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Beyond Sport United 2021 focuses on leadership in a changing world

November 19, 2021 

The past 20 months have amplified the global inequalities of race, gender, socioeconomic status and health - putting a spotlight on the importance of being an active citizen in our communities, through our organizations and across society. In this current landscape, the need for innovative leaders with diverse and inclusive approaches has taken on an even greater level of importance.

This week, we therefore explored the realities of "Change Leadership" and "Connecting Leadership" from a teams, leagues and brands perspective at Beyond Sport United, hosted by Radha Balani Director of Design & Facilitation for our sister consultancy, thinkBeyond. From November 17-18, we shared insights from those who have showed up in new and impactful ways, while also breaking down the approaches needed in our current context. Attendees and speakers examined how individuals, representing some of the most influential organizations in the world, can apply them.

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On Wednesday, attendees convened virtually to discuss how leaders can and have shifted their approach in pursuit of greater social impact. The first half of the day concentrated on moments of inspiration from the sector, providing perspectives from those who have made a change or stepped up over the last year to address global issues. 

Broadcaster, leadership speaker and author, René Carayol MBE, opened the event with a message on how leadership of today needs to adapt and accerlate inclusion. He shared his feelings of "imposter syndrome" early on in his career, believing that his success wasn't deserved. Ultimately, he went on to become the first Black board director of Pepsi and finally came to accept his success and the importance of his efforts and skills in creating inclusve and diverse environments. 

“Diversity is in the numbers, inclusion is the heart,” he said, and then went on to share his three tips on leadership: “Speak up for those who don't have a voice, try walking in the shoes of the less privileged and, most importantly, look out for each other, look after each other. Diversity is our strength. Unity is our power." 

Following this, James Cadogan the Executive Director of the National Basketball Social Justice Coalition, spoke on building on the NBA’s long tradition of history and how all of the NBA family came together out of a desire to do more following George Floyd's murder.

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"We are in a movement moment. We can take on tough challenges - it's not easy, but we all have an obligation to do what we can to help move this movement along," he stated. Our entire community came together to work collectively to advance racial change and channel people power to public policy. That's what Coalition is meant to do. Right now, we want to build partnerships that share our values of policing, criminal justice and voting rights.” 

Next, Michelle Rosar, Senior Director of Partnership Marketing of the Philadelphia Union, spoke of their partnership with Subaru and what it took for Subaru Park to become the first to reach zero-landfill status. 

She left the United attendees with her top tips for those who want to create change: “You need to start somewhere, make sure to get a plan. Then collaborate because not one person achieved this goal, make sure to take it beyond just having a partnership. Finally, when you are ready to make a change, make sure you believe in it. People can see through when you're not passionate.” 

Mary Harvey, CEO of the Centre for Sport and Human Rights, kicked off the second half of the day to set the scene on what sport needs to do to protect human rights. She emphasized that sport can only achieve its potential if it's harm free for those who participate in it and are impacted by it.  Josephine Martinez, Senior Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at the NFL explored the league's current journey to ensure diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) across the league and its 32 clubs. "My job is to make sure that employees can bring their whole selves to work - to create an inclusive environment that's open and inviting," she stated. 

Following, WWE Superstar, Sonya Deville, joined the Executive Director of Girl Up, Melissa Kirby, to break down gender equality and youth activism. The two organization's ‘Sports for a Purpose’ partnership examines places where inequality shows up and allows Girl Up leaders to come together to collaborate on how they can address these inequalities around the world.

“My gender equality message is that we can all coexist in this world on a platform of equality. I want WWE to become the sport of gender equality. Women can and are being the main event. When given the opportunity we’ve proven this time and time again,” said Sonya. Watch highlights from their conversation here: 


The final panel took a focus on Leadership in Health and how all the issues discussed over the course of the day fundamentally intersect with physical and mental wellbeing. Each provided their insights and examples on their work and what needs to be done to ensure health equity and that the wellness needs of our communities are being met. 

NFL Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins, founder of the Brian Dawkins Impact Foundation, was joined by Megan Bartlett, Founder of The Center for Healing and Justice Through Sport, Katie Matney, Executive Director of The Columbus Blue Jackets Foundation and JW Cannon, Senior Director, Sports Alliances at American Cancer Society. Watch highlights from their conversation here: 


Day two of Beyond Sport United took place at Yankee Stadium in New York City, where we held an intimate session of reflection, discussion and introspection. This was our first in-person event since the pandemic and provided time for members of our network and our partners to reconnect and explore how we can work better together as colleagues, departments, organizations and in society at large.

After two years apart, it was wonderful to hear the buzz as attendees reconnected, collaborated and shared experiences. thinkBeyond designed the session as a space to provide meaningful conversations and participants were able to share both personal and professional challenges with one another and brainstorm solutions.

"We really saw the strength in bringing people in this time of change. Across the two days, what jumped out for me was where individuals and organizations have leveraged connection to lead authentically, with the needs of communities front and center," stated Fred Turner, Executive Director of Beyond Sport.   

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Beyond Sport United 2021 was made possible by our Founding Supporters MLB, MLS, NBA, NFL, NHL and the WNBA and our Supporting Partners WWE and EVERFI.


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