Skateistan's Unique Mentoring Initiative: The Goodpush Alliance
We are thrilled to be able to share with the ASDP community an interview with Rhianon Bader, Skateistan's Goodpush Alliance Skate Project Specialist. Originally from Canada and now based in Berlin, Rhianon played a key role in Skateistan's formative years in Afghanistan, and has continued to support and progress skateboarding for development for many years. Recently she took up this exciting new role at Skateistan, and shares her latest adventures with us here:
1. How did the Goodpush Alliance come about, and what is it trying to achieve?
Ever since Skateistan started there have been dozens of other social skateboarding projects reaching out to us for advice or support, but we had very limited time and resources already for our own work in Afghanistan, Cambodia and South Africa, so the support we could provide to others was pretty limited. But in the last couple years we realized that we can only reach so many kids through our Skate Schools, and we could potentially make a big difference for thousands more kids around the world if we open up and support the work of other social skate projects that are already doing good things.
In 2016, our founder Oliver Percovich and two other Skateistan Directors took part in the Ashoka Foundation Globalizer mentorship for scaling and developed the core idea and approach for how Skateistan could share knowledge with other social skate projects. Skateistan then pitched this idea around, and in late 2017 we won the largest prize at the WeWork Creator Awards in Berlin, allowing us to get started on what we originally called the "Advisory Project" and soon became the Goodpush Skateboarding Alliance.
The goal is pretty simple: we want to increase the collective impact of skateboarding-based youth development projects worldwide. Key areas that we're focusing on are child protection, social inclusion (especially girls and children with special needs), integrating skateboarding with education, and finally, building a network of support among social skate projects.
In Goodpush's pilot phase this year we selected three partners for a $5000 award and tailored advising: Make Life Skate Life (global), 7Hills (Jordan), and SkateQilya(Palestine). Between March and September this year our partners came to Skateistan Cambodia for a weeklong workshop, hosted a Goodpush training visit to their project, and did ongoing support calls with Skateistan staff.
2. What is your background that led you to this role?
I feel extremely lucky to have this role and get to lead on such an exciting project, helping to shape the future of skateboarding around the world. I kind of feel like my life experience has been leading up to this role for a long time. Firstly, I've been a skateboarder since I was 14 and it has been the guiding force in my life pretty much since then. Also, I'd worked with Skateistan before between 2010 and 2015, mostly based in Afghanistan but also Cambodia, and got the chance to be involved in basically every area of programs, operations, communications, and fundraising during the early days. Even then I was thinking about how we could play a connector/advisor role to the many smaller social skate projects that regularly reach out to Skateistan, but at the time we just didn't have the capacity to invest time into this.
I then went on to work with another NGO called the International Civil Society Centre which is an alliance organization bringing together the leadership of the world's largest international NGOs like Oxfam, Plan, Care and WWF. That was great experience in terms of learning a lot about the broader development industry, as well as the benefits and challenges of promoting collaboration between very different organizations for common goals. Before starting this role with Goodpush, I also had the chance to visit or volunteer at several other social skate NGOs, including six weeks with SkatePal in Palestine, where I got to meet lots of other people who had volunteered to build skateparks or teach skating at other skate NGO projects around the world. I think all of these experiences combined were good preparation for what I'm doing now with Goodpush.
3. What have you enjoyed most about your work with the Goodpush Alliance this year?
I really love connecting and learning about the work that other skate NGOs are doing. For example, 7Hills in Jordan is doing an amazing job of building links between local kids and kids who are refugees from Palestine, Syria, Iraq and Sudan. SkateQilya in Palestine ends every day of their summer camp with a meditation/mindfulness session. And at the new Make Life Skate Life park in Iraq they came up with a smart system for preventing loss of their loaner boards by collecting mobile phones as collateral. These are things that Skateistan and other social skate projects can all learn from too!
4. I'm sure there must be challenges with taking the learnings from Skateistan (Afghanistan, Cambodia, South Africa) and sharing them in different local contexts (Palestine, Jordan, Iraq). What have been some of the strategies that you've developed to make sure you share the valuable lessons from Skateistan while still respecting the local cultures and local ways of knowing/doing things, and unique histories of the groups/organisations you're working with?
The approach we're taking is not to try to make a bunch of mini-Skateistans, but to share best practices and learnings we've had over 10 years, leaving it up to partners to make use of the aspects that suit their needs and context. All of the projects have their own unique goals and ways of doing things, so what we've been doing with Goodpush is trying to give our partners a bit of head start by giving them an overview on some key topics where we at Skateistan learned the hard way, over time. Each of our partners told us at the start of the pilot which areas they'd be most interested in, and we've tailored the workshop visits and support calls to their needs. Some of the topics we've covered through Goodpush include skate and creative arts programming, youth leadership, child protection and social inclusion. We've also provided advice on organizational capacity topics like monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL).
This year we hosted two separate visits of our partners to our skate school in Cambodia, where they did a week of observation activities and workshops. We were able on both occasions to bring 5 people who had experience working across many different countries and contexts. It was awesome because each of the workshops had a discussion or group activity component, where we could share our experiences, challenges and strategies, which were sometimes very different between countries. This was helpful for me as well, because I got a better idea of what resources and knowledge are the most universally useful, which will help as we put together our Goodpush online toolkit later this year!
5. Can you share with the ASDP community one of the most memorable or rewarding experiences of your work this year?
There have been a ton of really cool moments this year, but the one that really stands out was when I was visiting SkateQilya in Palestine this summer. I did a workshop with about 10 of their youth summer camp counsellors on child protection and they were really receptive and enthusiastic. They actually took initiative that same evening to put together their own workshops on child protection and skatepark safety for the 60 summer camp participants, and I got to see them run these workshops with the kids the very next day! I just thought that was such a powerful example of how sharing knowledge creates infinite possibilities. The whole point of the Goodpush Alliance is for people working in social skate projects to pass on their knowledge to others, and it was amazing to see how quickly and organically this could happen.
6. It is exciting to see skateboarding NGOS and non-profits really starting to work together, and I know Goodpush as well as Pushing Boarders conference in London have been two key developments in helping make connections and further building relationships. Could you share with us your thoughts on how the community is working together and across different locations, as well as any challenges you may foresee in continuing to build upon the strong foundation that has been laid this year?
Something that's really amazing about skateboarding, and I'm not sure how much it happens in other sports, is that if you've been skating for a long time the world becomes very small. You are connected to most other skaters around the world by only 1 or 2 degrees of separation. I think because of this there's been a lot of ad hoc communication between skateboarding NGOs over the years – a lot of times over email, Facebook, Instagram or whatever. But with the Pushing Boarders event this year it was really magical, because so many of us got to meet face-to-face for the first time and it was the first time I really felt this sense of there being a strong community of social skate projects.
With Goodpush, we also brought some of the leading skate NGOs together face-to-face for the first time this year, focusing especially on giving people that work on-the-ground in their own countries (Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Myanmar) the opportunity to meet others and get inspiration. The challenge now is to find ways to make more people feel that connection since not everyone can travel to Pushing Boarders or come to visit Skateistan, but I think now the seeds are being planted and skateboarders are very good at building these networks naturally. Through Goodpush we're excited to look for ways to make it easier for projects to connect with each other and strengthen the work that all of us are doing through skateboarding.
7. So what is next phase for the Goodpush Alliance? What are some of the most exciting opportunities that you see in the near future for both Goodpush and yourself as leading this initiative?
The most exciting thing coming up is that we'll be launching the Goodpush online toolkit with training materials and resources about running a skateboarding for youth development project. These will be free to access and will include really practical templates that social skate projects can use for their programming and organizational development. The toolkit is scheduled to launch in November, and people can subscribe here to be notified once the toolkit launches!
For the next phase, we plan to facilitate the development of the Goodpush Alliance into a network for the 100+ social skate projects worldwide, promoting joint knowledge-sharing and collaboration. Skate NGOs are continuously innovating to have a bigger impact in their communities, and by working together we can increase the data showing our impact and build support for projects using skateboarding as a tool for youth development. We also want to continue bringing skate NGOs together face-to-face through small conferences, with the first one planned to take place in South Africa next year, which social skate projects will be able to apply to attend.
For more info, check out:
Rhianon's personal webpage: https://rhianonbader.wordpress.com/
Recent article on the Goodpush Alliance: https://medium.com/@Skateistan/goodpush-update-supporting-social-skate-projects-in-iraq-palestine-and-jordan-81b730c41e3e
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