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Beyond the Games 22 Partner Spotlight:

NFL Foundation UK & BIGKID Foundation Team Up for Greater Impact

July 29, 2022

At our Beyond the Games 2022 Forum on 26th July in Birmingham, England, partnering with communities was a key part of the days' discussions. As part of the forum, we’ve been sharing insights from a few of our event partners on transforming communities through sport across a broad range of social issues. Today, learn how the NFL Foundation UK and BIGKID Foundation are bringing to life the power of collaborating for social impact.

Launched in October 2021, the NFL Foundation UK is committed to tackling inequality and the lack of opportunities in society by supporting young people aged 12-20 to realise their potential and take ownership of their futures. The charity partners with community organisations, following a strategic “Unite, Upskill and Advocate" approach. It provides grants, training and equipment across the country to organisations working directly with those most in need to help create a level playing field and ensure equal access to opportunities for underrepresented young people.

One of the Foundation’s delivery partners for its NFL Flag programme – the non-contact version of American football – is the award-winning BIGKID Foundation, which ultimately became the blueprint on how the NFL works with partners to provide deeper community impact. The London-based youth charity equips young people at risk of social exclusion and youth violence to take control of their lives. We spoke to Shaninga Marasha, Chief Executive and Founder of BIGKID Foundation, about the partnership and its impact.

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Marasha founded BIGKID, originally a music group, with his friends in 2000 at the age of 18 while in sixth form. He started a mentoring programme for fellow students who were at risk of expulsion for a variety of reasons. “There wasn’t a type of pastoral care system in schools as there is now. It was either behave or get kicked out.”

“Our headmaster didn’t want to exclude the kids, so he set up a mentoring programme and over the two years it was interesting to find out about the challenges young people face that schools didn’t know about.” It was this and continued youth mentoring while he was at university that solidified Marasha’s passion for in-community social change work.

“It grew from there. In 2008 we were a registered charity with formalised programs and out looking for funding. Through maturing as people and a Foundation…we had the reason to commit to BIGKID and change as many lives as possible for the better,” he explained.

BIGKID started work across nine boroughs in London with youth, many of whom were either on the cusp of joining gangs or in one, were teen parents or exhibited anti-social behaviour.

With a vision to end youth violence, they found that sport and leadership programmes in schools were a powerful engagement tool. Additionally, community programmes in boroughs that included sports, arts and business were especially effective in guiding girls and boys onto positive pathways. In 2018 Nike approached BIGKID to introduce flag through a partnership they had with the NFL. “Nike came to us to deliver a six-week pilot programme to introduce flag football. We worked with American football clubs in South London and ended up having nearly 80 kids engage and take part, then off the back of that we built a relationship with the NFL.”

Because of how well the young people engaged with the programme and kept coming back, they decided to continue the programme with the NFL training BIGKID’s coaches to run it. From there, an official programme was rolled out in schools.

“In terms of engagement, it’s the most impactful sport we have because it is so inclusive. It’s the only sport that has a level playing field because both girls and boys can play on the same team. There’s also no real competition so the youth can mould flag into what they want it to be.”

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The NFL brought the “NFL experience” such as music, which was very attractive to groups, and particularly girls. “The sessions were less about competition and more of a social environment. For young people who aren’t massively into sport, this is a big deal. It takes away the intimidation, especially for kids who suffer from social anxiety and bullying. They can engage in a cool, relaxed way. The kids even got to participate in a 2019 NFL Halftime show, which is something they would never have had in their lives. We leveraged the experience to engage with more schools, kids and communities.”

BIGKID now deliver flag football to around 150-180 kids aged 14 to 17 weekly in the 24 schools they work in with funding from the NFL Foundation UK and the Mayor of London’s Impact Partnerships fund. Alongside this, they run community engagement afterschool clubs that act as a funnel to get more young people into the program.

“Flag was alien to our kids but loads of them took to it, to the point where girls are going full contact in the NFL academy. It created opportunities and broadened their worldview. It has really benefitted their communication, teamwork, team building and how to work with different people from different backgrounds to achieve a common goal.”

When asked what he feels makes partnerships like this authentic and effective for both parties, Marasha says it comes down to relationship building and mutual understanding.

“It was clear from the outset that we have a shared value system with the NFL, and both understand what each other is trying to achieve. They understood that in order to grow the game and reach more youth they had to work with us as we’re embedded in community. And, as the game grows and more young people are engaged, we have less and less kids dying of violence.”

Marasha hopes to expand and grow alongside the Foundation. “We are looking forward to what the future brings and how we can work together with the NFL Foundation UK to further help end youth violence.”

NFL Foundation UK was a Champion Partner of the Beyond the Games 2022 Forum. 


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