Hope Academy

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Hope Academy

South Africa
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.

Set up elite soccer academies in juvenile prisons to impact prisoners holistically in their football (soccer), faith and future. Soccer alone is not enough to bring change and the Hope Academy program offers a balanced approach of physical, mental and spiritual development to each offender. Young men leave gangs, turn their backs on crime and look to a brighter future when accepted into the academy.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Once in prison, juvenile offenders are exposed to the prison gangs (the Number gangs) and many of them succumb and join these gangs. The gangs destroy the hope of youth in prison, branding their members with tattoos and giving them tasks that involve hurting and abusing other inmates. In these gangs, the prisoner develops his identity and gains respect within prison and as a result often reoffends once released in order to return to his prison family (the gang). The cycle of abuse is also horrific for young men who are raped in prison, and the abused becomes the abuser. The Academy educates offenders about the results of negative behaviour and practically aids offenders to live a positive life. The young men also face huge obstacles once released- poverty, high unemployment and the temptations of drugs, sex and alcohol surround them on a daily basis. The program also aims to provide opportunities for the young men on release. The program addresses gangsterism, crime, unemployment, education and the lack of self worth.

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

Our project is unique in South African prisons and would be just as innovative if run in prisons worldwide. The Hope Academy is the first project of it's kind in the history of South African Correctional Services. Ambassadors In Sport have been given permission to select juvenile offenders from prisons around the region and transferred to the prison where the academy is situated once selected. The team consists of 18 players and 2 coaches and are housed together in one cell. The Academy program runs from February to November and each player is developed in their football, faith and future. The coaches teach the young men life skills modules and provide a high standard of coaching. The Academy is very disciplined and the young men sign a code of conduct which they agree to follow once accepted into the academy. Each young man is also placed into school whilst in the Academy and his education monitored by the coaches. Once released, we follow up with the young men to help and support them in their transition to respectable citizens in society. As far as we are aware, this is a unique model that has not been developed either in Africa or any other part of the world.
Impact: How does it Work

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

Our impact affects both the prison environment and the community the prisoners return to once released. Firstly, the Academy has had a huge impact on the gangsterism, violence and abuse within the prison. Since it's inception in 2008 the Academy has had one minor reported incident compared to the daily incidents recorded in other cells in prison. Correctional Services, after seeing the massive improvement in behaviour of ex-gang members in the Academy, decided to replicate the model and introduce other sporting academies in Rugby, Basketball and Cricket. A whole unit in the prison is now a dedicated sports academy that runs on similar guidelines to the Hope Academy model. Each member in the Academy must pursue their education, either by finishing their schooling or studying a higher learning course and their progress monitored. This has benefited the education of the offender and the standard of the school and has given offenders greater opportunity to find employment once released . Secondly, we have a 88% success rate of young men not reoffending after release compared to the national average of 15-20%. Our graduates have gone on to further studies, employment and become respectable citizens within society. We have recently developed a relationship with the College of Cape Town to partner with the Academy and offer educational scholarships to Academy members upon release.
About You
Ambassadors In Sport
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



Ambassadors In Sport


, WC

Section 2: About Your Organization
Organization Name

Ambassadors In Sport

Organization Phone


Organization Address

Postnet Suite 71, Private BAg X3, Glossderry, 7702

Organization Country

, WC

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

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Do you have a patent for this idea?


In our 8 year experience in working with juvenile offenders, we have seen the desperate need for quality investment in the lives of these young men. To rehabilitate prisoners, you need to work with not only the prisoner, but also their families. The program also needs to work on all areas of the prisoner's life. With this in mind we are creating relationships and partnerships with individuals and organizations to help rehabilitate offenders. The partnerships enable us to offer more opportunities to the offender and give them a greater chance of successfully rehabilitating and reintegrating into society.
The program prefers offenders who are willing to change and do something positive in their life. This is key as prisoners with a negative mindset usually have no real desire to change.


The model developed in Drakenstein Prison (the prison Mandela was released from) has been recognised nationally by the Department of Correctional Services (DCS) as a project that demonstrates success in rehabilitating inmates. DCS requested a partnership with Ambassadors In Sport and other academies be developed in prisons around South Africa. As mentioned previously, 88% of prisoners graduating from our program do not reoffend and are living back in their communities. We have seen a greater return on investment from working intentionally with smaller numbers. Through this investment these young men are impacting their families and communities in a positive way. Throughout the year Ambassadors In Sport host sporting events and the Academy players released from prison participate and give testimony to young children about the dangers of crime and the importance of staying in school.

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

2011 - The model developed in Drakenstein needs to be sustainable and fully equipped to enable other prisons to use it as a model for future sports development. Our aim is to continue to build a volunteer and support base that provides each offender with the opportunity to change his life. Part of this sustainability is to look at social enterprise programs that will help financially support the academy in the future. Within each Academy we will require staff (full time and volunteer) focusing on each stream of the academy (football, faith and future).
2012 - We will offer training to other prisons on how to set up soccer academies and impact offenders through sport based on the Drakenstein model. The model will also help impact juvenile centres for troubled youth and schools in poor communities that want to instil sporting excellence. We would need to get SETA accreditation from within SA which will help pay staff to give training in the program. We would also like to see local young men employed by AIS, running soccer academies in poor communities and giving back to society. We have already had this in Khayelitsha, Cape Town and through this and other events have seen how much some of these young men have to offer. Again we would need this to be supported through government and corporate funding for it to be achievable.
2013 - To have the program fully funded from within South Africa though social enterprise and corporate social investment partnerships. We would also like the young men who are successfully rehabilitated to contribute to the program financially once employed. We would also like the project to employ indigenous staff (even ex-academy players) to be the coaches of all the academies nationwide.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

The key success to this program is the high investment because of the problems juvenile offenders face in prison and once released. The danger would be growing the project too quickly just to add numbers to the program. The quality and impact of the program would decrease as prisoners are highly manipulative and we would attract the wrong kind of offenders to the program. We believe that the investment made in the few will go on to impact many in the future.
Correctional Services could also harm the project by not giving the Academy the freedom to develop further. A lack of strong partnerships will also prevent us being successful.

How many people will your project serve annually?

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?
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


If yes, provide organization name.

Ambassadors In Sport

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 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.

Correctional Services (government) have partnered with us to develop further Academies in prisons nationwide. Corrections are key to our program as they assist us with logistical issues such as security, training and transport.
We also partner with the Lee Sharpe Foundation. Lee Sharpe is an ex-professional player with Manchester United, Leeds United and England. The Lee Sharpe Foundation supports us through events to raise awareness and finances for the Academies. The Foundation has climbed mount Kilimanjaro and are currently cycling through Africa to raise support for the Academies.
We also partner with the South African Christian Football Association (SACFA) who have made it possible for the Academy to play in an external league. SACFA have been very supportive in supporting the process.
Lastly we have had many organisations and individuals come into the prison to view the academy and support the program. This has served both the visitors and the Academy positively over the last 2 years.

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

1. Firstly the Academy needs to attract further partners to invest and support the vision of elite academies in prisons. We have seen how the model works and how young juvenile offenders are impacted through the project. With partnerships we can grow the Academy to another level, linking the Academy to a registered football association, playing night games against the communities, having the Academy coach local schools and warn them about crime etc. All these things are not possible without the necessary support and partners.
2. The partnership with Correctional Services is key to our success. We need more support from government to help funding and give us the necessary tools to improve the Academy. We constantly have issues around security, lack of staff and lack of financial support from Corrections which holds the program back. We have fully funded both our prison academies with no financial support from Correctional Services. One of our goals is to constantly work on this relationship and develop an operational plan for Academy development nationally.
3. We require more staff to work on our academies. Working with Juvenile Offenders requires a lot of investment and time because of the broken and hurt backgrounds the young men come from. We are looking into building a team of volunteers to support staff within the academies. Currently we have done this with the Drakenstein Academy where we have a volunteer giving her time on Wednesdays to work on the educational development of the young men in the academy. The biggest need we have is staff to follow up young men when they are released from prison.

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

When AIS started soccer development programs in prisons we worked with a large number of inmates. The Academy innovation came about one day whilst I was working in Pollsmoor Prison. We were coaching 50 inmates and the session was quite chaotic and some offenders were fighting and not participating. I came to the realization that we were not being effective and needed to work with fewer numbers to really make a difference in the lives of the offenders. This is when we began to select inmates with high soccer ability and a desire to change and do something positively in their lives. We approached Correctional Services and they gave us a cell where we could place all the players selected and the Academy began. We have seen the results of being more intentional in working with offenders and being committed to walk a road with each offender once in prison and once released. The Academy is based on giving quality investment to a few so they can go and invest in others in the future.

Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.

The Academy model in prisons was developed by myself (Mark Slessenger). I have always wanted my life to impact others and as a Christian, this is what I believe God has called me to do. I have a 3 year degree in Theology and majored in Psychology, I also have my FA Level 2 coaching badge from the UK. When I look at the young men in the prison I know that if I was born into poverty or difficult circumstances I could have ended up in the same situation. I have been fortunate enough to have had a family that loved and supported me, whereas most of these young men do not have that. This is why I have become passionate about seeing young men in prison change and do something positive with their lives. I am a family man, married for 9 years to my wife Kirsty (who is South African) and I have 2 boys, Joel who is 4 and Liam who is 1. I love all sports, socializing and enjoy the outdoors.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

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If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company

50 words or fewer