1. What is Free to Run?
Free to Run is a non-profit organization that aims to empower women and girls in conflict-affected regions through sport. We are incorporated under Section 402 of the New York Not-for-Profit Corporation Law and are established as a 501(c)(3) organization under United States federal law, which provides us with tax-exempt status (see question 10 below).
2. What is Free to Run’s mission?
Free to Run’s mission is to use running, fitness and adventure to empower and educate females in conflict-affected communities to overcome the harmful effects of gender, religious and ethnic discrimination. We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to run, play and experience the magic of the outdoors, and we’re willing to do what it takes to make that happen.
3. How does Free to Run make a difference?
There is an overwhelming need to develop and support opportunities for women and girls to become involved in sport and physical education – especially in areas affected by violence in conflict, when these types of activities are often overlooked or under-appreciated. Free to Run was created directly in response to this need. While there are a number of organizations that provide sports activities for kids in various developed and developing countries, there are no organizations that focus specifically on women and girls in high-security and high-stress environments. We aim to assist those whom others are not able to reach and go to areas where others might not. We know that the nature of this type of work is difficult, but we do not think it is impossible and we are committed to making a difference.
There are tangible benefits from our programs. On an individual level, sport and physical activity can help to develop emotional and physical well-being and personal power. However, on a community, regional or national level, sports programs can be used as a tool to promote gender equity, enhance children’s and women’s rights, and address harmful discriminatory practices. Our aim is to use sport as a platform to provide important life skills education to girls and women, including health and reproductive education, leadership training, and literacy education. By providing women and girls with an opportunity to get engaged in sport, physical fitness and outdoor adventure, we give them a chance to convene around a common interest, build their social networks, and develop their independence and participate in activities outside of the home.
4. What is Sport for Development and Peace?
Sport for Development and Peace refers to the use of sport, physical activity and play as a means of pursuing development and peace objectives. Sports have been recognized, including in the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as a means of promoting development, social cohesion, peace and economic stability. There is even a UN Office dedicated solely to this concept! In the Declaration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, passed in 2015 by the General Assembly, the role of sports for enhancing social progress is expressly acknowledged:
Sport is also an important enabler of sustainable development. We recognize the growing contribution of sport to the realization of development and peace in its promotion of tolerance and respect and the contributions it makes to the empowerment of women and of young people, individuals and communities as well as to health, education and social inclusion objectives.
5. How does Free to Run identify the programs and areas in which to work?
Free to Run’s Board of Directors draws on its significant experience of working in high-security and development environments to carefully consider where the organization carries out its programmes. While our areas of operation are focused on countries affected by conflict, we have a broad range of criteria that we apply when making our selection, including: the strength of our connections with organizations on the ground; the level of need of potential beneficiaries; the degree of similar services currently being provided by other organizations; our ability to operate relatively safely and effectively; and our potential impact from our programmes.
6. What value can sports really bring to people in a country experiencing active conflict like Afghanistan? Aren’t there more important things to worry about than recreational activities?
In areas affected by violence, the needs are undoubtedly vast, including basic physical needs such as food, clean water, shelter and safety and security. However, the physical and mental health of affected populations is equally as important. After the initial emergency phase of any conflict, attention must be paid to finding ways to support individuals and communities cope with the ongoing negative effects of crisis, strengthen their resiliency, and give them hope. Sport and play provide a very effective means of doing this.
Sports activities are not just recreational activities, luxuries, or hobbies. They are related to important human rights, such as the rights to health and freedom of movement. Sports are also increasingly recognized as a fundamental human right. The importance of access to sport and physical activity is highlighted in the 1978 UNESCO International Charter of Physical Education and Sport, the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the 2006 UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
We do not pretend to be able to solve all problems through sports, but we do know that they are highly effective in producing tangible, positive change in individuals and societies. They are recognized as being capable of promoting gender equality and empowering women by improving their physical and mental health, offering opportunities for social interaction and friendship, increasing self-esteem and self-confidence, and providing access to leadership opportunities. Female participation in fitness activities may also help to challenge harmful stereotypes about gender roles, thereby leading to longer-term peace and stability within communities.
7. How do you measure the impact of your projects?
Ongoing monitoring and evaluation (M&E) is crucial for measuring the impact of our projects. It helps us to understand what works well and what we need to improve upon for next time to ensure that we are helping our beneficiaries to the greatest extent possible. We are working on identifying key performance indicators to be used within an overall M&E framework, which can be used to assess the impact of our programs against intended goals. Information will be collected from beneficiaries and local implementing partners through structured surveys as well as formal and informal feedback mechanisms before, during, and upon completion of our projects. Individual case studies will also feed into our impact measurement.
8. How do you ensure the safety of the women and girls who participate in your programmes?
Security is a paramount concern for us; we operate under a strict ‘do no harm’ policy. The environments in which we work are often volatile and unpredictable, requiring us to keep a close eye on relevant political developments and security updates. We maintain close communication with local and international contacts and regularly seek advice from trusted sources. Unfortunately, the volatile nature of the countries in which we operate means sometimes we have to postpone or adapt some of our planned activities. For example, our initial project in Afghanistan, which involved taking ten girls from a school in Kabul out to a national park for a week of hiking, had to be postponed twice due to security concerns around the disputed 2014 presidential election results.
While we appreciate that this can be frustrating and disappointing for our donors and beneficiaries, we have to place the safety and well-being of our beneficiaries first. We do, however, work hard to develop appropriate contingency plans and provide alternative activities.
9. How much of my money will go towards Free to Run’s projects?
As a new organization, it is important for us to maximize the percentage of funds we spend on programs and services and minimize the percentage of funds on administrative and fundraising expenses. Free to Run is currently managed by a voluntary board of directors and the President and Founder, Stephanie Case. In order to ensure that any funds donated to the organization have a maximum impact on our beneficiaries, Stephanie has committed to carrying out the role of President in a voluntary capacity. We are also fortunate to be supported in our work by a number of organizations, companies and individuals who provide pro bono assistance (please check out our sponsors!). This allows us to significantly cut down our costs.
10. Is my donation tax-exempt?
Yes! Any donation made to Free to Run after December 16, 2014 is tax deductible in the United States, where Free to Run is incorporated under Section 402 of the New York Not-for-Profit Corporation Law and established as a 501(c)(3) organization under United States federal law (EIN 47-2766786). Donors will receive a tax receipt from us to that effect, and if you have any questions about this process, please email email@example.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible.
We are also incorporated in Hong Kong and are currently seeking charitable status there.
11. Who is behind the organization?
Free to Run is governed by a voluntary Board of Directors and run by the President and Founder, Stephanie Case. Read more about the amazing team behind the organization here.
12. How do I get involved?
Great question! There are plenty of ways that you can become involved and support our work, from donating to fundraising to volunteering. Please visit our ‘Get Involved’ page for further details or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
13. I have an idea for Free to Run. Who can I contact?
We are always open to new ideas! If you are interested in working with us on an initiative that falls within our mission, please contact us at email@example.com. We are keen to hear from individuals and organizations on the ground in Afghanistan and South Sudan, as well as sport companies and entrepreneurs.