Category Archives: Youth Development

Celebrating World Environment Day at Planet Fitness

On, June 5, the international community will celebrate 2018 World Environment Day to encourage businesses, governments and individuals to safeguard the planet with the “Beat Plastic Pollution” campaign. Regardless of where one happens to live in the world, the impact of climate change is real and the need for humans to protect themselves and adapt to climate change is important. In the spirit of Arthur Ashe, who was once quoted as saying “start where you are. use what you have. do what you can,” or in other terms, acting locally while thinking globally. As part of my weekly activities, I enjoy regularly working out at the local Planet Fitness gym in the Town of Andover, Massachusetts. Though there are no squash courts at the facility or group exercise classes, it provides a “judgement-free zone” for general strength and conditioning.

At entrance to Planet Fitness in Andover, Massachusetts, 2018. Photo credit: Planet Fitness staff.

When I don’t have access to a car or the weather is reasonably good, I like to walk to the gym. Striving to being smart and green on an individual level can feel like a drop in the ocean, however if there were a critical mass of individuals doing this then the impact on the environment would be less damaging. As a multinational business, Planet Fitness positions itself as an American franchisee of fitness centers however it could do more by partnering with other environmental groups, such as the Green Sports Alliance, and promote better nutrition by serving healthy snacks, like fruit cups during its community membership activities.

Meanwhile, the Boston squash community has stepped up its game in the arena of sport and environmental sustainability. In September, 2014 Sydney Soloway, a Dana Hall School alumnae founded a wonderful environmentally friendly initiative called Squash Cares, a nonprofit, squash ball recycling program to benefit people with disabilities specifically, autism and ADHD.  The concept of keeping old squash balls out of landfills is a very practical environmental solution for a sport played in more than 145 countries. Any high school or college squash program in the world should take note of Squash Cares, as an innovative squash ball recycling program benefiting people with disabilities.

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Community Development, Corporate Social Responsibility, Education, International Development, Leadership, Networking, Philanthropy, Private Public Partnerships, Public Policy, Squash, Stakeholder Engagement, Youth Development

Making Next Steps Towards Sustainable Development

While there is no better substitute for in-person mentoring for both the young and old, the Internet and social media enables online or digital mentoring. This blog post is aimed towards younger readers and experienced educators. Twenty years ago (during my junior year), I was invited to a Bowdoin alumni event where I had the good fortune of being seated at a table with President Emeritus Robert Edwards of Bowdoin College and other distinguished alumni. The purpose of the “Beneath the Pines” event was for students, staff, professors and alumni to share ideas on what Bowdoin as an institution was becoming and how campus constituents could shape the future direction of the College. I learned from fellow students about President Edwards’ prior work experience with the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) and was curious to learn more from him.

At the dinner table, we discussed a number of issues concerning the future of Bowdoin College ranging from student life to academics. Following a lively discussion, the elders at the table turned to the youngest person at the table and asked me, “what are your plans for the summer?” With nothing to lose, I expressed my interest in securing an internship with the Aga Khan Foundation USA based in Washington, DC. President Edwards immediately noticed my interest in the work of the Aga Khan Development Network and graciously invited me to his office to discuss his work with the organization. A few days after our meeting I prepared my personal statement and was interviewed by a committee of AKF USA staff and volunteers for a paid summer internship position.

At my internship desk at the Aga Khan Foundation USA office, Washington, DC. Photo credit: N. Karim, 1998.

From the moment I learned of my acceptance to the AKF USA internship program, I was absolutely thrilled to take steps towards a career in international development. The content of the undergraduate internship varied from assisting in several aspects ranging from  the Foundation’s communications, outreach and public education to assisting in maintaining and organizing the Foundation’s library, documentation and communication materials. Patricia Scheid, our internship supervisor at AKF USA was an excellent guide, facilitator and mentor who made our internship experience more than “just filing” to assisting in grant writing, event planning and community outreach. Also as interns, we were introduced to other members of the AKDN, U.S. Federal agencies and civil society organizations based both in Washington DC and around the world.

AKF USA Interns: Nadya (left), Tariq (center) and Shalini (right), Washington, DC. Photo credit: Z. Hemani, 1998.

While career trajectories are not always linear, my AKF USA internship was a fantastic foray into the role and effectiveness of foreign aid in improving the quality of life of individuals and communities around the world. A lot has happened over the last twenty years in my career development, as well as in the field of sustainable international development, but I am hopeful that the next twenty years will also be just as exciting, if not more both personally and professionally. Thank you to President Emeritus Robert Edwards of Bowdoin College and the Aga Khan Foundation USA for my transformative internship experience. I hope younger readers and experienced educators will be encouraged by the power of networking, mentoring and leadership development to transform lives.

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Community Development, Conferences, Education, Foreign Policy, Gender, Grant Making, International Development, Leadership, Networking, Philanthropy, Planning, Professional Development, Public Policy, Stakeholder Engagement, Youth Development

What Role Can ICTs Play to Improve Sport Governance?

In 2001, the International Year of Volunteers, Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations, stated that “volunteerism is the ultimate expression of what the United Nations is all about.” Fifteen years ago, in 2003, I set forth from Boston, Massachusetts on my United Nations Volunteer assignment in Kampala, Uganda under the auspices of the United Nations Information Technology Service (UNITeS) – an initiative envisioned by the Secretary General – to support efforts to bridge the global digital divide. Since returning from my UNV assignment, I continued to be engaged with various volunteer projects in the United States and across the world, with an emphasis on sport for development and peace.

Upon re-reading my 2002 personal statement to the Cisco Least Developed Countries (LDC) Initiative of which UNITeS was a key partner, I am glad to have been asked by the hiring managers to undertake such a writing exercise. Any hiring manager who wants to narrow down their selection of strong candidates, would do well to request a personal statement. Not only does this tool allow for benchmarking but it can also help individuals (and organizations) set future goals. I am making my personal statement public for the purpose of knowledge management to improve education and learning while addressing the challenges of sustainable development, of which ICTs play an important role.

My Pin Collection from United Nations Volunteers (UNV), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and International Olympic Committee (IOC). Photo credit: T.Mohammed, 2018.

In 2018, major news headlines posed big questions about democratic freedoms and the role of the Internet and social media. Through the Kofi Annan Foundation, Kofi Annan founded the Global Commission on Elections, Democracy and Security and recently published an op-ed which addressed the challenges to the integrity of the electoral process for high-income and low-income countries. The findings of the Commission will be released in the coming months. While I have no direct contact with inner workings of the Foundation, the outcomes from the Global Commission can have a significant influence on the political, economic and social systems of international sport governance.

Sport for development and peace is very much at the heart of democratic institutions, such as the International Olympic Committee which strives to promote universal values enshrined in the Olympic Charter. The role of the Internet and social media are often described as tools to provide access to information on programs and projects that uphold Olympic values. I do believe that greater access to information and transparency preserve the integrity of the sport for development and peace sector. However, I also believe in the need for a system of checks and balances in the areas of corruption, terrorism and crime, which the International Center for Sport Security (ICSS) aims to fulfill. ICSS and its partners are identifying weaknesses in systems of sport governance and leveraging ICTs to protect and serve the cause of peace, development and human rights. The Internet and social media will continue to evolve and so citizens will learn to adapt to new ways of living, working and playing.

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Filed under Conferences, Conflict Resolution, Corporate Social Responsibility, Education, Foreign Policy, Gender, International Development, Leadership, Networking, Olympic, Paralympic, Peace Building, Private Public Partnerships, Professional Development, Public Policy, Stakeholder Engagement, Volunteering, Youth Development

Monetizing Sport for Development and Peace: Is a Photo worth more than $1000?

In North America and Western Europe, media outlets, independent journalists and bloggers often display photos of children, adolescents and young adults in the developing world who are engaged in sport for development and peace activities. The motives behind such photos often vary from portraying a positive image of the media outlet to indirect fundraising for donor organizations. How do the subjects, or more specifically persons in the photographs benefit? This question prompted me to self-reflect about how to apply learnings from participating in international competitions, sport tournaments and conferences.

During the mid 1990s, as a high school student in the United Arab Emirates, a group of classmates from the International School of Choueifat Sharjah in the science stream asked me (an arts student) if I wanted to participate in an advertising competition with a chance to win a free trip to Paris, France. Without much thought, I literally jumped at the idea. We were a group of expatriate children from India, Korea, Iran and Lebanon with aspirations of international travel who responded to an international competition, prior to the days of the fast-moving Internet world of today. The award-winning photos below, enabled 3 team members in the advertising competition to visit Paris, France.

Tariq Mohammed and Sanaz Dadfar participating in International Advertising Competition, Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: K. Blasetti, 1995.

More than 20 years later, one of the biggest challenges in the sport for development and peace movement has been to monetize or generate significant revenue from program activities to ensure financial sustainability. Different international development actors are motivated by either profits, donations or funding from government agencies which are affected by macro and microeconomic conditions. In my humble opinion, when there are competitions, tournaments and conferences to benefit the sport for development and peace sector, perhaps donor organizations enable the travel of the subjects or deserving person(s) in the photo(s) so that there is more direct interaction between donor and recipients to further the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Tariq Mohammed and Sanaz Dadfar participating in International Advertising Competition, Dubai, UAE. Photo credit: K. Blasetti, 1995.

In the spirit of suggestions and solutions, a variety of settings come to mind for donors and recipients to interact directly. For example, a meet and greet with staff at the headquarters of a multinational sporting goods company, a lecture series at local university or a town hall meeting with the general public are just a sample of how the subjects of photos in the sport for development and peace sector can directly improve their social and economic prospects. This can be done once a year or once every four years depending on budgets of donor organizations. Given the tweeting and clicking of today’s world of short attention spans, photography is becoming a means to advertise, advocate and generate revenues.

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Filed under Conferences, Corporate Social Responsibility, Education, Foreign Policy, Grant Making, International Development, Leadership, Leisure, Networking, Peace Building, Stakeholder Engagement, Youth Development, Youth Sport

Having Fun and Keeping the Attention of Student-Athletes

It amazes me how my primary and secondary family members have influenced my explorations in sport for development and peace. When I was 11 years old, my cousin Rosanna Tharakan gave me a copy of the 1987 Pocket Edition of “Trivial Pursuit: Sport – The Authorized Game Book” by Guinness Books (as seen below). I still have the book in my possession today which has traveled with me from various places of residence. I rediscovered the book after cleaning out my basement. What is interesting about this book is that it can help teachers (which Rosanna and her husband happened to be) and coaches (of which I was trained to do) to be better at holding the attention of young student-athletes during practices and matches.

Quizzes: A coaching tool for young student-athletes.

One of the most challenging aspects of coaching for me was keeping my practices focused on skills development while motivating students to be a better version of themselves. I found that there were many in-between moments such as bus rides, sharing team meals and warm-ups, where I felt at a loss on how to maximize my time and energy for teachable moments. In other words, practices and matches can get boring fast for both student-athletes and coaches. Master teachers are always good at knowing what to say to a particular student at the right time. I have still have a long way to go before I reach the master coach level but in the spirit of coach education I thought this blog post would help coaches prepare for the upcoming squash season in New England, so here goes.

Many coaches have developed their own repertoires and are always looking to find new ways of delivering them. Quizzing student-athletes on sport or more broadly about current events at school, in the community or national and international news – during warm-ups or long bus rides may help create a dynamic team to go beyond the acts of practicing and playing to one of social action. For example, in recent months the NFL has given us a lot to consider about the safety of athletes, the roles of players and coaches with respect to national anthems and societal issues such as sexual harassment or gender-based violence. The above book and many others like it are great tools for coaches and teachers to foster team dialogues that may lead to improved performances during practices and matches, enhance team unity as well as create positive social development. Good luck coaches and student-athletes!

 

 

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Coaching, Community Development, Education, Gender, Leadership, Literature Review, Planning, Psycho-Social Support, Squash, Youth Development, Youth Sport

Managing Expectations and Over-specialization in Youth Sport

This post is not meant to relive my past or prolong my future. Much has been written in academic journals about the negative effects of specialization in youth sports and unrealistic expectations of players, coaches and parents. For example – increased injuries, parental abuse and corruption – all of which can vary, depending on a variety of factors ranging from location of events, league organizers to player participation. I am a firm believer in playing multiple youth sports and then choosing one to focus on in adult years. In my case, I played a variety of sports, one of which was swimming – which I enjoyed throughly thanks to competent coaches, good infrastructure and well-organized leagues.

Saudi Arabian Western Region Expatriate Swim League (WRESL) medals won by Tariq Mohammed 1988-89.

After winning a few swim meets for my age group and going on to break national swimming records, I went through a process of readjusting my expectations and hopes. My parents and coaches provided positive encouragement during my swimming years. I was guided by them to take an alternative route in my sport journey because I did not have the height or reach to compete as an elite swimmer. This was tough to hear for a 12 year old especially when my swimming times were good enough to compete at an international level. Nonetheless, I chose to listen to my coaches and parents who suggested I try a different sport. By turning my attention and focus to squash I was able to continue to enjoy the benefits of playing a sport while balancing my academics. I had the opportunity to play squash in college and the rest is history.

Swimming ribbons and awards won by Tariq Mohammed 1986-92.

I know 30 years later of switching from swimming to squash was a good decision. Both of these individual sports are also lifetime sports. If I were a parent of a young child or a practicing coach today, I would encourage student-athletes to make the right choice for the long run to avoid over-specialization. It can be a tedious and difficult process but if players, coaches and parents can arrive at an understanding where the best interest of the player is put first then they will be able to succeed in the long run. The “professionalization” of youth sports today, in terms of sponsorships, travel teams and increasing adult participation, make it more challenging for parents and their children to arrive at decisions that will benefit them for the long run. If you are a player, coach or parent in a similar predicament – I recommend start having the conversation – to help you arrive at the right decision.

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Filed under Coaching, Community Development, Education, Leadership, Leisure, Literature Review, Planning, Psycho-Social Support, Recreation, Youth Development, Youth Sport

Harnessing Star Power for Sport and Philanthropy

Sport and philanthropy is a decades old practice for many professional athletes, both active and retired.  As ambassadors of their sport, the athletes establish family foundations or have supported the work of existing philanthropic organizations through their charitable work.

An international development project which allowed me to gain first-hand exposure to sport and philanthropy was while helping to organize a fundraiser in 2002 for the Harvard Dominican Initiative. The premise was to leverage diaspora for philanthropic efforts, to reap rewards for community members both in the homeland and adopted countries.

Hall of Fame pitcher, Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox is one example – of many professional athletes – who has given back to his native country – the Dominican Republic – by raising funds and awareness for a variety of social and economic issues. Pedro’s generosity and appreciation towards baseball fans was demonstrated when he donated hundreds of Red Sox tickets and personally autographed baseballs to help raise money for progressive causes. All attendees of the event co-sponsored by Harvard, received a baseball autographed by Pedro Martinez.

Pedro Martinez, Hall of Fame pitcher of the Boston Red Sox autographed baseball. Photo credit: T. Mohammed, 2017.

Professional athletes and celebrities bring star power to philanthropy. They can help fuel donations to important causes and help bring about positive social change to communities at the local, national and international levels. This is considered a best practice and a win-win for stakeholders. Essentially professional athletes and professional ambassadors remind us of the importance of good stewardship to help balance people, planet and profits.

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Filed under Capacity Buidling, Community Development, Corporate Social Responsibility, Education, International Development, Leadership, Networking, Philanthropy, Planning, Private Public Partnerships, Stakeholder Engagement, Youth Development