“We’re building societies through community organizations, and diverse groups of people in the communities are coming together to overcome differences. We bring people out to talk about child protection rights, gender equality, and health issues like clean water. The program inherently has a convening power.”
Johann Olav Koss, Founder and CEO of Right To Play
About Johann Olav Koss
In late 1993, just a few months before the opening ceremonies of the 1994 Lillehammer Winter Olympics, a young speed skater by the name of Johann Olav Koss led a humanitarian trip to the small African country of Eritrea. Working as an ambassador of the organization Olympic Aid (later to become Right To Play), the Norwegian athlete found himself face-to-face with the realities of life in a country emerging from decades of war.
Seven years later, Koss, a four-time Olympic gold medalist and social entrepreneur, founded Right To Play. Through sports and games, the nonprofit helps children build essential life skills and better futures, while driving social change in their communities with lasting impact. Right To Play works in the most disadvantaged areas of the world, engaging with girls, persons with disabilities, children affected by HIV/AIDS, street children, former child combatants, and refugees. Right To Play’s mission is to improve the lives of children in the most disadvantages areas of the world by using the power of sport and play for development, health, and peace.
After his initial trip to Eritrea, Norwegian speed-skating legend Johann Olav Koss made world headlines when he won three Gold Medals at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympic Games, breaking a total of 10 world records over the course of his career. Koss has gone to win numerous accolades, including honorary doctorates from the University of Calgary and Brock University, and was named “One of 100 Future Leaders of Tomorrow” by TIME Magazine, and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2006. Johann completed his undergraduate medical training at the University of Queensland, and completed his Executive MBA at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.
Current Operations of Right To Play
Working in both the humanitarian and development context, Right To Play is a global organization, training local community leaders as coaches to deliver its programs in more than 20 countries affected by war, poverty, and disease. Right To Play reaches 1 million children and youth through weekly activities, and has trained nearly 12,000 volunteer coaches and 5,000 Junior Leaders to help run its weekly programs.
Approach and Distinguishing Features
Right To Play’s global impact benefits one million children weekly, with play and sports programs that improve life skills, health knowledge, behavior, and classroom engagement, to name a few. Nearly 50 percent of the children and half of the volunteer coaches, teachers, and leaders are female. Right To Play involves entire communities by working with local agencies, parents, teachers, and community volunteers to implement their programs. By training community leaders as coaches that deliver its programs through its coach-teacher model, local volunteers build leadership skills and meaningful connections between youth and adults.
Right To Play also involves more than 300 Athlete Ambassadors, who are professional and Olympic athletes from more than 40 countries, and who serve as role models to the children, as well as fundraise and promote awareness.
Koss has leveraged his experience and organizational capacity by working with the United Nations to include sports in the Millennium Development Goals, and by helping national governments include sports in their social development policies.
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