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United Fronts: Partnering in Creative Ways

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Brendan Tuohey , Co-Founder and Executive Director

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

By Lindsay Williams

According to the United Nations, 1 in 10 children live in countries affected by conflict. Conflicts destroy schools and hospitals, encourage crime and fuel health crises such as HIV/AIDS, addiction, and violence towards women. Government leaders forge agreements in attempts to make peace, yet these treaties often prove unsustainable because the root causes of conflict are left unaddressed. Sports has the power to bring people together and is one of the greatest unifying tools in the world.  Sports has to power to inspire social change.  Based on the premise that “children who play together can learn to live together,” PeacePlayers International (PPI) uses basketball to unite, educate and inspire young people in divided communities.  

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Brendan and Sean Tuohey, two brothers from Washington, DC, came up with the idea of using sport as a vehicle for peace during their time coaching basketball in Northern Ireland.  Albeit the existence of a formal peace agreement in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants since 1998, children continue to grow up segregated in the region.  Despite this, the Tuohey brothers discovered that Protestant and Catholic youth came together to play basketball, and were able to share the game in a way they shared almost nothing else due to the game’s perceived American heritage. Success in Northern Ireland led to the expansion of PPI to other areas of conflict around the world, including Israel and the West Bank, South Africa, Cyprus, and the United States, most recently helping bridge divides between police and the communities they serve.

PPI has become a worldwide leader in the use of sport to build a more peaceful world and is the only organization to have received the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPYS (2007); the Laureus Sport for Good Award (2008); and the NGO for Peace of the Year Award from Peace and Sport (2011).

The Power of Partnerships

Image 4 ORIGINALBuilding on several ad hoc projects, PPI began formally offering training and consulting services under its Sports and Peace Innovation Network (PPI – SPIN). Since 2010, PPI – SPIN has served organizations working with more than 230 schools and nonprofits in 15 countries.  The partnerships with organizations that have helped spread programs such as PPI – SPIN around the world, is key not only for the SPIN program, but for every program that PPI has to offer. The global partnerships have allowed PPI to grow and lead to a clear change in attitudes and beliefs.  Partnerships with Adidas, the United States Department of State, USAID, the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, and Arbinger have given PPI opportunities to inspire peace where previously it had not been possible. 

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PPI’s Sports and Peace Innovation Network (SPIN), sets it apart from others because of its ability to share and help implement PPI’s unique curriculum within other organizations across entire international development sector, while at the same time sustainably supporting and scaling itself. For example, in 2013 PPI served as a subcontractor on a USAID project in Yemen to help train community leaders in PPI’s curriculum and use sport to increase community cohesion. The project helped spark the creation of a basketball program in the remote city of Marib, and included the production of a suite of culturally appropriate fitness videos for female trainees.  Last year, In the Gambella region of Ethiopia, PPI worked with Save the Children International in refugee camps to reduce conflict between refugees and their host communities. In addition, PPI helped design a program to engage refugee children in sports activities, creating new opportunities for non-formal education and extracurricular activities that decrease idle time.  In Bosnia and Herzegovnia, PPI most recently traveled to a sports facility in Vlasic, Bosnia, where PPI trainers came together with 20 Serbian, Bosnian and Croat coaches and teachers to learn how sports has been used in some of the world’s toughest conflict areas. PPI will return to Bosnia this year to bring youth from around the country together to play on mixed basketball teams led by the local coaches from the inaugural training. Theses are just some examples PPI-SPIN has been able to do good work in areas all around the world, thanks to our global partnerships.

Image 5 ORIGINALFor both historical and strategic reasons, PPI’s own programs all use basketball as their sport of choice. As trainers and technical assistance providers, SPIN works with a broad range of sports, from developing a girls’ youth soccer league in Afghanistan, to providing curriculum training to grassroots skateboarding organizations in South Africa. PPI’s technical expertise lies not in any one sport, but rather how to wield sport in general for a broader impact.

Nonprofits should utilize the opportunity that a global partnership can provide by making sure that the partnership makes sense, and that all parties involved have a vested interest in helping to spread whatever message that is being conveyed.  A global partnership for an organization such as PPI can mean the difference between inspiring peace on a global proportion and having to limit the power of peacebuilding to the capacity of an organization.  Global partnerships, along with donations from PPI’s many loyal friends, are the reason why now a Jewish girl in a bomb shelter receives a loving text from her Arab teammate, a 12-year-old Cypriot convinces his parents to cross a buffer zone to watch him play in a tournament, or the son of a Catholic extremist joins a Protestant-based rugby association. 


PeacePlayers International (PPI) is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 2000 as Playing For Peace and became PPI in 2007 to reflect its new worldwide scope. PPI unites difference through basketball, forging community across conflict zones and physical barriers.

Lindsay Williams is a  Master of Professional Studies candidate studying Sports Industry Management with a concentration in business, management, and operations at Georgetown University. Williams is the development and communications intern at PeacePlayers International. 

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