Play International, Sport: a major driver of social innovation


During this period, which is still strongly affected by social distancing, many children remain isolated, causing significant psycho-social issues and an urgent need to recreate connections, to get back to a normal life and society. Play International wants to prove that sport can have a role to play to address this crisis.


The story is starting to sound familiar (especially if you have read our articles on Drop de Béton, Rejoué, Entrepreneurs du Monde and Ares): a charity sees its activities completely come to a halt with the announcement of the lockdown, it reflects, adapts and innovates, refusing to allow this health crisis to become a negative event in its year.

A role to play

Play International has always had a strong belief: sport is a powerful driver of social innovation. Since 1999 this charity, formerly known as Sport Sans Frontières, has led actions in Afghanistan, Burundi, Haiti, Kosovo, Senegal and France with the aim of helping to develop collective solutions for the education, inclusion and well-being of all through sport.

David Blough, executive director of Play International for over 7 years, discovered that in the COVID-19 era his charity has two roles to play.

On the one hand a sedentary lifestyle and lack of physical exercise is the fourth cause of death according to WHO and it is important to get children active again.

And on the other, it is essential to work on social connections, cooperation, and living together.


As the end of the lockdown neared, we realised that there aren’t many sports games that are simultaneously cooperative, enabling children to play together and create connections, and also compliant with the health rules

David Blough, Executive Director of Play International

It started as an intuition: the feeling that something was missing and that they were possibly able to provide a solution.

We thought that we might have a role to play”, explained David. “But before we started, we decided to go and see people working on the ground.”

Play International organised a video-conference with fifteen educators and schoolteachers with the desire to talk to them, listen to them and find out what their educational needs were.

We wanted to involve them from the start of the project to design content that would be really useful for the children.

It was during these discussions that they became fully aware of the issues of isolation and a broken social connection. The educators’ need confirmed the charity’s hunch: it is difficult to offer physical and sporting activities to children with such restrictive health measures.

The “post-lockdown” kit

The Play International teams started work and came up with a range of cooperative games respecting social distancing.

It was a bit of a lightening action”, specified David Blough. “It usually takes us quite a long time to create an activity. We held our first play sessions less than three weeks after our video-conference with the educators.”

The tests enabled them to very quickly refine the rules of the game to ensure that the children were having fun and being active while opening doors to work on the topic of living together.

The result is three games with very different aims. With “Dis m’en plus sur toi” (Tell me more about yourself) they get to know their school-mates better, with “Le code secret” (The secret code) they develop their spirit of cooperation, and with “À fond pour le collectif” (The max for the group) they must give their best for their team.

They also decided to add a short questionnaire enabling the children to share and express the emotions they have felt during this very strange year.

The kit was immediately made available to as many people as possible as the charity decided to make it freely accessible on its website (link:, after creating a free account.



“Playdagogy” to foster living together

Feedback started flooding in. Many teachers tried out the games provided by Play International which fulfilled their promises: proposing physical activities and recreating a social connection while complying with the health rules.

David Blough beamed as he shared their biggest reward: “we have several schoolteachers who told us that the children are asking to do these activities every day. When it’s the children who are asking for it... we know we’ve done a great job!

The other piece of “good news” is that many educators shared that these games could continue to work independently of COVID-19.

It was an emergency response”, explained David. “But we are already looking at how we can adapt this content to other contexts, perhaps even internationally.”


This post-lockdown kit project is representative of the new direction taken by the charity since 2012: the desire to focus on educational engineering and creating content that can then be shared around the world.

This “Playdagogy” (as they call it) is the main collaborative focus of their partnership with the Societe Generale Foundation, scaling up their programmes to the whole country with a focus on living together.


Jeunes attendant le ballon

The beneficiary is at the heart of the project

Like with many other organisations, the health and economic crisis has caused Play International to rethink its fundamentals.

We talk a lot about the opportunity to reinvent yourself after a period like this. It is not a completely clichéd expression as we saw with this extreme constraint we had to adapt.

This even reminds David Blough of the origins of WHO and its humanitarian dimension with activities originally focused on war zones or natural disasters.

And it is in situations like these where there are significant constraints that you realise you can innovate because there is a health or social emergency.


Many players have discovered this notion of frugal innovation, resourcefulness which comes from the ground. I think it is important to reconsider your ways of working. It enables you to really keep sight of the charity’s purpose. To remember that the beneficiary must be at the heart of the project.

David Blough, Executive Director ofPlay International

Play International intends to bear this re-evaluation in mind as the charity is growing. Ultimately, the period has been an opportunity for the charity to ask itself the right questions and to bolster its main mission: providing educational responses so that we can better cooperate in the future in unprecedented situations.