split up several years ago due to grievances from the war came together and formed one team to participate in the Play31 community tournament in January, 2010.
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We are currently drawing on lessons learned in order to maximize our impact on the ground and we incorporate feedback from the communities into our future plans. We are focusing on how to ensure the ownership of the local communities so that the tournaments will continue once we phase out our work.

We are using local staff only and cooperating with local organizations ensures a transfer of skills as well as an invaluable exchange of experiences and ideas. Our partner on the ground, Forum of Conscience/Fambul Tok, has the same goal as we do but pursue it in different ways, which creates a mutually beneficial symbiosis.

What could prevent this from turning into reality is first and foremost a lack of financial resources, which could, again, stem from lacking ability on our side to effectively demonstrate the impact of our work to potential funders. This is something we are keenly aware of and are thus currently developing presentation materials to make sure we convey the importance of our work the best way possible.


Over the last two years, we have engaged over 1,100 players—women, men and children—and reached 30,000+ people in eastern and central Sierra Leone as well as in Guinea and Liberia. We have organized more than 65 community teams from 32 chiefdoms. Going forward, over the next year we plan sustain our programs in three districts in Sierra Leone, expand to at least one additional district in Sierra Leone, as well as build-up our tri-nation program in Guinea and Liberia. Of course, while numerical reach is important, we are conscious not to forget the impact we have on each individual person and community. We strive to continue to facilitate meaningful encounters that give individuals and communities the opportunity to reengage and begin the process of reconciliation. In the end, our goal is to substantially contribute to the building and strengthening of amicable relationships in the communities where we work, and thus contribute to the prospects of peace and prosperity of those same communities.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

In the coming year, through July 2011, our focus is on consolidating programmatic and organizational work, as well as developing an evaluation matrix. We want to assess how best to continue supporting the target communities whilst gradually withdrawing to leave ownership of the program at a local level. Within this period we will also strengthen our more nascent programs in Guinea and Liberia as well as expand to at least one additional district in Sierra Leone. We believe there will be economies of scale advantages by having programs in several districts, as many of our overhead costs will stay fixed. By late fall this year, we plan to hire a program manager in Sierra Leone as well as a local program coordinators in each district where we work.

During the second year we intend to take the knowledge obtained through our rigorous evaluation processes and expand into additional districts in Sierra Leone. Particularly, it would be interesting to initiate our work in Freetown, thus applying it to an urban setting for the first time.

During the third year, and contingent upon our success, we plan to take our work into countries of similar conditions as Sierra Leone. The most obvious choices would be to spread further into Guinea and Liberia but additional options include Rwanda, Burundi, Kenya and Cote D’Ivoire.

The success of this plan requires a continued close connection to our partnering organization in Sierra Leone as well as similar relationships with local organizations in each new place we expand to. Furthermore, it requires an ability to apply our methodology in new environments with diligent attention to contextual particularities.

Just as important, the success and viability of these plans will depend on diversifying our funding sources. Currently, our funding comes primarily from foundations and individual donors and we need to expand this to include corporations and eventually government funding. This will be discussed further below.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

The main challenges to the continued success of Play31’s work fall into two categories: 1. our programmatic work and 2. our fundraising strategies.

1. The pitfalls in this category would include not paying sufficient attention to lessons learned and the sustainability of our work. It is important we be open and attentive to unexpected feedback and pursue rigorous evaluation. The evaluation will have both a qualitative and quantitative aspect and will focus on attitudes and interaction between individuals and communities. It will consist of questionnaires and in-depth interviews.

2. As mentioned above, the challenge in this category is to broaden our funding resources, reaching out to corporations (both for monetary and in-kind support), structure relationships with football clubs and college/high school teams, and eventually apply for government funding. We have already established relationships with football clubs, some college communities and we seek to further structuralize those by making clear sponsorship opportunities for people who wish to become engaged. We are currently working on a strategy for securing corporate support and we have a string of fundraising events planned for the upcoming year.

Our concept and methodology is so flexible that adaptation to different contexts and environments is sufficiently uncomplicated and a failure to implement this would stem, aside from unforeseen and uncontrollable occurrences, only from a failure to carry out the above-mentioned precautions and measures.

How many people will your project serve annually?

More than 10,000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

Less than $50

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?

What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, E

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.


How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Our cooperation with Forum of Conscience/Fambul Tok (FoC) has been crucial for achieving our goals. We have build on their relational infrastructure and ties to communities where we work. Furthermore, we have engaged Reconciliation Committees set up by FoC and designated the responsibility of community football teams to them. We have also hired FoC staff for short-term contracts, which has given us legitimacy and credibility in the communities as well as invaluable knowledge of the conditions on the ground.

Beyond from the programmatic cooperation, we have also had a special relationship with FoC because of the personal bond between their Director, John Caulker, and ours, Jakob Lund. Play31 started when Jakob was volunteering for FoC and the cooperation between Jakob and John has ensured a level of trust that allows for genuine exchange of ideas and experiences.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

1. Diversification of funding sources: As explained above, we are planning to diversify our funding sources to include corporations, major donors, football clubs and school teams, and eventually government(s). We also plan to open Play31 for membership, which would ensure a fixed level of resources coming in on a monthly basis. We have an elaborate business plan that will guide this diversification and many promising prospects in most of the mentioned sectors. We have several fundraising events planned for this coming year and interesting developments regarding schools and footballs teams as well as cooperation with member states to the UN.

2. Ensuring sustainability and local ownership of programmatic work: This is done by encouraging communities to take ownership and responsibility of the tournaments and by building a structure that is easily sustainable without a need for elaborate funding (obviously, we will stay involved peripherally in all communities and provide footballs, generators, etc when needed.

3. Prove that our concept and methodology is applicable in different post-conflict settings: This can be done by moving from the rural areas where we work now to the urban sphere of Freetown. While the setting is different, many of the challenges we face in the rural areas are reflected in the city-life of Freetown. Further down the road, the challenge will be to apply our concepts to communities outside of Sierra Leone and the Mano River region.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

While it is difficult to single out one moment in the process of creating Play31, the initial event is particularly illustrative: When the Founder, Jakob Lund, volunteered in Sierra Leone in early 2008 he came across three little boys who invited him to play football with him. He found that a big cut had rendered their ball useless. He bought them a new one and the joy and enthusiasm this simple gesture spurred was what started Play31. He wrote down a myriad of ideas on the back of a truck while driving from the rural Moyamba Town to Freetown. It is from those initial ideas that Play31 was born. The close cooperation with the organization Jakob was volunteering for, Forum of Conscience, is what led it to quickly grow in both scope and range. Starting with the idea of providing underprivileged kids in rural Sierra Leone with football equipment, we soon realized the Beautiful Game could be used as a tool for reconciliation in a country that had recently emerged from a brutal civil war.

Along those lines, the first Play31 Football for Reconciliation match in Kailahun District in late 2008 was an equally defining moment. Around 1,000 people attended—some even walked from neighboring districts to see the match while others came all the way from Liberia. For the first time ever, women in the area had their own team and children were included in the festivities. The tournament was an instant success and we faced a tremendous demand for our services from within Kailahun district, neighboring districts and Liberia and Guinea. The challenge since then has been to keep the funds at a sufficient level to cater to the demand (which hasn’t been possible). Furthermore, we have been learning as we went, improving our programs in Kono and Moyamba districts as well as the Tri-Nation Tournament in Guinea and Liberia as we received feedback.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

Jakob Silas Lund is a 27-year old Danish national who has spent the last three years in New York City. He came to the city to pursue his Master’s degree from Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. While at Columbia, he traveled to Sierra Leone and subsequently founded Play31. At Columbia, Jakob concentrated in conflict resolution and human rights and was awarded the Bosch Teaching Fellowship (to teach international law) as well as the Harvey Picker Prize for Public Service. Before attending Columbia, Jakob had worked at Amnesty International in Denmark; on human rights issues in the US Congress for Congresswoman Grace Napolitano; and on human rights education at the Anne Frank Stichting in Amsterdam. His undergraduate degree was in international relations and public administration, where he focused on soft power as a way to spur peace. He has been selected for a range of leadership and educational programs in the US, Europe and the Middle East and was a facilitator at the Clinton Global Initiative University conference.
Jakob has a firm conviction that peacebuilding must be organically grown and always be carried out with the ownership by the affected communities. This, along with his lifelong love for football, have been the determining factors in his pursuit to establish and expand Play31. He grew up in a quite political environment in Denmark and has carried the ideals of social justice and global equality on to his work in spreading joy and peace through football. He has traveled, lived and worked many places in the world and has played football in every country visited.

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