PeacePlayers International (PPI) was founded in 2001 by Brendan and Sean Tuohey, two brothers from Washington, D.C. Today, PPI’s annual operating budget is over $3 million, and it has a year-round presence on four different continents, but at its founding, it was little more than the Tuoheys, their friends and family, and an idea – that children who play together can learn to live together.
Shortly after graduating college in 1998 and 1999, respectively, Brendan and Sean both spent time coaching youth basketball in Northern Ireland, only a short while after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement formally ended the period of intense sectarian violence known as “The Troubles.” There, they saw that in a region where nearly everything else was segregated by religion, Protestant and Catholic young people regularly came together to play basketball, able to share the game in a way they shared almost nothing else due to its perceived American heritage.
A South African police officer, in Northern Ireland at the time to help with the region’s restructuring of its police force, suggested to Sean that what worked in Northern Ireland could work on an even greater scale in post-apartheid South Africa, where resources could stretch farther and new initiatives were welcomed with open arms. Sean recruited Brendan to help him test the idea, and, with $7,000 raised from friends and family, the two launched what was then known as “Playing for Peace,” with Sean leading on-the-ground implementation in South Africa and Brendan helming fundraising and institutional growth in Washington, D.C.
Watch this PSA to see PPI in its earliest days, after just getting off the ground in South Africa.
Working hand-in-hand with a committed group of local coaches and a handful of friends who made the journey to South Africa to volunteer, Sean found that the program grew rapidly. Children who before would have almost never had the opportunity to meet were coming together as friends and equals on the basketball court. By 2003, “Playing for Peace” had not only returned to start a program in Northern Ireland, but it also earned its first institutional grant from the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation.
In 2005, “Playing for Peace” launched a program in Israel and the West Bank, initially led by a Yale graduate named Matt Minoff, and in 2006, it began operations in Cyprus with a grant from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). After changing its name to PeacePlayers International (PPI) in 2007 to reflect its new, worldwide scope, PPI launched its first domestic program, helping New Orleans re-engage its youth after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. This program has since spun off from PeacePlayers International, and now operates independently as Elevate: New Orleans.
Learn about PPI's first overnight camp in the Middle East in 2005.
The most recent years at PPI have been marked primarily by two trends: a proactive transition to local ownership and constant innovation to formalize, test and dramatically scale its impact. By the end of 2009, all of PPI’s sites, originally operated by Americans, had recruited experienced local nonprofit professionals, deeply embedded in the communities in which PPI operates, to serve as Managing Directors. The vast majority of PPI’s staff worldwide is now local, and through initiatives like the Leadership Development Program, this trend will only increase in time.
Working in partnership with its first institutional funder, the Laureus Sports for Good Foundation, and the Arbinger Institute, an established center for the study of conflict, PPI has also developed a ground-breaking curriculum that uses sport to teach peace. Combined with the organization’s methodology, refined in four very different contexts over ten years, this curriculum has positioned PPI among the leading organizations worldwide using sport for social goals. A variety of studies have confirmed PPI’s impact (available on request), and the organization is in the early stages of launching a technical assistance and training program to share its institutional knowledge with others. Over the next three years, PPI aims to:
- Further increase local ownership of its programs, with a specific emphasis on making them fully self-sustainable;
- Reach over 16,000 young people worldwide each year through a revenue-generating technical assistance and training program; and
- Develop best-in-class monitoring and evaluation systems that compare favorably to the most established organizations in the peacebuilding field.
Learn more about PPI's efforts to spur innovation in monitoring and evaluation with this video from a "brown bag" hosted by the United States Agency for International Development.