Ned Wills: Has sports legends gear up for another fight

Ned Wills, director of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. Photo by: Ian McIlgorm

He works with sports legends to engage the youth and bring about social change around the globe.

Since May 2007, Ned Wills has been running the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, which supports initiatives by community-based organizations that fight social ills through sport. Martina Navratilova, Sebastian Coe and Michael Johnson are just a few of the athletes who are deeply involved in the foundation’s work.

Wills is one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40 in London. He and his peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young London-based trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and investors.

We asked Wills how he engages business and celebrity in his cause. Here’s what he said:

What has been your main challenge in striking up private sector partnerships at the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation, and how are you tackling it?

A basic understanding of objectives between potential partners and how they align is an important step for both partners. As an organization, our objectives are charitable, and whilst up to a point private sector objectives could be similarly charitable, over a certain funding threshold, private sector objectives are more closely tied to business and revenue. Understanding how, as a charity, we can make two at first opposing sets of objectives align is the challenge.

Whilst metrics of success can be identified at the outset, such metrics are often more intangible than the private sector partner may be used to, which despite initial agreement have caused challenges.

We tackle these challenges in a number of ways – creativity in defining programmes to deliver mutual objectives is important, and open dialogue between partners is essential. In addition, we seek to employ expertise from both the development and commercial sectors to create a mix of expertise. This allows us to tackle these challenges through our ability to communicate between the sectors more easily.

What types of innovative fundraising and communications partnerships are you eager to pursue more in the coming years?

Our organization is beginning to focus efforts more on expanding the revenue streams of our charitable partners, and in particular realizing financial value from the expertise and experience that exists within community organizations. Our partners use sport to address very serious issues facing young people, problems that exists elsewhere.

The experience of leaders in one community can be used to train others in another community, whilst creating a new revenue to sustain the first. More focus and investment in social investment businesses which generate returns to replace or build on charitable handouts is something we will continue to explore.

What would your advice be to other development organizations eager to engage a celebrity in their cause?

Celebrity ambassadors can be extremely helpful, particularly to raise awareness of a programme or an issue area. Communication is key as well as finding someone who is actually interested and engaged in the project or issue.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in London.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.