Active play and education when working hand and hand can go far in advancing community development. Coaches Across Continents (CAC), an NGO registered in both the USA and UK, links all three through their unique Self-Directed learning model that educates people through play to identify, address, and solve problems specific to their communities. Through this multidimensional approach, CAC empowers communities with the knowledge and skills needed to pave their own future. The organization mobilizes these missions through consulting services provided to funders and communities all around the world.
We had the pleasure of meeting with Brian Suskiewicz, Chief Executive Strategist at Coaches Across Continents, to hear his insight into CAC’s programs and activities.
Brian Suskiewicz, CAC: We are the global leaders in the sport for development space that works with corporations, foundations, and governments that use play and sport to make change in communities and address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We are the experts in helping them do that. These organizations don’t necessarily have hands-on expertise but they’ve got great vision, willpower, desire to change and help improve the world. That’s where we fit in, being able to help guide them on best practices and ways to do that across a host of UN SDGs and in a host of markets.
CAF America: Tell us about how you approach the corporate space in particular. I know our work with you has come from a certain large corporate donor, and we know many charities we work with are seeking that type of support. What is your strategy when you approach corporate funders?
CAC: First and foremost, we see our relationships with them as a partnership. We don’t see it as they’re giving us money, we’re gonna do what they want and likewise we wouldn’t do the reverse and make demands of them. Above all else, we have shared values, whether it’s a corporation or foundation, their core mission being play, education or community change. We work with some organizations that get into deeper topics such as sexual reproductive health and rights. So if we have shared core values, we start looking at how we can use our expertise and their expertise to find how we can build something great together. Our motto is purposeful play, using play to create education outside of the classroom. Once that synergy and relationship is there, it is much easier to dive in and figure out projects and initiatives to work on together.
CAF America: Tell us more about your Theory of Change.
CAC: Our theory of change is that everything must be done from the bottom up. A lot of theories of change tend to be top down and that lends itself to an outsider coming in and saying this is the way that things should be done. Rather our role, as Coaches Across Continents, and why our partnerships with local organizations are so strong is because they are already part of the community. They deliver programming in partnership with local communities. Essentially, these local partners have an understanding of their own community, they have leaders from their own community, they have participants from within their community. Our role as Coaches Across Continents is to help them develop their own organizational capacity, help them develop their practitioner and coaching capacity – overall, our goal is to help improve abilities so that they can solve their own problems.
CAC: For us, the UN Sustainable Development Goals provide a very clear pathway of the biggest issues facing the entire planet. It covers everything from Gender Equality (SDG 5), to Health and Well-Being (SDG 3), to a few on climate action. The SDG framework provides a very clear way for us to hone in on the actual problems and develop a solution. I think a lot of us know that, for example, Health and Well-Being, we know that we want to become healthy, but if you read into the targets of UN SDG 3 it dives into obesity rates, it dives into communicable diseases. It was written well before COVID-19 and was used to address Malaria, along with other communicable diseases be it human passed or other. For us, the SDGs provide a way to focus our work and then on a bigger scale, provide a way for organizations with similar goals to work together. For Coaches Across Continents, the SDGs give us a common language across donors, corporations, foundations, all the way down to local community based organizations and the coaches that we work with.
CAF America: What aspects of your approach to finding funders have led to success, specifically with US donors?
CAC: In terms of how we operate as a nonprofit, we are a 501c3 and we’re also registered with the Charity Commission in the UK. We are trying to push back on the traditional model of a charity stepping up, cap in hand, Oliver Twist style, saying “can I please have a little?” Now we see ourselves, and other experts in the space, acting more as consultants to bring social initiatives to life. We’ve also seen a switch in the last 5-15 years where corporations are willing to engage in the social space and are seeing how positive that is, both for their employees and also to incorporate it in their bottom line because its the right thing to do. We see it as a partnership, but also as a business partnership.
CAF America: Is there something you’d like to add that we haven’t discussed already?
CAC: CAC is driven by our own core values. If it’s the right thing to do, we will find a way to do it. We are not in the business of becoming a massive for profit company. But that said, the more opportunities and the more doors that open, the more we are able to engage in our mission which is helping communities develop by addressing the UN SDGs. The most pressing issues right now are active citizenship, gender equality, and climate action. We’ve also identified something new that we want to bring to life called “play every day.”
Again, if it’s the right thing to do, we will find a way to do it and when we find people with similar visions, it leads to great things. There is a whole lot of change that can be made if governments, corporations, or foundations say ‘I’m going to put our expertise and resources behind this and support the groups that can make the change.’ That’s a large part of the amplification, there are so many small organizations doing great work and if they had the resources they could expand to a larger geographical area, larger population/target group, or they can go deeper with the group that they are already working with. This is why multi-year partnerships are critical now, more than ever.
Profile of Impact
Brian Suskiewicz is the Chief Executive Strategist for Coaches Across Continents. He holds a Masters Degree in Education from Boston College where he was also on the University soccer team and swim team. Following twelve years coaching professionally at the university level in the USA where he holds a United States Soccer Federation ‘A’ License, he joined CAC in 2010 first as a volunteer and then progressing to Chief Executive. He has helped guide the development of CAC over the past decade. He was a co-author on CAC methodology on Self-Directed Learning in the journal Soccer & Society. Originally from Washington, DC, he enjoys surfing and traveling and currently lives in Nicaragua.