The Priceless Gift of Serendipity
We often talk about the serendipitous nature of conversations that lead to meaningful innovation. We also like to talk about the system magic that happens when lives touch. We first met Yinka Suleiman 3 years ago at a Community Resilience workshop sponsored by Birmingham City Council and a local forward-thinking Housing Association called Accord Group. Based in Abuja, Nigeria, Yinka was in Birmingham as part of an international programme (Commonwealth Professional Fellowship) to explore examples of social innovation in communities across the globe.
During her time here, she also worked with us on a prototype and helped put design an algorithm that harnessed new ways to connect citizens to services in order to create social value. Our shared goal was to better understand why digital tools widely used in industry to create value tended to have a poor uptake in the public service sector.
In terms of grass-roots sports engagement, Yinka was also keen to understand first hand an inspirational story that is viewed from the outside with great curiosity. The UK had undergone an extraordinary transformation over the preceding two decades. In 1996, at the Atlanta Olympics, the UK team failed to secure a single medal. Fast forward to the 2016 Rio Olympics and Team GB arrived as favourites in a range of disciplines and finished second overall in the medals table. British elite athletics remains at an all-time high in terms of performance on the world stage and, by no mere coincidence, grass-roots participation is growing from strength to strength.
What’s Nurtured in Youth Stays For Life
Back home in Nigeria, by contrast, Yinka had lived through a marked period of decline in grass-roots sports and other creative pass-times while at the same time seeing youth crime and drug abuse rise exponentially. Growing up in the north-western Nigerian state of Kaduna, she developed a passion for sports and was a keen athlete; an experience that affected her deeply. It fuels her passion for all things sport and now translates into a deep-rooted desire for young people everywhere to discover for themselves the joy of sport, whatever their social circumstances. She advocates for the wider wellbeing and empowering life-skills sport participation offers to females in particular. These skills, Yinka believes, when nurtured in youth stay with a person for a lifetime.
Sports, Smiles and Communities
Back then in 2016, we were exploring the triangulation of health, physical activity and housing services in relation to social outcomes. The work involved a range of community groups and individuals who were testing new ideas ranging from nutrition, exercise for mental health, and creative journaling. So the connection with Yinka made for a conversation that sparkled with possibilities. Naturally, we thought it would be interesting to keep talking and exchange learning from our respective experiences in Abuja and Birmingham. And now, in the blink of an eye, three amazing years have passed and it’s been quite a journey.
It has been a privilege to collaborate with Yinka and her team at the African Centre for Youth Sports Development (ACYSD). We were delighted to contribute our engagement tools and offer advice on programme management. We also drew on the skills and experience of members of our network to share ideas and resources. Chief amongst these was thinking on the role of community navigators to identify behaviours and values and connect beneficiaries around which strategies could be shaped to increase engagement.
The overall package combined digital know-how with real conversations in real places. Perhaps, most interesting from our perspective was the opportunity to apply the same tools and methods to a social prescribing prototype in Birmingham that Yinka and her team deployed in Abuja; allowing us to compare notes and observations as we progressed. It seems when ideas are rooted in a community they’re more likely to work well elsewhere because at the end of the day we’re all human.