2022 was a milestone year for Grassroot Soccer (GRS): our 20th anniversary. Twenty years is a humbling feat for any organization, and I’m especially proud of GRS’s impact on the young people we serve, and on the broader field of adolescent health.
Endorsed by global health leaders and world health organizations, and adopted by national governments, the GRS model is saving lives while fundamentally changing how the world engages, teaches, and empowers young people around their health.
At the heart of all of our work continues to be a core element: fun. Too often, the importance of fun is overlooked when it comes to working with youth, especially around difficult topics. Fun is what keeps young people engaged, it makes them want to show up, and it makes key information stick. Since day one, GRS has understood that fun is not just a nice-to-have in our programs — it is a necessity.
20 Years of Impact
When I founded GRS during the height of the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, it was with the conviction that soccer could be harnessed to engage young people to stop the spread of HIV and build healthier communities. Since then, GRS has evolved from a disease focus to an integrated adolescent health focus, using soccer to empower young people to overcome their most pressing and interconnected health challenges in areas such as sexual and reproductive health, HIV/AIDS, and mental health.
As we celebrated our 20th anniversary throughout 2022, I found myself reflecting on how our organization has evolved from a bold idea into real impact:
GRS has gone from reaching 1,500 youth with our first program in Zimbabwe to equipping more than 18 million young people across 60+ countries with life-saving health information, services, and mentorship.
GRS’s initial cohort of 14 trained Coaches is now a global network more than 13,000 Coaches strong.
Today, GRS participants are 3x more likely to test for HIV and get on treatment, resulting in 20x fewer new HIV infections; while girl participants are 2x more likely to use modern contraception, resulting in 2.3x fewer unintended pregnancies, unsafe abortions, and maternal deaths.
We’ve achieved this level of impact not by chance, but through developing a signature approach to adolescent behavior change, continuously improving through a dedication to research and evaluation, and building a vast network of local partners around the globe that brings our programs to far more youth than we could ever reach on our own.
In 2022, GRS continued building on our strengths; innovating in how we engage young people, such as through bringing our curricula to youth using digital platforms; strengthening our relationships with existing partners while forming new ones to scale our efforts; and continuing to rigorously question, measure, and evaluate what we are doing to ensure we are effective in driving proven impact.
Our work isn’t done. Given the enormous and growing demand, we are only scratching the surface of what’s needed to ensure a healthy future for the next generation and the planet. I’m excited about our next chapter and, together with our global GRS community, achieving our most ambitious impact yet.
I invite you to read more about GRS’s work and impact in 2022 in this Annual Report.
All that GRS achieved in 2022, and over the entirety of our 20 years, is thanks to our global community of partners and supporters. Thank you for your ongoing commitment to working with us to equip young people with the health information and life skills they need to reach their fullest potential.
Thomas S. Clark, MD
CEO & Founder