Jennifer A. Billman
Soccer Outreach Services, Inc.
In 2011, together with her husband, Jennifer cofounded Soccer Outreach Services, Inc., a U.S. based 501c3 youth development through sport nonprofit that has partnered with communities throughout West Africa since 2007. Jennifer is currently a doctoral candidate with research focusing on program evaluation in non-western settings. As both practitioner and scholar, she brings a critical perspective to the use of sport in development programs. Jennifer has been a professor of biology for 24-years and currently teaches at Harrisburg Area Community College in Pennsylvania in the U.S. where she also serves as the institution’s Assessment Coordinator.
Sport for Development and Peace: Reframing the Conversation
In its Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the United Nations (2010) declares sport an effective tool in the fight against poverty, disease, gender inequality, and illiteracy. In response to the UN’s declaration, Sport for Development and Peace (SDP) programs advocate using sport to advance holistic youth development. Such programs, many utilizing soccer (i.e. football), target underserved youth and attempt to promote health and wellness (particularly HIV/AIDS prevention), gender equality, education, character development, conflict resolution, and leadership development. Despite these assumed positive benefits of SDP and the increased use of these programs by non-government organizations (NGOs), government agencies, sponsoring corporations, international development theorists, and grassroots practitioners debate the effectiveness of SDP programs operating within the Global South, most notably Sub-Saharan Africa. Much of this debate revolves around program monitoring and evaluation (M&E), with many researchers calling for more rigorous assessments of SDP programs to evaluate their efficacy. Yet, while many evaluation best practices have been proposed by external (i.e. western) researchers, the literature lacks an exposition of evaluation best practices which originate from within the local African context directly and to date there has been no systematic study of the process of African evaluation. Thus, conclusions drawn regarding SDP efficacy remain untenable. As a critical scholar, current doctoral candidate, and co-founder of Soccer Outreach Services (SOS), a 501c3 transnational SDP nonprofit, I am uniquely positioned to address the tension that exists between the underlying assumption of SDP—that sport serves as a panacea for social ills—and the lived experiences of program participants and field staff. Here I draw upon knowledge gained from the SDP literature and lessons learned through our field work in Guinea, Sri Lanka, and Ghana to suggest best practices (e.g. operational, monitoring, and evaluation) for SDP programs operating in underserved communities within the African context.