Accepted paper:

The elusive quest for sustainable development: the afterlife of the Mandela Soccer Academy


Itamar Dubinsky (Oregon State University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper examines the legacy of Mandela Soccer Academy, a Ghanaian development initiative. Detailing the shifts it went through following the abandoned by its founder and sole funder, the paper analyzes how the academy has managed to survive and maintain its state of precarious sustainability.

Paper long abstract:

In 2016, a new development initiative was adopted by the members of the UN, The Sustainable Development Agenda. It reflected a growing understanding among development agencies that reducing poverty has to be sustainable to ensure that its effects are not short-lived. But while sustainability is a much-sought-after goal, achieving it is more elusive. If we are to have a better understanding of how development schemes manage to have long-term impacts, it is vital that researchers pay attention to examining how schemes cope with political, economic, and social vicissitudes. The following contribute to this understanding, by analyzing the legacy of Mandela Soccer Academy (MSA), a Ghanaian development initiative. MSA was established in 2012 but yet only four years later its founder, who was also its sole funder, judged the academy as a failure and abandoned the project. Based on the ethnography conducted at the academy, the paper reveals two central aspects. First, that MSA had in fact improved the lives of many of its participants, thus illustrating that notions of success and failure are subjective and depend on the participants' visionaries. Second, that in order to survive as a development program, MSA had to be transformed from an NGO with a primary goal of educating children, to a commercial venture that is focused on generating income through the making of footballers. This shift embodies broader acknowledgments among development practitioners, agencies, and scholars, many of whom recognize the vitality of development programs to generate profits if they are to have sustainable impacts.

panel Econ03
The afterlife of development