By Johann Koss, President and CEO, Right To Play

Johann Koss speaking at the Big Red Ball at the Roundhouse, London

I believe that play has the power to change a child’s life.

Play provides children with the skills necessary to help them reach their full potential. It’s an innovative idea, and when it comes to international development, I believe innovation and collaboration are key to successfully building a better future.

That's why I'm excited about our partnership with Microsoft YouthSpark. Through play and technological innovation, we're empowering young people and teaching them the skills they need — not to receive change, but to create it.

At Right To Play, we operate play-based education programs in more than 20 countries around the world. We reach one million children and youth through weekly play activities that enhance their educations, teach critical health lessons, and help them develop the confidence and leadership skills to build more peaceful communities.

But we can’t do it alone, which is where collaboration comes into play.

With Microsoft’s investment, our Raising Her Voice program in East Africa aims to reach 110,000 children by 2015 through the power of play. The gender-equality-focused program is already reaching more than 77,000 young people – 53 per cent girls – in Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and Mozambique.   

And we are seeing the impact.

Catherine Kobusinge, a teacher at Buhanika Primary School in Hoima, Uganda, says there have always been certain topics that she could not easily teach in her classroom. In Uganda, social conventions make conversations about sex, reproduction and issues like HIV and AIDS taboo.

This, however, does not change the fact that HIV and AIDS rates in Ugandan youth are among East Africa’s highest – and they’re on the rise.

So Catherine needed to get creative. Becoming a Right To Play Coach helped her do just that.

At the heart of our programs are more than 13,500 Coaches. They are the local volunteer teachers and community leaders who lead our weekly programs and act as role models in their communities.

As a trained Right To Play Coach in the Raising Her Voice program, Catherine now uses play to engage her students in activities and conversations that can save their lives.

Catherine says the games have helped build her students’ confidence, and has opened up lines of communication – particularly with female students – that are helping teachers address sensitive issues, like reaching puberty, which might otherwise see young women quit school.

Coaches like Catherine, who share our belief in the power of play represent our ultimate collaboration. Their investment is critical to the sustainability of our programs, and their creative application of Right To Play is educating and empowering the next generation of leaders.

With Microsoft’s guidance and expertise, we’re leveraging technology to make greater investment in those Coaches futures too.

We’ve already begun to create a digital library of our more than 600 unique games and activities, and we will be launching a pilot program in Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya to train 3,000 Coaches in basic digital literacy. Not only will this help Coaches access our digital materials worldwide, but it offers them a set of skills that will improve their job prospects and benefit their communities.

Today, to succeed we need to work together to find innovative new approaches that engage young people in their own development and empower them to become the architects of change within their communities.

From play to education to skills. Now that’s innovation.