Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Advancing Social Change through Sport

February 23, 2011

The Sport and Development Project, a new collaboration between Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies and Swearer Center for Public Service, aims to advance policy and practice in this growing field. Emblematic of its work is an event planned for Monday, March 7, featuring Kirk Friedrich, co-founder of Grassroot Soccer

“Sport can be a tremendous force for positive social change in cultures and communities around the world,” said Watson Institute Deputy Director Geoffrey S. Kirkman ’91, who is developing the project with Institute Visiting Fellow Eli A. Wolff ’00 and Kerrissa Heffernan, Swearer Center director of faculty engagement and Royce Fellowships. “We will work to imagine and envision how sport can be used for development, human rights, and social justice.”

With national and international organizations increasingly looking toward sport and physical activity as a way to approach humanitarian and development objectives, the project involves scholars, students, practitioners, policymakers, and athletes in inquiry and advocacy.  

As such, the project is already coordinating the International Sport for Development and Peace Association (ISDPA), serving as an Olympic Studies Center of the International Olympic Committee, collaborating with the Muhammad Ali Center on an athletes for social change platform, working with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on a sport for refugees curriculum, and partnering with the Royce Fellowship for Sport and Society at Brown, among other activities. 

“A major objective is to address inequality and discrimination within and through sports, and to encourage and foster opportunity, respect, dignity, inclusion, and acceptance,” said Wolff, who has been recognized for his work since 2000 in helping to develop this field of endeavor. “We will work to see sport in a different way, to change the way we typically define sport, and to enhance the role of sport in community development.”

At the upcoming lecture in March, Friedrich will address "Grassroot Soccer and the Sport for Development Movement." A former professional soccer player, Friedrich played an important role in launching the first Grassroot Soccer programs in Zimbabwe and South Africa to educate, inspire, and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV.

Sport and Development Project Leaders
• Geoffrey S. Kirkman
is deputy director and a Watson fellow at the Watson Institute. He also teaches an undergraduate course on social entrepreneurship as a lecturer in Brown's School of Engineering. He is president and founder of the Sports for Development Foundation, which works with professional Latin American baseball players to harness their fame and goodwill for social and economic development in their countries of origin. He was an executive producer of The Republic of Baseball: Dominican Giants of the American Game, a documentary film about the first generation of Dominican baseball players in the major leagues. He was previously managing director of the International Technologies Group at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet & Society and managing director of the Information Technologies Group at Harvard's Center for International Development. He is a Brown graduate of the class of 1991.

• Eli A. Wolff is a visiting fellow in sport and development at the Watson Institute. He has also co-led the Royce Sport and Society undergraduate fellowship program since its inception at Brown's Swearer Center for Public Service. From 2001 to 2010, Wolff was the manager of research and advocacy at the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University. At Northeastern, he co-developed the Disability in Sport initiative, the Athletes for Human Rights project, the Olympism and Social Justice initiative, and the Rhythm & Flow project, focusing on the integration and intersection of sports, music, and the arts. From 2004 to 2006, Wolff coordinated a global effort to include provisions addressing sport and recreation within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. From 2002 to 2006, he was a lecturer and coordinator at the International Olympic Academy in Olympia Greece, and he continues to engage in work related to Olympism and Olympic education. He currently coordinates the International Sport for Development and Peace Association, a professional network dedicated to advancing and connecting research, policy, and pactice in the field of sport and social change. Wolff was the recipient of the inaugural 2001 Nike Casey Martin Award honoring  people with disabilities who have made a difference in sports. In 2009, he received the Heroes Among Us recognition from the Boston Celtics. He serves as an advisor to several organizations including the Institute for Human Centered Design, Project Eye-to-Eye, and Beyond Sport. He was a member of the United States Paralympic Soccer Team in the 1996 and 2004 Paralympic Games. Wolff is a graduate of Brown University's class of 2000.

• Kerrissa Heffernan is director of faculty engagement, director of the Brown International Scholars Program, the Royce Fellowship, and the Royce Fellowship for Sport and Society at Brown University’s Swearer Center for Public Service. She also teaches a course on Engaged Scholarship in Brown’s Education Department. Prior to joining the Swearer Center, she spent two years as a senior associate in Integrating Service with Academic Study at National Campus Compact. She was the Arnow-Weiler professor of liberal arts at Lasell College, director of the women's studies concentration, and director of the Donahue Institute for Values and Public Life. She is co-editor of The Practice of Change: Concepts and Models for Service-Learning in Women's Studies, co-editor of The Introduction to Service-learning Toolkit: Readings and Resources for Faculty, and author of The Fundamentals of Course Construction. She coaches the Brown University Women's Rugby Team, one of the most successful collegiate programs in the nation. She received her BA from Florida State University and EdD from Boston University.