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An SWB coach laughs with a participant as he encouragingly pats him on the back at a game.

Our Story

Born of a vision to support all young people to reach their inherent potential, Soccer Without Borders programs emerged to create safe spaces where youth:


1. Feel cared for, have a voice and can experience the joy of sport.

2. Have an opportunity to actively explore social issues and community challenges.

3. Build social capital and access opportunities for community building, employment and personal growth.


Soccer, with its universal appeal, serves as the ideal platform to engage youth from all backgrounds and identities. When SWB was established in 2006, the concept of sport-for-development was gaining traction following Nelson Mandela's declaration that "sport has the power to change the world" and the launch of the streetfootballworld network. For four years, we were a small team of dedicated volunteers working to create an outsized impact on a shoestring budget. Every year and every step between then and now, we have been grounded by a sense of humility and gratitude for the contributions of thousands of stakeholders.

Today, Soccer Without Borders is a leader in the sport for development sector. Our unfolding history can be understood in four phases: Formation and Exploration, Expansion and Formalization, Simplify and Strengthen, and Strategic Growth. Learn more about each phase, and some of the key milestones of that time period, below.

Phase 1: Formation and Exploration 

2005 - 2008

In the formation and exploration phase, Soccer Without Borders was very much a passion project. Established in 2005, we received 501c3 status in early 2006 with a lofty vision to use soccer to support all youth to reach their inherent potential. We launched with a $5,000 award from Lehigh University, were entirely volunteer-led, and set out to learn as much as we could about how to use soccer as a tool to shift outcomes for marginalized youth.


Program locations were largely based on individual relationships and invitations from community leaders, and operated on minimal budgets. Although US-based, our primary focus was supporting community leaders internationally to develop sport-based youth development initiatives. As these initiatives grew and were embraced by their communities, we saw the need to grow our infrastructure to either develop and sustain them under SWB or find a local partner to staff and continue the work. 



Soccer Without Borders established in

Bethlehem, Pennsylvania


First programming delivered in

Granada, Nicaragua


First US programming delivered in

Oakland, California


SWB Oakland becomes first year-round

program site

Particpants and coaches in Nicaragua throw their balls in the air during a team-building game.

Expansion and Formalization

2009 - 2012

In this phase, we reflected on the complexity of working across borders and cultures with entrenched power imbalances and dynamics, and inequitable access to and distribution of resources. Out of this process of reflection and dialogue, we revised our mission statement and defined our first three core values of authenticity, process-oriented, and a whole-person approach to serve as guideposts to move forward. We convened program leaders to formalize our holistic 5-activity program model, drawing from best practices across different cultural contexts. We invested in building systems to consistently monitor our programs, ensure fidelity to the program model, and better understand our impact.


As a result of increased media exposure, including features by ESPN and the New York Times, and positive testimonials about the potential and experience of SWB, we received significant interest to expand our work in new locations. Perhaps naively, we responded to this interest with energy and enthusiasm to expand, growing rapidly from 3 sites to 12 over three years. This growth required full-time oversight; during this period we created our first full and part-time paid staff positions at every location and centrally to oversee organizational stability and compliance.



Revision of the mission statement and

core values created.


Advisory Board created and the annual budget crossed $100,000.


Program rubrics created and the program first featured in national media outlets.


Joined the streetfootballworld network; hosted first program leaders convening in Oakland.

An SWB Oakland High School Girls' team poses for a post-game picture with coaches.

Simplify and Strengthen

2013 - 2017

After such an intensive period of growth, we had 12 programs across 5 countries, but none were sufficiently resourced and all were overly-reliant on the individual person who had created them. Without a shift in our process, none would sustain over time. We learned that we needed to focus on developing year-round support systems, creating stable, consistent, high quality programs for every young person that could persist through transitions in leadership, partnerships, and changes in conditions.  At the same time, as we hired staff and our budget grew, we were subject to increasing regulation and compliance requirements, including our first annual independent audit. 

We needed to completely redesign our financial systems and establish centralized organizational leadership. At the start of this phase, we worked with our newly expanded Board of Directors to create clear criteria for sustainability and growth. We made difficult decisions to transition seasonal program sites to partner organizations, or in some cases, discontinue activities. This simplification enabled us to shift our resources to our most established program sites, investing in full-time director roles at every location, and positioning each to more fully reach its potential for impact. 

These decisions yielded positive results. As core programs were strengthened, and as we more rigorously monitored and evaluated our impact, our efforts were validated with a series of recognitions from the White House, FIFA, and the Wharton School of Business. These awards, and in particular the Lipman Family Grand Prize which carried a $250,000 award, set SWB up for its next period of growth and expanded impact. 



Completed the organization's very first

independent audit.


Established Advisory Boards at each of our

regional hub locations.


Recognized by President Barack Obama as a

Champion of Change.


Lipman Family Prize awarded by the Wharton School of Business & launched 10-year Strategic Plan.


Won the FIFA Diversity Award for anti-discrimination values through football.

Participants bring their hands together for a closing cheer.

Strategic Growth

2018 - 2022

With support from Spring Impact, we learned about strategic growth, replication, and scale strategies and assessed our readiness to grow in each SWB Hub region, including our newest Hub in Seattle, WA, USA. Through this process, we translated our lofty 10 year strategic plan goals into 3 year regional growth plans, and identified which systems and departments needed greater investment in order to absorb aggregate growth.

Over this period, our staff more than doubled in size, as we expanded the number of program sites from 23 to 42, and diversified our mission delivery to include additional leagues, tournaments, camps, and thematic projects. This led to significant investments in people systems, including training, internal communication, and organizational culture, as well new positions in development and communications.


As global displacement increased and gender equality took center stage on the global agenda, demand for our services increased dramatically.  It became clear that a school by school, community by community replication strategy would never meet the full demand and need. We partnered with Propeller Consulting to evaluate scalable components of our program model, and formed a strategic "sprint" advisory group to rapidly assess ways to pivot our strategic plan in response to new external and internal conditions.

One of the most disruptive external conditions that needed to be considered was the Covid-19 pandemic. As we approached "halftime" of our 10 year strategic plan and sought to look ahead, we also needed to address new and urgent challenges exacerbated by the pandemic, including increased social isolation, disrupted education, and risks to mental health. We learned quickly that our core product had never been soccer. Creating a sense of belonging through a youth-centered approach and meaningful relationships was always what we were about. 


As we look to the next phase, we have incorporated these lessons and adaptations into a new Theory of Change, and look forward to continued impact and contribution toward a more inclusive and equitable world, where all youth reach their inherent potential.



Awarded the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Sports Award.

Developed Hub regional expansion strategies and tools.


Created the SWB Mantras to enshrine program culture.

Sent a delegation of refugee youth participants to the Women's World Cup Youth Festival in Lyon, France.


Awarded the Beyond Sport Collective Impact Award for Gender Equality.

Launched the Creating Belonging campaign and Stay Home Season in response to COVID-19.


Surpassed the $10 Million in lifetime revenue raised.

Purchased a building to house SWB's headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland.


First Executive Director transition and search.

Formally launched SWB Assist, a new service by SWB to diversify mission delivery.

Developed a new Theory of Change tool.

A high school boy in goalie gloves smiles at the camera.
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