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Partnering with the Barça Foundation for Net Progress

There’s no substitute for good teammates.

“While I’ve been fortunate to have scored many goals, I never would have done it without my teammates. Football is a TEAM sport. If you don’t work as a team, you will never achieve anything,” writes FC Barcelona Captain Lionel Messi.

Communication, coordination, and collaboration between partners are crucial in philanthropic work too. For an organization like the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), which makes grants to support initiatives aiming at lasting positive societal impact, the work proceeds fundamentally through partnerships with a constellation of grantees. Many of these partnerships develop into enduring collaborations, and SNF has found such a relationship with the Barça Foundation.

There’s no magic recipe for creating lasting positive change, but two fundamental ingredients are deep familiarity with the area of work and an innovative idea to change the underlying conditions. For philanthropic foundations, committed, knowledgeable partners working in a particular area are positioned to bring both to the table. Sport is one of the primary fields in which SNF works, and when it comes to sport, who knows the field more intimately than FC Barcelona? Who better to pitch ideas for the pitch?

In 2011, the Barça Foundation developed the FutbolNet methodology, which uses the game of soccer and other sport activities to give young people a chance to exercise agency, take responsibility, and include others. FC Barcelona had the depth of experience to understand the relational dynamics at play on the soccer field and the insight to harness these dynamics to build interpersonal skills. But this depth of familiarity with the soccer field does not mean that the scope of the project is circumscribed to the boundaries of the soccer pitch. The animating idea of FutbolNet is that through a carefully structured model of interaction and competition, underpinned by discussion and reflection among the players, tendencies developed on the field can be durable beyond it. The goals and impacts are much broader than the game of soccer.

This expansive vision for what can be achieved through sport parallels SNF's own mission, which includes health & sport as one of four streams of grant making, but is intentionally broad. It recognizes that work in the area of health & sport should not—and cannot—be isolated from work in the areas of arts & culture, education, and social welfare. These four streams flow together in our grant making, and in the Barça Foundation SNF has found a partner whose work recognizes these synergies.

The FutbolNet methodology is, by design, a collaborative experience for participants, but the implementation of the methodology is also, by design, collaborative. To implement the FutbolNet program, the Barça Foundation partners with organizations and individuals living and working in the local communities it serves. Trainers from the Foundation travel to the local partner organizations to teach the methodology through hands-on workshops. FutbolNet is essentially an idea built on expertise, sharing the idea and expertise through trainings multiplies the potential for impact far beyond what could be achieved if the program was implemented only by Barça Foundation coaches.

Not only does a collaborative outlook multiply the reach of the program, it also engenders further collaboration. At SNF's annual conference in 2017, representatives from Henry Street Settlement in New York struck up a conversation with representatives of the Barça Foundation. As a result of this serendipitous meeting, the Barça Foundation now conducts FutbolNet trainings for coaches and teachers at after-school programs affiliated with Henry Street.

SNF representatives recently had the chance to see a FutbolNet training for teachers and coaches in action at Henry Street, conducted by Barça Foundation trainers. Seeing the training firsthand made it clear why the program lends itself to collaboration with a range of partners.

FutbolNet is built to be adaptable to a variety of contexts and audiences. For each activity demonstrated, a few variants were shown that could be selected and further adapted based the group’s needs. The FutbolNet methodology was developed with groups of 25 or so participants in mind, but the Barça Foundation trainers mentioned that in the context of certain school gym classes in New York, it had been used with groups of 70 to 100 kids. They also shared a case study of how FutbolNet activities might be adapted to include children with disabilities.

SNF’s collaboration with the Barça Foundation lead to the adaptation of FutbolNet to another context in which the playing field could be used as neutral space to foster social cohesion. With support from SNF, FutbolNet expanded to reach more than 3,000 children around refugee sites in Lebanon, Italy, and Greece. The program includes both local and refugee children, promoting social inclusion and productive conflict resolution. As part of the adaptation of the program to this context, SNF supported the development of sports kits for use at refugee sites by FC Barcelona’s Innovation Hub. At FC Barcelona’s General Assembly in October 2018, SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos announced the renewal of SNF’s support for the program for an additional three years.

An evaluation commissioned by the Barça Foundation on the impact of its FutbolNet work in refugee sites found that nearly half of participants reported increases in self-esteem and decreases in feelings of fear following participation in the program. The report also highlighted anecdotally how FutbolNet becomes a highly anticipated part of the day for the young people involved.

Just as SNF’s work is not compartmentalized by area of focus, the productive partnership with the Barça Foundation has grown to focus on areas further afield from sport as it’s expanded. Through the ongoing relationship, SNF came to support the construction of a new Pediatric Cancer Center at Sant Joan de Déu Children’s Hospital in Barcelona. The Barça Foundation also supports the construction of the Center, which is set to become one of the largest pediatric oncology centers in Europe. On October 18th, 2018, at an event marking the laying of the cornerstone for the Center, a new grant commitment from the Leo Messi Foundation and matching grant commitment from SNF brought fundraising goals for the Center to completion.

Collaboration with thoughtful, visionary partners like the Barça Foundation will continue to be central to SNF’s future work. As one collaboration begets another, SNF will continue to seek out good teammates around the world.