Nora Dooley Tapped To Lead SWB Assist
Soccer Without Borders (SWB) is pleased to announce that Nora Dooley has joined the team as Director of SWB Assist. Nora comes to us with over 11 years of experience working in more than 50 countries using play and non-traditional sport as tools to design and deliver adaptable, locally-driven, and socially impactful programs.
Launched in 2022, SWB Assist “celebrates the pass more than the goal” by supporting partners to advance gender equity and social inclusion worldwide through capacity-building, program design, and strategy consulting. As the Director of SWB Assist, Nora will leverage her experience to advance the Sustainable Development Goals by sharing best practices and innovations from SWB Hubs and by facilitating collaborations that accelerate the power of sports programs to affect positive change.
As we welcome Nora to the team, she shares her reflections on what brought her to SWB and which aspects of the role excites her most:
Can you describe your personal connection with the game of soccer?
I've played soccer since I was five. While growing up, I had the privilege of coming from a supportive family, living amongst a community and culture that promoted and celebrated girls and women playing sports, and learning from several great coaches (though I wish more were women!) Thanks to these circumstances, it was never a hard choice to pursue the sport I loved. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned that many people aren't able to access sport and play with the same confidence or support.
In college, I was lucky to have the opportunity to play at a big school in a big city. At that point in my playing career, however, my level of competitiveness often got the better of me. Years after I stepped away from the competitive game, I realized how much my self-esteem and self-worth depended on my performance. It was almost as if my circumstances reached the opposite extreme – a community/culture so supportive of girls and women playing soccer that it wasn't actually supportive of us as humans, only players. I was only important or useful or 'good' if I played well.
After college, I knew I needed something different. Going to school in New York City gave me a taste of the world beyond the predominantly White suburb where I grew up and studying in Ireland gave me a taste of the world beyond the United States. So after graduating, I moved to South Africa for a year, interning with Grassroot Soccer, an organization that used the sport I loved in a different way, which had absolutely nothing to do with winning or losing games.
I was hooked. After that year in South Africa, I joined another organization called Coaches Across Continents which enabled me to travel to more than 50 countries across nearly every continent. I became obsessed with the idea that I could take any of the traditional soccer 'drills' that I practiced throughout my life and connect them directly to real issues impacting real people and communities. I had the opportunity to work with thousands of community leaders, collaborating with them to design programs that used sport and play to listen to the ideas of young people and celebrate their diverse experiences.
This was different from the soccer I played my whole life. It became a kind of therapy for me. Soccer could be healthy, fun, and safe – it could build self-worth. I have learned that certain organizations do this really, really well. Soccer Without Borders is one of the best.
How did you first get involved in or connected to SWB?
I was introduced to SWB for the first time in Uganda in 2014. I was facilitating a training for leaders in Kampala and SWB was our host. I didn't know it at the time, but I actually met and played with several people who would become my future colleagues! I like to think that's the universe working its magic.
Over the following years, I continued to hear about SWB's work and met SWB’s Co-Founder Mary Connor at different sector-wide events. I began to see Mary as a leader of leaders in the growing world of sport for development. Whenever I ran into professional obstacles, Mary was a guiding and supportive voice. As the chance to lead SWB Assist came into focus, it quickly became obvious to me how incredible an opportunity it would be.
What inspired you to be a part of SWB?
I have admired SWB from a distance for many years. Now that I am part of this organization and am learning first-hand about SWB culture, values, systems, and people – I am in awe. Over the past 11 years I have been able to work with and learn from hundreds of sports for development organizations worldwide. I think I have a decent understanding of how hard it is to do what we do, day after day, year after year. As I’ve learned about SWB from the inside out, knowing some of what it has taken to get to where they are (and imagining the rest), again, it leaves me in awe.
The first thing that hit me when I joined SWB was a pervasive sense of belonging. I know how hard the SWB team works to create spaces for belonging through all programs with young people. The extra special part of that is how it permeates throughout the organization. I immediately felt like I was safe and valued. And I think that this stems from something that I now assign immense value to: a healthy, evolving, participatory, transparent infrastructure which facilitates intentional culture creation and imaginative, innovative program content. At SWB, everyone's voice matters and the systems in place empower us to share them. That is special.
What are you looking forward to most about leading SWB Assist?
I am oozing with excitement to be in this role! I often have to pinch myself as a reminder to slow down. In an attempt to find words to contain that energy I can say:
The SWB people are brilliant and I know I will learn heaps about the things I care most about in this world - namely, how to build collective, fun, and safe spaces where we learn to treat each other and ourselves with kindness and empathy;
Although I feel prepared for this role, I also know I will be challenged in good and healthy ways;
I love being part of the process of building connections and partnerships between people and organizations doing amazing work, and that seems to be synonymous with SWB Assist;
The more I learn about SWB, the more I understand why there is so much demand for us to share our learnings with the world. I am excited for the chance to lead the part of SWB that helps dream up, design, and deliver on those opportunities.