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Making an impact with the Roger Federer Foundation

Founded by the Swiss tennis icon, the Roger Federer Foundation’s mission is to empower and educate impoverished children and their communities to make a better future for themselves. Chief executive officer Dr. Janine Händel talks to Campden FB about changing the lives of millions of children, the importance of metrics and the future of the foundation…
Dr. Janine Händel, chief executive officer of the Roger Federer Foundation.

Founded by the Swiss tennis icon, the Roger Federer Foundation’s mission is to empower and educate impoverished children and their communities to make a better future for themselves.

Through the leadership of chief executive officer, Dr. Janine Händel, the foundation has transformed from a donation-based charity into an impact-focused operation with a purpose to ensure good governance and community development.

Here, Händel talks to Campden FB about changing the lives of millions of children, the importance of metrics and the future of the foundation…

What are the aims of the Roger Federer Foundation?
The foundation was set up in 2003 with the aim to promote disadvantaged children. We are now in our second long-term, grant-making strategy, which is fully focusing on school readiness. That means every child needs to be ready before starting formal schooling – but also the schools need to be ready to accommodate these children.

We are investing in quality, pre-primary education so that the children are developmentally on track when starting grade one. We are working with all relevant stakeholders around the child, such as kindergarten and school teachers, school management committees and parents to organise that a good start into formal education is secured and the transition period is well handled.

This includes interventions at the kindergartens as well as at the school level, bringing the two education sectors together and building a bridge so that, when the children transition from a quality preschool into Grade 1, they don’t have the culture shock and drop out, which can happen. In Malawi for example, when you can have 200 kids in a hot, sticky, dark room where there is violence, no food and unqualified teachers, it is not a place where children want to stay.
 

“Empowerment is in the DNA of everything we do.”


Roger Federer said, “Local stakeholders are the frontrunners of all our initiatives…” What are the practical advantages of this approach?
Empowerment is in the DNA of everything we do. Empowerment means that you find the strength of each person, stakeholder and organisation and you build on and enable that strength.

Our early-learning focus is the most effective investment in the empowerment of an individual child. An educated child can find an exit from poverty, is healthier and becomes a good citizen. But empowerment needs to be on the community and society level as well. We empower the teacher to become a better educator and we empower the community to be able to guarantee a quality learning environment. So, it's not just about building playgrounds, we stimulate, sensitise, organise and coach the community so they are building natural playgrounds themselves with their own local resources. Local stakeholders are the drivers of the solution to improve the situation on the ground. We, as facilitators of the process, might bring in some inspirations and complement their own efforts. We try to change and improve systems of all levels. The smallest system is the family. Then comes the village, school, community, district and then the national and international systems. If you achieve system change, the probability that your impact will be sustainable is very high.

You’ve changed the lives of two million children, how do you measure the social impact of your activities?
We have key performance indicators (KPIs) on all levels. Such as how many workshops have been conducted, how many teachers have done training, how many parental workshops have been carried out, how many coaching visits have happened etc – that’s on the output level.

Then you have the outcome level, which is the immediate consequence of your interventions. Such as, how has the quality of teaching has improved, how many parental workshop have been conducted by the teachers, or how has the quality of the learning environment has changed using a series of indicators, such as hygiene, sanitation, playgrounds, meals etc. Finally, on an impact level we measure the increase of attendance of children, the enrolment, the drop-out rate and repetition rate.
 

“There are thousands of very good initiatives on paper, but they don't have any impact on the ground.”


How critical are metrics to measure the impact of the Foundation’s work?
There are thousands of very good initiatives on paper, but they don't have any impact on the ground. You need to understand the effects of your interventions and realise immediately if they don’t have the wished-for effects. Because there are many challenges you might face implementing your programmes or new opportunities, you should measure on a continuous basis to learn what works best. We’re constantly reflecting on our programmes and checking to see if our interventions are still up to date to reach the highest possible impact.

Where do you see the future of the foundation in ten years?
I would say we need more cooperation, it’s not about reinventing the wheel all the time. Because it's private money and because foundations are not yet completely integrated in the international donor mechanisms, coordination and cooperation is a time and resource consuming challenge - but that's the only way we can become more efficient and effective.

What advice would you give to your younger self?
Grow, learn and be patient – take everything step by step.

For more information on the Roger Federer Foundation, click here.

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