A safe space for children to play sports

By guest blogger Katrine Bruun Bonnén

The citizens of Beirut are facing several challenges if they want to stay physically active. The city is full of cars and the traffic is heavy. Membership of a sports club is a luxury many can not afford and there are hardly any places for free public play. This is causing obesity and diabetes rates to be on the rise. To break the disturbing statistics future generations need more opportunities for physical activity in their everyday life.

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Youth in Beirut using what space is available

A safe environment where children can develop their potential
The latest report on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Lebanon released last month revealed both improvements as well as challenges that have to be faced. Amongst the latter Lebanon’s commitment to create a safe environment where children can develop their potential in line with the fundamental principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child was reaffirmed. A safe environment to develop potential must also include a safe place to do physical activity. A further look into the report shows that it also concludes that the opportunity to play sports is not available for children free of charge.

Lack of public spaces in Beirut
So what are the chances that children living in Beirut can meet up and play a match of football in their neighborhood without spending a lot of money on membership fees? Or what are the opportunities for the youths who want go for a run in the streets? Well, these young people might face some difficulties. The problem is, that there is a lack of green, public spaces in Beirut, as described in earlier posts on this blog. While the public spaces in Beirut have decreased the population have increased over the later years. WHO recommends that urban areas should have a minimum of 9 m2 of green space per person available with an ideal standard between 10 to 15 m2 (UNDP). Beirut has as little as 0.8 m2 per person. But isn’t this just the reality of the Middle East, one of the most contested areas in the world? Well, according to UN Habitat, Middle Eastern cities consist of only 2 % public space, compared to 12 % in an average European city. But in Beirut the number is mere 0.5 % (The Economist), so Beirut seems to be in a league of its own. The biggest park in Beirut is Horsh Beirut, but the park is fenced in and the entrance is restricted and only open in the weekends. The only public places you can go and play sports for free are in Qasqas and Corniche El Nahr in Ashrafieh which thus should make it up for the approximately 1,6 million people who lives in Beirut (World Bank). The public place in Qasqas is very popular and well attended, which indicates that more places like this is needed in Beirut.

Car accumulation in Beirut
If you want to stay active, an alternative to the public spaces could be a run or a ride on your bike. But in Beirut that option also seems to meet some severe challenges. The sidewalks are often bumpy, full of trash or parked cars and sometimes the sidewalks are non-existing so you would prefer to run in the road. According to WHO’s Global Status Report On Road Safety in 2015 there are no policies that promote walking and cycling. You rarely see a bike or a runner in Beirut and it’s easy to understand why. Precarious road conditions, heavy traffic and risky driving cause a high number of road casualties. In 2013, the traffic mortality rate was 22.6 out of 100.000, 43 % of which were pedestrians (WHO). The roads are not designed for runners or bikers so this is not a place to turn to for physical exercise.

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Wanna go for a run?

Diabetes on the rise
The citizens’ access to safe spaces for exercise is an important factor in order to reduce the high level of diabetes cases that Lebanon is facing. According to a report from International Diabetes Federation, 12.2 % of the population in Lebanon had diabetes in 2015. In comparison the global prevalence rate is 8.5 %. An unhealthy diet and a sedentary lifestyle is resulting in rising obesity among the population. As many as 65 % of the Lebanese are overweight, and every fourth men and every third woman are obese (WHO). One of the main risk factors of developing diabetes is overweight. Also the urban life is linked with the disease due to factors such as increased junk food consumption, the lack of space for exercise and economic inequalities. The citizens of Beirut might be aware of how to live a healthy life, but knowledge by itself is not enough, as social determinants also have a significant impact on people’s lifestyle. Before the Syrian crisis, one out of four of the residents of Lebanon had problems covering the basic needs such as rent, food and health care. With the high number of displaced people today this number is now estimated to more than one out of three, making a nutritious diet an option not available to many.

Free sports for children and youth
The list of barriers for physical activity is long and includes a severe lack of public spaces for exercise, membership fees that are only affordable for a fraction of the population, and heavy traffic that makes it difficult for the individual to stay active running or biking. These are just some of the challenges the citizens of Beirut are facing if they wish to stay fit and healthy. And if people are not provided with the option to choose a more healthy and active lifestyle then the obesity rates will continue to increase leading to an epidemic rise in non-communicable diseases such as diabetes.

The Municipality of Beirut seems to be aware of all this, as they in partnership with the NGO GAME are looking for more places for play. One of the projects is to find an unused building, which can be refurbished as a public indoor street sports facility where the children and youth of the city can engage in sports. GAME which is founded in Denmark but has been present in Lebanon since 2007 has engaged more than 10,000 children and youth through its weekly football, basketball and dance activities across the country. In the first month of GAME’s 10 year anniversary season, more than 800 children have benefitted from the flexible and accessible sport-for-all opportunity. A delegation from the Municipality of Beirut visited GAME’s indoor street sports facility in Copenhagen in February this year to get inspiration for a similar facility in Beirut. Finding a suitable space is still the next big step to move ahead on the pressing need for more public spaces for play, but unfortunately the Municipality hasn’t yet succeeded in finding a building they are willing to prioritize for the purpose.

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Children participating in GAME’s weekly street sports practices in Beirut

If staying active and healthy is a priority amongst the population, the promise to include it in the urban planning of Beirut must be taken seriously. Lebanon has faced and is facing many challenges, but without a population with a healthy mind in a healthy body, the challenges are not going to get any easier. A new bike path across the city is supposedly on its way, but it would suit the Municipality of Beirut to fulfill its commitment to establish more free public spaces where children and youth can play and engage in sports. This will both serve to prevent lifestyle diseases as well as let people with different backgrounds meet and build social ties across Lebanon’s many divides.

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When there is no public space for play

We all know it. Physical exercise is a game changer when it comes to “mens sana in corpore sano” – a healthy mind in a healthy body. It makes you happy and lets you live longer and better lifes with less illness. But what to do, when there are no places for exercise and play?

Last year my wife, three kids, and I left our healthy and wealthy Scandinavian comfort zone and moved to Lebanon. Because we wanted to do our part in unfolding the potentials in this fragile country torn by war and conflict. We knew that things were going to be different. We knew that the country was heavily burdened with as much as 25 % of the population being refugees – primarily from Syria, Iraq, and Palestine. We also knew that stable and unlimited internet, 24 hours electrical power, and the luxury of always having running water in the tap was being left behind.

What we hadn’t anticipated was the struggle we had to fight to stay physically active. The reasons are many. Back in Copenhagen we didn’t own a car because biking around the city was the quickest and healthiest way to get around. In a city like Beirut with its heavy traffic and no bike lanes, this is not an option. Going to a gym will cost you 120-150 USD per month per person, which is a bit steep when you are a family of five. And then there is the public spaces. Who doesn’t like to play ball in the park or go for a run? The problem is that public space comprise only 2 % of the cities in the Middle East, compared to 12 % in average European cities. And in Beirut it’s down to 0.5 % (The Economist, 2016).

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Shrinking public space in Beirut: The cars have taken a bite of the green.

Can you break a sweat on 0.5 % of the city’s space? Yes, of course. But only if you get access. And access seems to be the problem. Lebanon has a thing for fences. The biggest park in both Beirut and Tripoli (second largest city in Lebanon) are fenced in and only open on weekends. WHO recommends 60 minutes of physical activity for children. Not just on weekends, but each day. How do you honor that, when the park is closed five days a week and when many of the other public gardens are bushes, benches, and desolated fountains? The fact that in the recently renovated Sanaya Park children are not allowed to run on the playground, doesn’t make it easy either.

What’s missing are accessible public spaces, where people can meet and practice their right to the city. Signe Lund Brandis – a former intern at GAME Lebanon – has recently shown this in her master thesis “Public Space in Beirut”. In Beirut it is not necessarily ownership that enables or limits the usage of space, as Brandis makes evident. The access to the limited spaces owned by the municipality is also key. And the remodeling of these spaces to active zones where citizens can meet across divides is a good place to start if you want to build a stronger and more cohesive population. How are we going to respect each other, if we never meet and interact? And what better place to do so than at a public space through a game of basketball or ping-pong?

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Haddadine in Tripoli, where an old fountain will soon be turned into a miniature recreational park. Stay tuned.

The good news are, that both in Beirut and Tripoli the municipalities have opened their eyes and are now trying to re-invent what public spaces can look like. From using old abandoned buildings for street sports in Beirut, to opening up the legendary Fair in Tripoli – a never completed masterpiece by the world renowned architect Oscar Niemeyer – for basketball tournaments. Sometimes it doesn’t take more than a few hundred square meters to make public space, where children and youth can meet to play sports and socialize. Out of the many projects the non-profit GAME Lebanon has engaged in to create more opportunities for play, one of my favorites is a small pocket park in Tripoli that UN-Habitat has invited GAME Lebanon to help design and activate. The project will turn an fenced-in desolated fountain into a mini-football and ping-pong arena as well as a safe place where the women of the neighborhood can meet outside the home.

And this is exactly the point. We can change and shape the cities the way we want them. Cities are human creations and supposedly the epitome of civilization. But if they are unhealthy and without safe places for interactions with fellow citizens, how civilized are they then? Let’s create liveable cities with more public spaces for play.

Halvering af isprisen gør en forskel for Somaliland

Kom med på tur til Fair Fishing i Somaliland, hvor din udsendte har fået en rundvisning af Said Hussein og følt sig stolt over at være dansker


Man skulle tro, at en halvering af prisen på is var en god nyhed for alle børn med en sød tand
. Men i dette tilfælde, er det noget, som har positive konsekvenser for en hel nation. Isen der er tale om er nemlig frossen vand, som bliver brugt til at holde friskfanget fisk kolde i havnebyen Berbera, to timers kørsel fra Somalilands hovedstad Hargeisa. Ligesom man gør de fleste andre steder i verden, hvor man har en fiskeindustri.

Problemet i Somaliland har været, at fiskeribranchen stort set har været ikke-eksisterende siden borgerkrigen (1988-1993). Her blev bådene og infrastrukturen ødelagt. Fiskeriet var ellers kommet godt i gang efter at den somaliske regering i samarbejde med det internationale samfund havde opstartet sektoren i årene efter den første store hungersnød i 1977.

En af de væsentligste årsager til at fiskeindustrien har haft vanskeligt ved at komme i gang efter borgerkrigen, er at prisen på strøm er over 1 dollars pr. KWH – eller ca. fire gange så meget som i Danmark. Intet sted i verden er den dyrere. Og strøm, ja det skal man bruge i store mængder for at producere is til at holde fiskene kolde, så de kan blive solgt i hovedstaden og resten af landet.

Den dansk-somaliske organisation Fair Fishing har siden 2013 været med til at opbygge fiskeribranchen i Somaliland. Organisationen blev startet på en ide fra Jacob Johansen i lyset af det dengang stigende pirateri ud for Afrikas Horn.


I dag er det med 100 både og 45 aktive fiskeripartnere lykkedes at få fiskeriet i Berbera på fode. Med 6 frysecontainere doneret af Mærsk, er prisen på is blevet halveret. En nylig effektmåling fra Nordic Consulting Group (NCG, 2015) viser desuden, at efter man er begyndt at fabrikere og sælge fiskeudstyr (net, kroge, etc.) som en del af projektet, er fiskernes indtjening steget med hele 60 %.

Og hvad har alt dette så med pirateri at gøre? Jo, ved at styrke mulighederne for at skabe et livsgrundlag på lovlig vis, begrænses piraternes rekrutteringsmuligheder. Hvorfor blive pirat og risikere liv og lemmer, når man kan tjene gode penge på at være sin egen lykkes smed som fisker? Fair Fishing viser vejen.

Nonprofits from Good to Great

Nonprofits from Good to Great

I have recently finished my Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Henley Business School. The following is an executive summary of my Master Challenge which takes inspiration from Jim Collins (2001) and looks at how nonprofits can grow from good to great.

Today civil society is playing an increasingly visible and effective role in tackling global challenges. Nonprofits are enabling solutions that the public and the private sectors have not had the resources or the will to solve. But although significant progress has been made within the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG), the development is stalling or going the wrong way in other cardinal areas. The challenge seems to be, that as long as the nonprofits remain small-scale in terms of impact and revenue, it is unlikely that they will deliver in a significant way on the promise of a better tomorrow.

The question is therefore how international nonprofit organizations can grow in order to achieve the scale required to respond appropriately to societal and global problems?

Based on evidence gathered amongst top leaders in four successful nonprofits, the overall conclusion of the research project is that the nonprofits managed to scale by adhering (fully or partially) to four of Jim Collins interrelated six concepts unified in his Flywheel Framework (Figure 1.). In addition to these four another two emerging concepts were found to be influential in the buildup and breakthrough to greatness.

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Figure 1.: For-Profit Flywheel Framework

So what lead to success in the nonprofit sector? Well, starting with the CEO, the person heading the organization had a character that combined personal humility with professional will. Secondly the nonprofits became professionalized through an adaptation of business culture with a common language that allowed them to set ambitious organizational goals. People not in favor of the new culture were helped off the bus. Thirdly the nonprofits confronted the brutal facts and created shared meanings of them. Fourthly they focused on what they could become the best in the world at while at the same time following their passion and their economic drivers (Hedgehog Concept). Once they had defined their Hedgehog Concept they sat one single ambitious goal to guide them. Fifthly they created a culture of discipline with fanatical adherence to the Hedgehog Concept and slashed bureaucracy along the way. Last but not least it was found beneficial to remain self-implementing organizations that show intentions of scaling the impact, but wait until the timing is right (Figure 2.).

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Figure 2.: Nonprofit Flywheel Framework

The research implies that if all six concepts of the Nonprofit Flywheel Framework are adhered to, the benefits will not only be the scaling of the organization to new heights, but also a scaling of its impact. With this powerful combination of scaling both organization and impact, the literature suggests that the nonprofit can start delivering results at the needed scale and thus respond appropriately to societal and global problems.

In Chapter 5 concrete recommendations on scaling nonprofits as well as how to stay successful can be found.

Please feel free to drop a note here or on twitter at #gtgnon or @simonprahm

Download the report (PDF, 1MB)