Today, Grassroot Soccer (GRS) is releasing our 2020 Global Annual Report, which details GRS’s activities and impact in 2020. Here, GRS Founder and CEO Tommy Clark and affiliate Managing Directors Boyd Mkandawire, Bhekimpilo “Bheki” Moyo, and Mbulelo Malotana introduce you to how GRS adapted and innovated in the face of 2020’s challenges to continue connecting young people with the life-saving information, services, and mentorship they need to live healthier lives.

Dear GRS Supporters,

In Africa, even before the onset of the pandemic, the largest generation of young people in the world were facing the greatest health challenges. In 2020, the pandemic only added more obstacles to their paths to healthier lives: reduced access to critical health services, interruptions to HIV testing and treatment, an increase in gender-based violence, and rising mental health challenges.

This dramatically changed context only accelerated the urgent need for Grassroot Soccer’s work. And while the pandemic posed significant challenges for our programming in 2020, GRS didn’t close up shop and wait for better days to reemerge. Instead, we quickly took action to meet that need — listening, adapting, and innovating to continue providing adolescents with life-saving health information, services, and support during a critical stage in their lives. 

I’m extremely proud of the creative, locally led solutions that our teams developed to meet the unique contexts and needs of different communities. The pandemic also reaffirmed our commitment to working in partnership; in 2020, GRS partnered with more than 100 organizations across the globe to provide expertise in engaging youth in their communities around tough topics related to their health. In doing so, our programs reached dramatically more young people than we could have alone. Across all these efforts, we come away from 2020 stronger, with key lessons learned that are helping us scale what works.

Tommy Clark, CEO & Founder

2020 was an eventful year, to say the least. I could define it as the year of evolution towards stronger innovation in difficult times. True for many other entities across the globe, COVID-19 affected every aspect of GRS Zambia, from our staff to our activities to our beneficiaries.

Despite the challenges the year 2020 came with, GRS Zambia managed to wade through these challenges and remain available to the youth and communities we serve, continuing in our resolve towards supporting Zambia’s attainment of improved health outcomes for adolescents and young people, in line with Zambia’s Health Strategic Plans. We developed phone-based, small-group SKILLZ programming to continue reaching youth (“5-a-side,” as a nod to a soccer match with five players), and worked with the Ministry of Health to ensure our community-based support clubs for youth living with HIV could continue throughout the pandemic.

Boyd Mkandawire, Managing Director, GRS Zambia

In spite of the negative impacts of the pandemic, 2020 was a year where the GRS Zimbabwe team exhibited their resilience and ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. The team used the challenges to innovate and come up with programs and products that responded to the restrictions and effects of the pandemic.

For instance, in order to ensure young people had continued access to critical health services throughout the pandemic, we partnered with the Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council (ZNFPC) to train GRS Coaches to serve as Youth Reproductive Health Assistants (YRHAs). Stationed within their communities, these YRHAs deliver comprehensive, youth-friendly sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) information to adolescents. The GRS team realized the potential for YRHAs to address service gaps exacerbated by COVID-19 and scaled the program to connect over 6,700 participants to family planning services in 2020.

Bhekimpilo “Bheki” Moyo, Managing Director, GRS Zimbabwe

As we are all aware, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a great impact on all of our lives. GRS South Africa has taken major steps at both an institutional and impact level to ensure the health of our adolescents and beneficiaries.

We remain resolute in our endeavor to build the health and life skills assets for youth, facilitating access to a wide range of youth-friendly health and social services, and promoting adherence to long-term healthy behaviors. In this regard, GRS South Africa has developed innovative programs and operational adaptations to reach its beneficiaries during this period. These include the uptake of technological advances and virtual platforms, as well as integrating these approaches with the relevant access, health, and psychosocial partners.

Mbulelo Malotana, Managing Director, GRS South Africa

GRS could not have had the impact we had in 2020 without our donors, supporters, and partners who stood with us to make sure young people in Africa weren’t left out, left behind, or left isolated. Thank you. We invite you to read more about GRS’s work and impact in 2020 through our affiliates in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa and with 119 partners across 21 countries   in our 2020 Global Annual Report. Together, we remain steadfast in our commitment to helping young people live healthier, more productive lives.