If this looks like too many words for you, just skip right on over to Soccer Without Borders’ Instagram and Facebook Stories to check out their latest Play It Forward campaign, 32 Nations. 32 Stories.
Ever since I’ve followed the grassroots soccer scene- that is, the world of changemakers who use soccer as a vehicle for making the world a better / more diverse / more tolerant / more accessible place- one organization has been ever-present.
Soccer Without Borders.
The organization launched in 2006 with a vision so pure, it’s inspired many emulators - including me.
We believe in the power of soccer, the world's universal language, to create positive change for individuals, families, communities, and the world.
They do that at numerous locations around the world, and they do it because their people are passionate. They care about the whole human, the story, life on and off the pitch.
Check out their locations, programs and people on their newly-revamped website. And if you can, make a donation too, as their seasonal fundraising campaign is underway.
But if you want to learn more, read on. We fired some questions at Dustin Alarid, the Denver-based Director of Communications of Soccer Without Borders. He took the time to tell the organization’s story despite a busy end-of-year time crunch. Here’s a lightly edited version.
Can you tell us more about Soccer Without Borders, your mission and your locations?
Our mission is to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing underserved youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion, and personal success. Currently, we run programs at 42 sites across 5 U.S states and 3 countries including Colorado, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nicaragua, Oakland, and Uganda.
What is 32 Nations. 32 Stories?
Towards the end of each year, we launch a 4-6 week campaign called Play It Forward. Our Play It Forward campaign is a crucial part of our annual operating budget that allows us to provide free, year-round programming to over 4,000 newcomer youth and marginalized girls each year. It does not end there, though, we use this time as an opportunity to share about our mission and to advocate for the importance of "soccer for good". For the first time ever, the Men's World Cup is happening in the winter, during our Play It Forward campaign.
We believe that soccer can use its platform to perpetuate the world's injustices and inequalities, or it can work to change the world for the better. At Soccer Without Borders, we choose change. Therefore, we decided to take the opportunity to use our platform to share 32 stories from the 32 Men's World Cup nations, each showcasing how soccer can lift up individuals and communities around the world. These stories will be featured daily on our Instagram and Facebook Stories now through the Men's World Cup final on December 18th.
How did the idea for this storytelling project take shape?
With an estimated 5 billion viewers for the Men's World Cup, it's impossible to deny that soccer is one of the most powerful cultural phenomena on Earth. We see the transformative potential of the game every day in our programs and projects around the world. During this year's unprecedented Men's World Cup, we decided that we had an opportunity to not only share how our organization uses soccer to help create a more inclusive and equitable world, but we also had an opportunity to share the amazing work that organizations, people, and teams are doing around the world to bring positive change through the "world's game".
How does it support the goals of Soccer Without Borders, fundraising and awareness and beyond?
Awareness is a big part of this campaign. Each of the 32 stories reflects the culture of SWB and we are using this as an opportunity to describe what makes the SWB culture unique. Namely, this can be found in the six mantras that guide us to prioritize what matters most. Every one of these World Cup stories fits within the theme of these mantras and include: "We're Glad You're Here", "Leave Your Shoes at the Door", "Know the Thingy Thingy", "Celebrate the Pass More than the Goal", "You Play Best When You're Smiling, and "Get Them to the Field". Definitions of all of these mantras can be found in the Our Mission page of our website.
In addition, the fundraising element of this campaign remains important as well. At Soccer Without Borders we go the extra mile to eliminate financial, logistical, linguistic, and other obstacles that typically leave newcomers and marginalized girls on the sidelines. We rely on the generosity of our community to sustain and continually improve our ongoing programs and ensure that we can be responsive and innovative as new challenges arise.
How did you and the SWB team go about finding the incredible stories of Sardar Azmoun, Seprojoven, and the other incredible people and organizations you've highlighted?
We found these stories in a variety of ways. Many of them came from our connections with some of our "soccer for good" partners such as Common Goal, Laureus Sport for Good, and more. Additionally, for some stories, we sought the advice of our staff and board members who have connections to a specific country being featured. Lastly, for the countries remaining, members of the SWB advancement team worked together to find stories through some good old fashion online research. It was such a fun process to source all of these inspiring stories!
Is there a person or team you've met in your time at SWB that has especially inspired you?
I completely realized that this may seem like a diplomatic answer, but the genuine truth is that I've been inspired by every single person I've met within the SWB community. This includes everyone from our founder and co-founder, who I get the pleasure to work with nearly every day, to our coach-mentor fellows who often come to us as alumni of the program, to our youth participants whose strength and resilience is unparalleled. It is an absolute honor to be a part of this incredible team of sincere, hard working, and compassionate people.
What's next with this campaign?
The daily social media stories will continue through the end of the Men's World Cup, with our last story being shared on December 18th, the date of the Men's World Cup Final. For the remainder of the year, we will be continuing to engage with our community by looking back at this past year and celebrating the incredible accomplishments made by our team across all six of our hub locations. Then we hope that people, regardless if SWB is new to them or if they've followed our work for a long time, continue to follow our work into 2023 and beyond.