Making an Impact: Local Knowledge and Passion vs Science.

If you had all the money in the world needed to solve the world’s problems, would you support a program founded upon local knowledge and passion, or an evidenced-based scientific approach?

Off the back of my last post about creating a Logic Model, I coincidentally read a couple of articles in the Non Profit Quarterly, about the pros and cons of “Strategic Philanthopy”. This opened up a  debate between Bill Schambra (director of the Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal) and Paul Brest (former President of the Hewlett Foundation).

The links to the articles are below along with my one paragraph synopsis and take-aways. My insights are written based upon my practical experiences in developing a non profit organization, and clearly not as an academic!

My Synopsis:

Article 1: The problem with Strategic Philanthropy: (Bill Schambra)

Local knowledge, traditional wisdom, compassion and common sense should drive foundation and philanthropists’ funding decisions, over scientific rationality (logic models and theory of change, etc) when it comes to solving human problems. These attributes tackle problems quickly based upon understanding the needs and problems of the communities they serve. There are too many factors causing such problems, for any science to fundamentally get to, and prevent the problem at its root cause. The time spent on developing the science (models, systems, etc) to understand this is time that could have been better spent delivering the service. So, if the program is is delivering a good service to treat a particular problem “write the damn check”.

Article 2: Bill Schambra’s problem with Strategic Philanthropy: (Paul Brest)

Strategic philanthropy should include listening to the feedback and wisdom from the local community but it should be balanced with empirical evidence. Statistics can help us understand some of the underlying causes of problems, which while they may not fit neatly into one box, may enable more effective allocation of resources delivery of services. Theories are scientific by definition and may not be proven, per se, but basing decisions on the best evidence available is more effective to serve those in need, than ignoring evidence or not putting the effort into collecting such evidence.

My Take-away as a Non Profit Organization:

1) Balance: I’m not being non-commital but It is all about balance. Heart & passion combined with local knowledge can drive a program towards achieving positive outcomes. However, if you don’t have a way to evidence those outcomes, (some form of science) how do you know you are really achieving them.

2) Emergency relief as an exception? In emergency relief situations this may be different; given the need to react immediately and tackle an issue using local knowledge & common sense. Sometimes you just have to “Play what you see” as we say to the kids in our program.

3) We started with passion & local knowledge: My charity’s program – Play Rugby USA – was founded, driven and inspired upon heart and passion, based upon a belief that there was a local need and a vision that our services could change children’s lives for the better. We couldn’t prove it at the time, nor did we have any way of evaluating our outcomes.  We just knew it would work and had to sell partner organizations and funders on our vision and with our passion. We delivered through partnerships and expanded from 20 schools in 2006 to over 300 today.

4) We improve with both passion and science: Now, the program continues to be driven by the same passion but by having the appropriate systems and processes (science) in place, we are now able to more effectively improve our program and prove that we are making progress every day towards achieving our long-term vision to create “A Better World through Rugby”. While the non-profit environment is different from business, it is still competitive (and so am I) but we  understand the importance of team work and collaboration. We collaborate and partner with any organization that compliments our vision (and we do regularly) but the fact remains, if we want to fully fund our program and build capacity for the future, we also need to differentiate ourselves and be the best we can possibly be. Part of this means being outcome & evidenced-based, so we have benchmarks to build from. Having frameworks in place such as a Logic Model and Theory of Change help us to continuously improve our program and provide a better service (the reason we started in the first place was to deliver this service). The frameworks also, of course, help us secure much-needed funding.

5) Philanthropists & Foundations: Philanthropy is defined by Merriam Webster Dictionary as: “goodwill to fellow members of the human race; especially : active effort to promote human welfare.” It is therefore fundamentally about humanitarianism and a desire to improve people’s quality of life, through giving. So, on the surface it seems being more about “Playing what you see”. Luckily, there are some philanthopists and foundation that just “get it” and fund programs because they appreciate intrinsically, the value in the services being given. Our friends, at the LA84 Foundation are a great example of this. They understand the intrinsic value in youth sports. They like the fact we have a logic model but they don’t require it. They appreciate the fact we have kids playing a team sport, is better than those kids hanging out on the street. All charities need supporters like these.

But, the problem is – there isn’t enough foundations or philanthropists like this, or enough giving of money to solve all the world’s social problems. I say this with little data, but clearly not all the worlds problems are solved!

6) So, what would I do? Well if I had enough money to be a philanthropist, I would want to make the most impact I could. I’d support programs with passion, talent, leadership and understanding of their local community combined with a clear vision – first. However, I would want them to either have a proven ability to measure their impact or minimally a willingness & commitment to do so (science)- as we did in our charity. I would consider this part of them “Going-Forward”- striving to learn, improve and never give up (again, as we teach our kids). Otherwise, how would I know my money had been better invested here than elsewhere? This would be true even if I had enough money to solve all the world’s problems. I’d need to allocate that money effectively or it wouldn’t work. Without any science, based largely on playing what I see from exploring local communities, I’d likely get it wrong. Do I support the mother with AIDs, or a starving child? So for me, it’s a balance. However, forced to make a choice one way or the other:  I’d never fund a program that lacked local knowledge & passion, no matter how scientific their approach was. I can’t say it would be the same, the other way around!

How about you?

Making an Impact: Creating a Dynamic Logic Model

Whether you are a head coach, business manager or sports-for-change program manager, to achieve desired outcomes from your team, project / campaign or program, you need a strategic framework for success. By designing this framework, you provide a coordinated roadmap (game plan) for your team to be successful. One valuable component to an effective roadmap / intentional program design is creating a Dynamic Logic Model.

As the name suggests, building a Logic Model itself is a straight-forward enough process and can be a really valuable team exercise.

In the Rugby4Good space, we incorporate and regularly review 7 components in and around our Logic Model to continuously improve our program design. There are of course limitations with a logic model (as there are with most theoretical models) but so long as you recognize these, the Logic Model still delivers significant value.

Here’s a blank template of a Logic Model. If you click on it, it will take you to a downloadable PPT template, courtesy of our friends at Edgework Consulting who helped us create the Logic Model for Play Rugby USA a few years ago:


1) Problem Statement: what problems are you addressing?

For example, a team is loosing too many matches and wants to improve its winning record, a business is loosing customers and wants to increase customer retention. In the sport-for-change space, perhaps it might be young people in poverty being disconnected from opportunities.

2) Vision and Impact: looking forward long-term, what are you trying to achieve?
Looking forward at headlines years from now, for your team, project, campaign, program – what are you trying to achieve? The team goes undefeated for first ever time, 100% of customers recommend us to their friends? In the R4G space we’re looking to create “A Better World through Rugby”.

More specifically, Play Rugby USA for example is looking for our participants to:

i) achieve pro-social financial autonomy;

ii) to be anchored in and anchors within their communities; and

iii) improve their long term health for themselves and their families.

We call these Long Term Impacts that help us define how we have achieved our vision and importantly, shape our program components to achieve them.

3) Define and Align Outcomes: what short and medium term outcomes do you need to achieve for each LT impact to be met?

For example, for Play Rugby USA:
Short Term: increasing participants’ levels of physical activity, aligns to Medium Term: improving their fitness; or

ST: increasing the number of friends participants have at school, aligns to MT: improving school culture.

4) Quantifying parameters with outputs:
Outputs are quantifiable – number of practices, number of hours of service, number of schools served, number of students in the program, etc. You don’t need to put numbers in there for now, rather list the things you would like to quantify.

5) Identify Activities: what do you need to run to achieve your short term outcomes?
If your outcomes are aligned and you can achieve your short term outcomes with the right activities, then, with progression and persistence you are at least making positive progress every day to achieving your vision.

However, we must ensure our activities are explicitly designed to meet our short term outcomes. For example, if we are intending to increase participants levels of physical activity, we need to ensure for the 5 hours / week we are coaching them that they are getting the recommended daily amount of vigorous physical activity and that they are being more active than they otherwise may be in the playground. So our curriculum and coach training need to facilitate this level of activity.

6) What resources (inputs) do you need?
Based upon the above activity, we need the following resources: a trained coach, a safe place to play,
equipment, oh and of course – our kids!

7) Set priorities and identify gaps .
Get out the highlighter. What are the most critical short term outcomes for you to achieve? What are the gaps in resources and activities requires to achieve these outcomes? Having things prioritized will help make re logic model more dynamic and useful.

Using the previous outcome example:

  • ST Outcome: increase levels of physical activity
  • Output: 150 kids / day
  • Activity: coaching flag rugby after school
  • Resource required: 10 trained and accredited coaches
  • Gap: resources available = 8 coaches

So, we urgently have to recruit and train at least 2 coaches before we start our season. We can then do a similar gap analysis with activities. Clearly, this is not rocket science but once you have done this for all your outcomes it can be quite insightful. It then enables you to create an action plan for filling in any less critical gaps. This is another way the logic model can become a dynamic planning tool- through review, alignment and refinement.

Limitations: what is missing?
I call the logic model our “program in a box”, it is therefore internal in scope. It doesn’t account for external factors in the broader environment that may influence our outcomes. It also doesn’t (using the basic template above) define how we measure our outcomes. For monitoring and evaluation purposes we need to define indicators for this. The Logic Model may also be a little too high level for us to identify certain pre-conditions required for us to achieve certain outcomes. The good news is however, there are many other tools we can employ alongside the Logic Model to fill in these gaps. These I will present at a later date. What is most important however, is that as part of creating an effective roadmap / framework / game-plan – a Dynamic Logic Model provides a great starting point  to ensure you are on the right track to achieving long term success.

Play Rugby USA Celebrates Mandela Day

On July 18th all around the world, communities participated in Mandela Day–Nelson Mandela’s legacy for positive social change. Mandela Day was established after Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday to inspire individuals to take action to help change the world for the better. As the founder of Play Rugby USA, my vision is to create a “Better World through Rugby” by developing and empowering young people to achieve long term wellness and success.

As part of Mandela Day, we brought our Senior Academy students from all 5 boroughs of NYC to our Junior Sports Leadership Academy summer camp for an afternoon of fun, learning, and service. Below are a few photos with some inspirational quotes from Mr. Mandela – I hope you enjoy! If you like these and want to see a few more, check out Play Rugby USA’s Facebook and Flickr Pages.

Everyone has something positive they can give. If we all gave something every day, imagine what a difference we could make.

“A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination”

Leading the way and passing on responsibility.

Leading the way and passing on responsibility.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.”

Junior and Senior Academy players play team building games together

Junior and Senior Academy players play team building games together

“It always seems impossible until its done.”

It's only impossible until it gets done!

It’s only impossible until it gets done!

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

The kids learn about healthy eating. Yummy!

The kids learn about healthy eating. Yummy!

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

The kids learned about Mandela's philosophy for social justice

The kids learned about Mandela’s philosophy for social justice

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair.”

We start and end every Play Rugby USA session with a circle up

We start and end every Play Rugby USA session with a circle up

Rugby 4 Good – Values in Action #2: Try Makers, Not Just Try Scorers


As in most team sports, in Rugby, a team wins by scoring more points than the opposition. The primary way to score points is by advancing the ball over the opposition goal line and touching it down on the field (pitch) ground; this is called a “Try”. What we’re going to do is look at how a team scores a try through working together, something vital for a try to be successful. My intent is for us to take this idea of teamwork off the pitch and into your office and your life. As will be evident in the following YouTube clip, in almost every instance when a try is scored, it’s really about “Try Makers, not just Try Scorers.”

On the pitch:

In basketball, hockey, and lacrosse, you can read up on stats for an “assist;” credit going to the one person responsible for passing the ball to the scorer. It’s a sports statistic for a reason—because it matters. In rugby however, this statistic doesn’t even exist. How is that possible? Because most tries are created by multiple assists, sometimes a continuous series of assists that can go on for a several-minute period before the try is eventually scored.

I want you to watch a quick version of this happening—the YouTube link below happens to be a clip of one of the greatest tries ever scored in an International rugby match. Added bonus—it was scored by the USA in the 2007 Rugby World Cup. Double bonus—you’ll find it entertaining whether you completely understand Rugby or not (I hope)! After you watch it, I’ll walk you through each of the key players involved and how it is a perfect example of “Try Makers, not just Try Scorers.”

Try Scorer: Okay, credit where credit is due, Takudzwa (Zee) Ngwenya, the Try Scorer, finished off the play with exceptional skills, footwork, and pace. (He actually ended up landing a contract in Europe off the back of his efforts and still plays professionally in France). Pure talent for sure, but let’s back up a bit and walk through the Try Makers involved—all of whom I had the genuine honor of playing alongside during my international career with the USA between 2003-2005…back when I was younger and fitter, of course!

Leader # 1: Todd Clever, appropriately enough, the current USA National Team Captain,  intercepts the ball against the odds on USA’s own goal line and aggressively advances the ball forward. He exhibits confidence and commitment to his decision. When faced with a barrier ahead, he assesses his options & forces it out of the way. However, he knows he can’t make it all the way on his own, so immediately looks for a teammate to take the ball forward from here, and assist’s the ball off to Alec Parker. Off the field, Todd is the equivalent: An entrepreneur that seized an opportunity, created a movement, and made it happen.

Try Maker #2: Alec Parker, who managed to notch up over 50 appearances for the USA was dubbed by his former teammate and then coach, Tom Billups, in 2007 as “One Hard Man.” Having played with and against Alec, let’s just say, I concur! He was one of the best “Try Makers” out there—and scored a few along the way, too—by doing the hard work. In this video Alec worked hard to get there and support Todd, trusting Todd to make the right decision (to pass). Alec then advances the ball forward himself before providing the glue to success of the whole play. Rather than choosing to take unnecessary contact and make a few extra yards, Alec selflessly passes on the ball to ‘assist’ Mike Hercus to take it from here.

Try Maker #3: Mike Hercus was the USA’s primary play-maker in 2007. In the clip he takes the assist from Alex, continues to go forward, but using his lightening quick reactions and peripheral vision, identifies an opportunity out wide. He immediately makes a long, well-executed lateral pass to assist (the 3rd assist so far in this Try in case you lost count) his teammate, and Try-Scorer, Zee. Zee works his magic and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, while Zee exhibited incredible skills, this try would not have been made possible without each of the player’s contributions to the try. This was a break-away try after a turnover, but many tries are the result of the entire team grafting and pulling together over a longer series of play.

In rugby, there is a role and a need for everyone; the best international team in the world, the New Zealand All Blacks, summarize this as “the team towers above the individual.” What other sports have a foundation as such?

So, what are the learning points from this off the field in order to achieve success as Try Makers, not just Try Scorers?

1) To be successful you need both leaders and supporters.

2) For an opportunity to be “game-changing,” leaders may have to react quickly, take initiative, and drive it forward, against the odds.

3) When the odds are stacked against you, you can’t, and thankfully don’t have to, make it alone.

4) Teamwork and support is vital to be successful, so you need an effectively balanced team.

5) The best teams put “Team First, Self Last.” Personal sacrifice if necessary to benefit the team.

6) The best teams trust each other and work hard together.

7) From trust and hard work comes camaraderie and success.

Look forward to your thoughts, and of course, please follow my blog if you enjoy the content you’re reading! My next Values in Action piece will explore the idea of “Play What you See.”

Rugby 4 Good – Values in Action #1: Go Forward


Rugby is the only sport in the world where you have to advance the ball to the other end of the field in order to score, but you’re NOT allowed to pass the ball forward. Therefore, the only way to get the ball there is to go forward yourself: run forward, attack the opposition, create space, and gain territory while working with your supporting players to maintain possession of the ball. When coaching or watching young kids play rugby for the first time, “go forward” is something you’ll hear a lot!

In Rugby4Good terminology, Go Forward should also be relayed off the field. It is a great meta-theme for any Rugby4Good program or organization. Go Forward as we define it is to “Strive to improve, to experience growth, and to never give up“. This is a powerful message for a young person who may be facing adverse conditions on a regular basis. You (they) can’t control everything, but you can strive to be a better person, to make the most of your opportunities, to listen, to learn, and to develop. Combine this inquisitive desire for self improvement with a little grit and you have someone that is Going Forward!

Equally, Go Forward is a running theme in our social enterprise that can be applied to any business. We are continuously developing our curriculum, training programs, and overall program framework to intentionally maximize our youth development objectives. We work closely with our program partners to collaborate around achieving positive educational outcomes for our participants and on-going development opportunities for our respective staff. We regularly measure & evaluate our outcomes within a framework designed to achieve long-term social impact. In doing so, we face numerous challenges along the way around funding & budget cuts, space limitations, and policy changes, but we also identify and create opportunities determining ways to keep going forward.

Rugby4Good is about putting Values in Action – both on and off the field to create a culture of achievement. Here are seven ways to implement a Go Forward approach to your life or organization:

  1. Set an aspirational goal that is achievable in an ideal world.
  2. Identify your base-line. (Where are you now in relation to your goal)?
  3. Identify the steps you need to take to achieve the goal and set a time-line.
  4. What resources do you need to achieve each task?
  5. Who and what can help you secure those resources for each task?
  6. Start going forward with task #1.
  7. If you believe in your original goal, make it happen & don’t give up!