How the Doha GOALS Forum challenged me to create a framework through basketball for future youth development in Nairobi, Kenya
Like many sub-Saharan countries, Kenya has a young population but limited opportunities for employment. This is compounded by a lack of education and training. However, greater participation in sports, especially basketball, could provide an opportunity to break from this vicious cycle. Sport has been recognized by the United Nations (UN) as an important vehicle for supporting development. A UN Inter-Task Force Report stated “The practice of sport is vital to the holistic development of young people, fostering their physical and emotional health and building valuable social connections” (United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force, 2003). If implemented properly, sport-for-development programs can empower Kenya’s youth in areas where traditional programs have fallen short.
My interest in sports-based initiatives in Africa began in December 2013, when I first attended the Doha GOALS Forum as a student ambassador from Georgetown University.
At the forum, I had the privilege of meeting with some very prominent African leaders and respected heads of sports agencies. We began an in-depth discussion on using basketball as a tool for social change in Africa. Over the course of the week, it became clear that while there were countless obstacles and challenges to using sports-based initiatives for social change in Africa, I knew I could make a difference. I accepted the challenge wholeheartedly and took my lessons from the Doha GOALS Forum back to Georgetown to start my thesis.
For my thesis, I studied and communicated with various coaches, players and officials in Nairobi to pinpoint the issues confronting Kenyan basketball at the youth level. I partnered up DanKind Academy, one of the best basketball academies in Kenya, to test my concept using their players and platform.
Attracting young people to basketball, particularly at an early age, and providing support for their continued participation, requires a number of key support functions. The media can play a role by showcasing the thrill of basketball through broadcasting the reporting on local and international games. Corporations and professional basketball associations can play a role by sponsoring teams and sports academies, supplementing the funds needed continuous operation. Professional athletes can serve as role models for the community. Schools, governments and other institutions can play a role by making accessible facilities.
For Kenya, the willingness and ability of these institutions is largely dependent on a well-run basketball federation with responsibilities ranging from grassroots activities to professional basketball. With the enactment of a new Sports Bill in 2013 – the first of its kind in Kenya – the foundation has been created upon which the Kenyan Basketball Federation (KBF) can build a thriving, inclusive and functioning basketball infrastructure that can instill skills, improve academic performance as well as provide economic opportunities for young people in Kenya. Re-organizing and re-orienting the KBF, with the support of the government under the new Sports Bill, could lead to a more sustainable and inclusive basketball program that will, in turn, encourage and support youth participation.
Breaking the cycle of poverty and youth unemployment in any country is a daunting task. Greater involvement of young people in basketball will not solve all the social ills that affect this country. However, this new initiative could serve as a template for other sports in Kenya as well as other countries facing similar situations. It is important that Kenya take a holistic approach to basketball. If Kenya is going to produce young talent who can captivate the country in professional leagues, a greater focus is needed on young people. With a well-managed approach, and a focus on professional basketball as well as youth leagues and training camps, the KBF can re-energize basketball in Kenya. As a consequence, it will attract sponsors, media coverage and better attendance at games. This will ensure the financial viability of the KBF.
What makes Doha GOALS so crucial to this initiative?
It is a world-renowned platform and the ideal forum to discuss and redefine the importance of open space, or a statutory land use zone for the provision of open space and recreation facilities for the enjoyment of the general public. Once we can create a dialogue with the right audience listening, we can then, as a community, build an action-oriented plan to change one community at a time through the proper implementation of sports infrastructure.
I took everything I learned from school, Doha GOALS and my internship with the Washington Wizards NBA team and decided to help transform DanKind Academy and use it as a model for other academies moving forward.
David Sigman is a sports management MBA graduate from Georgetown University and he prides himself in tackling cross-cultural challenges through sports. David is a Doha GOALS Forum Student Ambassador.