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Refugees United Soccer Academy: Using soccer coaches and players as agents of change in increasing the attendance of girls in school.

iACT aims to empower refugee soccer coaches and youth to address low attendance rates of girls in school in camps eastern Chad and Cameroon.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

According to UNHCR, of the 182,000 school-age Darfuri refugee children living in 12 camps in eastern Chad, 57% are out of school. There is also progressive drop in enrollment from an average of 71% enrollment for primary school, to 20 in middle and 13 in secondary school. Most girls leave school if they marry or are unable to balance their studies with responsibilities at home. In Cameroon, of Central African refugee children, only 56% are enrolled in primary school, and lower beyond that.

Explain your innovation.

Our innovation builds upon our Refugees United Soccer Academy (Academy) program by training our existing male and female coaches in education promotion, outreach, and gender-equality, as well as the players to be the agents of change in their community and increase the attendance of girls from primary through secondary school. Currently, the Academy is operating in 7 of the 12 camps in eastern Chad and one refugee site in southeastern Cameroon, employing a total of 19 coaches and reaching approximately 8,000 boys and girls ages 6 to 13. The Academy addresses the gap in sports and physical activity for refugees by providing boys and girls a safe space to play soccer and learn about health, peacebuilding, and gender-equality. Specifically, the innovative addition to the Academy will include: - Developing and implementing structured tools, curriculum, and training to build the capacity of all 19 Academy male and female soccer coaches to serve as education ambassadors in their community. - Hosting an all coaches training camp in eastern Chad to facilitate the training of all coaches as ambassadors and foster peer-to-peer learning. - Developing and implement an engaging, age-appropriate, and visually-based curriculum for Academy players, ages 6 to 13, to learn about their rights as children, with an emphasis on their right to access education and gender-equality, and to prepare them to be education ambassadors in their community. We’ll focus on girls, but also engage boys

Who benefits?

The beneficiaries will be refugees living in camps where the Academy already operates: Goz Amer, Djabal, Mile, Kounougou, Touloum, Farchana, and Bredjing eastern Chad, and refugee site Gado, southeastern, Cameroon, and benefits will include: - Access to the curriculum for 8,000 youth ages 6-13, of which 50% are girls - Increase school attendance of girls progressing to all school levels as a result of outreach to families, schools, curriculum and mentorship from coaches and peer players - Increase capacity of Academy coaches as education ambassadors through training and curriculum iACT will measure: Attendance of girls at all school levels; attitudes of parents towards education for girls, the # of players who complete ambassador training and curriculum; the # of home and school visits by coaches; attitudes of Academy youth towards education; capacity of coaches as education ambassadors By 2018, we aim to expand the Academy to all 12 camps in Chad and 2 more sites in Cameroon

How is your innovation unique?

The Refugees United Soccer Academy is different because it is a year-round, comprehensive soccer development program that also integrates health, peacebuilding and gender-equality curriculum. Established in 2013, the Academies have a strong foundation and reputation, are completely refugee-led and have already demonstrated the ability to break down gender barriers by getting girls and women to play soccer for the first time. Additionally, our existing refugee soccer coaches sparked the idea. They began self-directed efforts to visit homes and schools and mentor vulnerable youth, and so we’re building on their existing efforts and arming children to also be ambassadors. As the only formally trained soccer coaches in their community, they are natural ambassadors and revered in the community. No similar approaches have been tried in the refugee camps we serve. Through the Academy design, operating six days a week, this idea has the ability to reach thousands of children and families.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

What will be the necessary amount of days for training and delivery to all 19 coaches spread across 8 refugee camps across 2 countries? When is best time during the Academy, if at all during soccer training sessions, and day for coaches to train and prepare youth peer ambassadors? How many youth ambassadors would they train and how many kids would those ambassadors in turn train? What tools, besides the curriculum to the youth need? What does a youth leadership curriculum look like and what should it include? What lessons can be pulled from Lead with Empathy adult leadership curriculum and which ones need to be adjusted?

Tell us more about you.

iACT is a Los Angeles-based international organization. All iACT programs are refugee-led. iACT forms deep relationships with refugees living in camps who are open, innovative, trustworthy, and concerned for the whole community. iACT programs are designed in collaboration with experts in various fields, then adapted, implemented and lead by refugees--ensuring community ownership and cultural relevance. iACT partners with Jesuit Refugee Service in Chad for in-country logistics and expertise.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

In isolated refugee camps across eastern Chad, Darfur refugees remain in limbo as their services and rations are cut and UNHCR hurries to implement a strategy of integration to make up for the reduction in support for Darfur refugees. As a result, no other organizations provide sports programming for refugee youth or focus on using sport as a tool for peacebuilding, education, gender equality, and hope.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Refugee camps Goz Amer, Djabal, Mile, Kounougou, Touloum, Farchana, Bredjing, eastern Chad Refugee site Gado, southeastern Cameroon

In-country Networks

- iACT has an existing partnership with Jesuit Refugee Service. JRS assists iACT with in-Chad program logistics and travel. - iACT employs 142 refugees total in eastern Chad, across seven camps, and 5 refugees in one site in Cameroon, as the leaders of our sports and education programs. We will work with our refugee colleagues to ensure our Refugees United Soccer Academy solution is successful in eastern Chad and Cameroon.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for less than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

iACT has been working alongside Darfur refugees in eastern Chad since 2015 and expanded to Cameroon in 2016. iACT is pioneering processes, programs, and education campaigns to improve the humanitarian refugee response globally. Personal relationships and teamwork are at the heart of our change model. We collaborate with experts and organizations across different sectors, and, most importantly, the refugee beneficiaries to design solutions at the forefront of humanitarian efforts.

Innovation Maturity

  • Early Stage Innovation: I am exploring my innovation, refining, researching, and gathering inspiration.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Los Angeles, California United States


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

We are going to work closely with refugee coaches and youth to identify specific barriers and solutions to girls’ education in their community, and create a socially and culturally-relevant coach facilitation guide and youth curriculum based on those barriers and solutions. The guide will better support our coaches when visiting families, schools, and leaders to advocate for girls staying in school, and the curriculum will arm youth with information to advocate for themselves and their peers.

Who will implement this Idea?

53 Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches will be leading the effort in their community with support from iACT programs staff. Initially, two iACT staff will travel to refugee camps to facilitate the design and implementation of the idea, including supporting the coaches and players with curriculum, research, resources, and training. Coaches and players will be implementing and leading the idea in their camp community every week and monitoring progress, barriers, opportunities, and providing feedback to iACT. We will use the feedback to inform iterations and improvements in the program design.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Our end-users are Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches and youth players between ages 6 and 13. The biggest day-to-day challenge our refugee end-users face is addressing their basic needs such as food, water, firewood, education, and healthcare. The biggest systems challenge is equal access to culturally appropriate livelihood, professional, and educational opportunities within and outside of their camp to advance themselves and restore their dignity as individuals and as a community. Refugees in eastern Chad and southeastern Cameroon face decreasing support from international aid educational aid agencies. In Chad, Darfuri refugees reside in remote areas along the eastern border where livelihood opportunities are scarce and access to existing basic services in host villages limited

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

Sustainable growth is built into our refugee-led model and focus on community partnerships. We focus on building capacity and facilitating the leadership of our refugee male and female coaches to ensure ownership, cultural relevance, and long-term sustainability of programming beyond iACT. All RUSA equipment are in-kind donations from donors and “sister” soccer clubs across the U.S. who have committed to supporting an Academy. We aim to strengthen and diversify our partnerships and connect each Academy to global soccer and education stakeholders, fostering long-term financial support.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

By 2022, we aim to scale in all 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad, 2 refugee sites in southeastern Cameroon, and three additional refugee sites globally, employing and training 69 refugee coaches and reaching 32,000 youth directly through our Soccer Academy, training, and curriculum. How might we facilitate the leadership of refugee coaches and players to ensure sustainability and replicability across refugee sites to achieve our vision for impact in girls education, each year?

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

Planned outputs and outcomes to be documented: # of refugee coaches trained, # of youth trained, completed coach facilitation guide and youth leadership curriculum, completion of all-coaches training camp, # of coach-led training with youth, # of weekly coach community outreach, and # of weekly youth-led outreach. We will work with refugee coaches to identify what information they think would be most useful in measuring the program's impact on educational attainment of girls in their community.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Year 1: Implement idea in 12 refugees camps eastern Chad, two sites in southeastern Cameroon. Year 2: Scale idea to one additional refugee site. Year 3: Scale idea to two additional refugee sites. Key steps for implementation include: Training coaches; co-designing curricula for coaches and youth; collecting feedback to inform iterations; documenting learnings; measuring impact on coaches, youth, educational attainment, and perceptions and attitudes of girls’ education; sharing adaptable model.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $50,000 and $100,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Less than 6 months

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Business Model Support
  • Program/Service Design

Attachments (1)

RUSA Story of Impact.pdf

A story demonstrating the impact and the opportunity the Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches have as being agents of change for youth and education in their community.

This inspired (1)



Join the conversation:

Photo of Vanessa Sore


Great initiative. I think playing sports is a fantastic method of enhancing education, leadership skills, etc, whilst also maintaining physical health and well being.

I am interested to know why soccer (predominantly a male dominated sport) was selected and if their was any research conducted that this would be a more receptive sport then others? Do you envisage this to be a sustainable initiative for children to participate within for many years or only a certain time frame? If so, has any consideration been given to other alternatives?

Vanessa S

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Hi, this is a great idea! My name is David Hughes and I am the Project Director for the Bendigo Inventor Awards.

Now in our 7th year, the Bendigo Inventor awards have as our focus inventions that address needs in the Emergency Services and Disaster Management space, and we offer a AUD$10,000 prize for the winning entry. The Bendigo Inventor Awards has also created an environment for inventors to obtain support for their ideas by bringing together a coalition of partners with the knowledge, skills and networks to accelerate the progression of ideas from concept through to commercialisation. Major Program Partners include Engineers Australia who are providing technical feedback, KPMG who are offering advice on commercial viability and the path to commercialisation and Red Cross, who are providing their perspective on the relevance of many inventions to disaster relief efforts. Our judging panel also contains representatives from Emergency Management Victoria, who are able to provide similar feedback on the applicability of inventions to the emergency services.

I believe your idea would be a fantastic entry into the awards. Applying is easy and can be done through our website Simply select the category that your invention applies to – ‘Concept’ or ‘Product and Prototype’, and answer some questions about your invention. All judges are required to sign a non-disclosure agreement, so your idea is protected. Entries close 5pm Friday 29th September 2017 AEST.

I very much look forward to seeing your invention go on to great success, and hope we are able to assist you in enabling that to happen. If you have any questions at all, please do not hesitate to get in touch on the phone number above, or via my email at

David Hughes
Project Director
Bendigo Inventor Awards

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Hi iACT Team!

We’re excited to share feedback and questions from our experts with you. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your Idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your Idea. Your Idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

- Our expert reviewers were excited to see your program addresses a problem that is pressing and real. They were also intrigued by model that draws on refugees themselves as the leaders/ambassadors in a positive way.
- Experts wanted to know more about the human-centeredness of the program, specifically within cultural expectations for women the implementation communities. One expert stated, “There are several concerns over whether this intervention will be desirable, both by players and the community. Will all girls want to play soccer? Will this be enough to draw them away from their other priorities such as housework and looking after siblings? Will the community be comfortable with allowing these girls to forgo their other tasks for playing soccer, potentially at a field a long way from home? The Idea seems to be both feasible and viable though based on past trials of the intervention.”
- By training other community members to take the place of coaches, experts agreed there is potential of this intervention to be sustainable, although the model to support sustainability must be developed further. Experts highlighted that if funding for equipment, training materials etc. is integrated in a sustainable way, this program has the potential to develop a model for sustainability long-term, and in a way that has the may to scale other communities.

We’re excited to know more about your contribution and the implementation viability in your target communities. Specifically, we would love to know if you have considered...
- Barriers: Are there barriers to the community being comfortable with allowing these girls to forgo their other obligations to for playing soccer, potentially at a field a long way from home?
- Soccer and Education: The link between increased success of educational outcomes and this intervention is unclear. How will playing soccer increase the child's ability to attend school or reduce other factors that are stopping attendance? How might your contribution clearly show the link between the soccer initiative and increased success of educational outcomes?
- Safety: Will the places in which the intervention is held (eg. the soccer fields) be safe for vulnerable children to get to? Will it require extended travel that is unsupervised?
- Additional Questions to Consider: What results have been realized in terms of education attendance since your program commenced? It seems this proposal seeks to strengthen trainer competence and educational content quality - is this so?

Join us for Storytelling Office Hours Tuesday, July 25, 2017 from 8:30AM - 9:30AM PST! RSVP on by Monday, July 24, 2017 Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an Idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - August 6 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your Idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

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OpenIDEO community, we have submitted our Refinement Phase responses, but we are also addressing additional community and expert comments and questions here to additional provide further clarity of our idea:

Soccer and Education: Refugee United Soccer Academy (RUSA) coaches and youth players will be trained as education ambassadors to increase and improve educational attainment of girls in their community—taking their leadership skills and influence as coaches and players beyond the soccer field.
Implementation partner: iACT operates the Refugees United Soccer Academy in partnership with Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the largest educational provider in eastern Chad and Cameroon refugee sites. Prior to implementation, iACT will work with JRS to identify the barriers of access to education for girls and baseline attendance rates of girls in school across all camps. Following each year of implementation, iACT will work with JRS and the refugee community members to measure the enrollment and attendance of girls in primary and secondary school.
At implementation, iACT will work with each set of refugee coaches, community leaders, parents, and youth in each camp and site to identify barriers to girls’ attending and continuing in school in their community. Based on their findings and insights, we will work with coaches and experts to design a facilitation guide and leadership training that prepares coaches to serve as education ambassadors in their community and to mentor the leadership of youth players.
This idea is built on the proven impact of the Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches and their already gained respect and recognition from their community. This idea seeks to extend their influence beyond the soccer field and into the education sector by visiting families, schools, and community leaders to promote the importance of girls’ attendance of school, hold discussions, and address the barriers in their community. Coaches will also select a cohort of boys and girls Academy players to receive leadership training to help them motivate, influence, and inform their peers about the importance of education for girls and boys. Youth will be challenged to come up with youth-driven solutions to addressing barriers and perceptions around girls’ being in school.
In identifying unique barriers to girls’ education in their community, soccer coaches and youth will be prepared to address those barriers and work with families, teachers, and leaders to shift perspectives on girls’ education. Through the training of youth and in conducting targeted community outreach and awareness, iACT expects coaches to directly influence the number of girls enrolled and the number of girls completing primary and secondary school.

The Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches will:
Complete leadership training with iACT
Co-design a facilitation guide and youth leadership curriculum
Conduct targeted community outreach and awareness each week
Train a cohort of boys and girls in leadership
Implement soccer games and drills that address gender equality and the value of education
Ensure every RUSA participant is attending school, identifying players that are not and working with these players and their families to get them in school
The Refugees United Soccer Academy cohort of youth players will:
Complete youth leadership training with coaches
Attend youth leadership meetings with coaches each week
Conduct outreach and awareness with their peers and families
Target peers that are out of school
Safety and accessibility: Within each refugee camp, iACT works with selected refugee coaches, families, and camp leaders to identify and agree upon a field within the camp that is both easily accessible by foot for all participants, and that is safe for the duration of play and training each day. Each field is “cleaned” and prepared for children to play barefoot in and is free of animals and motor vehicles. Coaches are trained in safety, including physical safety of children, safety of the space, and maintaining an environment free of violence and abuse. Coaches bring water and first-aid kits to the Academy field each day.

Photo of iACT

Regarding the question of whether girls will want to play soccer, iACT has not had any issues in participation rates of girls across six refugee sites in eastern Chad and southeastern Cameroon, and we have received positive feedback from players, parents, and coaches. We identified that a barrier to the participation of girls in soccer and other sports was simply the lack of opportunity or purposeful inclusion. We learned, in working directly with male and female refugee coaches to offer the equal opportunity for girls to play, girls wanted to play. Attendance of girls across all Refugees United Soccer Academies ranges from 40-to-50% of total participants.
Fatnah, one of the female RUSA coaches in refugee camp Bredjing, reflects on the need for soccer for girls in her community: said, “We know girls all over the world play soccer and play different sports, but until now, nobody in our society has ever said we could play soccer. In our society, they don’t agree for girls to play soccer. We don’t know why.” We asked Fatnah and her peers what they would do if people in their “society” continue to “disagree” with girls playing, and Fatnah responded that they would go out and talk to leaders and parents in the community about the importance of physical activities for children—boys and girls—and that sport is important for education, for their future, and for their bodies and health (Blog:

iACT spoke with a group of twenty parents in refugee camp Goz Amer to hear their thoughts on the Refugees United Soccer Academy after one year of implementation. Parents reported:
“Our children are very, very happy playing at the Academy.” - Mother 1
“Since you opened the Academy, children are not like they were in the past. They used to play by the road in the evening and do dangerous things. Now they are either at home or in the safe space of the Academy. After school, they no longer want to eat because they are too excited to go play football at the Academy!” - Mother 2
“We see that playing football is helping our children and it is also helping us, the parents.” - Mother 3
We thank all mothers and fathers. We are very proud and we care a lot about this soccer. We will try to support the boys and girls to play more.” - Father 1
“We thank you very much. You brought the idea that girls can play soccer, too. Now we see and know that girls can play soccer, too. Before, we did not know this; now we know and we support this.” - Father 2

Female coach Souhaila in refugee camp Goz Amer said what she loves most about the Refugees United Soccer Academy is that it “gives confidence and lets kids be kids.” She added, “We think it will improve their character, their health, and their future.”

In the long term, the trained coaches participating in this idea will become the trainers of other coaches and adults interested in serving as Education Ambassadors. Additionally, following their year of experience and from identifying what works in promoting girls’ education, they will have also helped iACT create an adaptable needs assessment, process, training, and curriculum to expand this idea to other refugee contexts—knowing that barriers to education will vary. iACT will work with coaches to identify what works well—whether it be the status and influence of coaches, relationship building, curriculum topics, dosage of outreach to families, schools and leaders, partnering with other community influencers, leadership training, awareness campaigns, youth ambassadors, etc.

Photo of Nancy Hoque

What a lovely idea! Perhaps you can consider partnering with Little Ripples (

Photo of iACT

Hi Nancy,
Thank you! Yes, that's something we can think about it! Little Ripples is our (iACT) preschool education program. There is a lot of overlap in the training and curriculum for Little Ripples teachers and Refugees United Soccer Academy coaches, including mindfulness, social-emotional learning, peacebuilding, play, positive behavior management, and leadership development.

Photo of Nancy Hoque

Hi Sara, That is great to hear. I worked with Little Ripples a few years back through my scarf company- SixteenR. We designed headscarves for the Little Ripples teachers. if any of the players or coaches need athletic headscarves at United Soccer Academy, I am happy to help design.

Photo of iACT

Hi Nancy,
Yes, I remember! We are in need of athletic headscarves. I'll ask my colleague to reach out. Thank you!

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Great to see connections happening on the platform! We'd love to hear if you end up connecting or collaborating further too!

Photo of Kathryn Zaniboni

Hi Sarah, The power of football is strong. Do you work with Right to Play at all?

Photo of iACT

Agreed, Kathryn!
No, we do not. We have met some of Right to Play team members over the years at conferences and we are familiar with their work. Do you recommend we reach out to them?