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.
PeacePlayers International wins the 2007 ESPYs Arthur Ashe Courage Award for its work in Northern Ireland.
The most recent years at PPI have been marked primarily by two trends: constant innovation to formalize, test and enhance our sport-based peace education curriculum, and a dramatic increase in scale through the expansion of our Sports and Peace Innovation Network (PPI - SPIN). Launched in partnership with the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, PPI - SPIN shares PPI's institutional knowledge with others seeking to harness the power of sport for youth civic engagement, leadership development and conflict transformation. Through this new program, PPI has been able to impact thousands of youth and coaches in 15 different countries around the world, from inner-city Chicago, to Sana’a, Yemen.
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.