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  • Norman Brook

Revisiting the Millennium Development Goals

In a previous article Norman Brook asked whether sport could really be used to address the Millennium Development Goals. In this article Norman revisits the Millennium Development Goals and the question can teaching life skills through sport, games and activities address these and wider social issues.

The Millenium Development Goals

The Millennium Development Goals

My starting point in whether sport can address the Millennium Development Goals has to be the need for a theory of change model that engages youth through sport, develops them as positive young citizens and educates them in a way that enables them to make informed choices.

At the heart of this theory of change model is the positive youth development approach.  Positive youth development theory and practice has been well researched (Schulman & Davies, 2007) and is used internationally as a model of youth development.

When sport is delivered in an appropriate manner it can create an environment that develops youth who are more likely to make positive healthy decisions, avoid risk behaviour, and make a contribution back to their family and community.  According to Lerner et al (2000) positive youth development programmes build the characteristics of confidence, character, competence, caring and connection in young people.  This happens when sport programmes:

  1. take place in a safe setting (safe spaces for sport);

  2. provide for positive adult-youth relationships (the coach);

  3. are of a long term duration (sustained and regular activity);

  4. provide opportunities for young people to build their skills (sports skills and life skills);

  5. provide for youth participation and leadership (peer or young sports leaders).

This theory of change model envisages positive youth being developed through sustained, regular, quality sports and life skills training.  As with all theory of change models we need to work backwards linking the desired outcomes/impact of the programme to the activity or actions demonstrating in the process how those activities or actions address the social problem. The example provided here looks at Millennium Development Goal 6 and in particular how to combat HIV & AIDS.

Our example of a theory of change model addresses the question of how participation in sport leads to social change.  How sport can be used to counter the social drivers of the disease and help prevent HIV transmission?

Theory of Change

In this theory of change model it is the sports coach or leader who creates a positive youth development setting and delivers a programme of sports and life skills activity. In this sense the coach or leader is an “agent of change” using sport as a means of creating social change.

Applying this approach to all eight goals, maybe sport can make a contribution to tackling the Millennium Development Goals.

Ending Poverty & Hunger

Programmes that look at promoting decent work for all, including women and young people, can contribute to the alleviation of poverty and hunger. Treating sport for social change coaches or leaders as programme beneficiaries and affording them the opportunity to access work experience and vocational training that prepare them to enter into full and productive employment may help address poverty and hunger.

Programmes should also promote the value of education and encourage youth to stay in education. Raising educational standards will provide young people with more opportunities and help them develop the capabilities they need to access future work and escape poverty and hunger.

Achieve Universal Primary Education

Sport for Development programmes can encourage boys and girls to attend school and complete their school education.  Programmes can also make a direct contribution to school sport, physical education and life skills education.

Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women

Sport for Development programmes can encourage women and girls to play, coach and organise sport. They can also be used to promote the rights of women and girls, and address Gender Based Violence.  Gender Based Violence can be tackled not just by activities that empower women, but also through programmes that encourage men to respect women.

Reduce Child Mortality/Improving Maternal Health

Sport for Development programmes can educate girls and boys around sexual health matters.  They can also help reduce teenage pregnancy by encouraging girls and boys to delay becoming sexually active.

Combat HIV & AIDS, Malaria and other Diseases

Sport for Development programmes can be used to teach young people about health matters. This includes improving their comprehensive knowledge of HIV & AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Sport can also be used as a means of encouraging people living with HIV & AIDS to adopt positive living lifestyles including sport and recreation that can help them to improve their general well-being.

Ensure Environmental Sustainability

Sport for Development organisations can increase awareness around environmental sustainability by teaching life-skills through sport and by implementing environmental policies.

Global Partnerships for Development

Sport for Development organisations around the world can work in partnership promoting joint North-South initiatives that address development issues through sport.

When I wrote my first article I was more than a little skeptical that sport could contribute to such broad development goals.  Since then I have observed a number of activities that are targeted at specific Millennium Development Goals and have also been tasked with developing tools that use sport to educate youth around them. Provided we can create Positive Youth Development settings, I think that educating young people around Millennium Development Goals may make a bigger contribution to their achievement than I thought at first.


Lerner, R. M., Fisher, C. B. & Weinberg, R. A. (2000). Toward a science for and of the people: promoting civil society through the application of developmental science, Child Development, 71, 11–20

Schulman, S & Davies, T. (2007), Evidence of the impact of the ‘youth development model’ on outcomes for young people – a literature review, The National Youth Agency.

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