Romaney Pinnock’s R10m dream of using football to heal women

DAVOS — Romaney Pinnock is in Davos this year looking for R10m to fulfil a dream. In her mid-30s, her love affair with football furned into an unusual project called Badgers Academy where 80 women now get together regularly to play a sport which is transforming lives of vulnerable women living in high risk areas of the Cape. Romaney says she has been inspired by the way playing football has helped women overcome major issues – and believes her Philippi project provides a template that can be used to transform lives everywhere. Here’s what she is going to be pitching to Davos’s rich and powerful. – Alec Hogg

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I’m representing a non-profit that I’ve established in Cape Town, SA and we are looking to empower young girls through football so, we want to work with young girls in high risk areas and give them access to safe spaces where the foundation is built around football, and coaching and mentoring. But actually, what they get is a sense of community, they get mentors, they get high calibre social workers and it becomes a community where they can feel safe and grow into confident women.

Football – I know the national team is doing pretty well but it seems quite a stretch to go from social development into a sport like this.

So, essentially what happened is I wanted to start playing football about a year-and-a-half ago and I couldn’t find a club that was for women, especially for women who didn’t know anything about football. I had never played before so, I just made one and I thought I’d get 10 women to kick around with me but instead, we created something called Badgers FC, which is now at 80 active members, and we cater to all levels. The whole aspect is let me take women who’ve never played before but also, women who are really strong players and let’s get them together and make a club and these are middle class.

What happened there is that they were coming to me with these stories of how it had changed their lives, how it had got people through addiction, got them over depression, got them through general life problems and the thinking was just obvious. Is that if this is changing the lives of middle-class women just by having team sport, we could put this anywhere and obviously, I’m a radical feminist and I want to focus on girls and how they can be uplifted. We have a girl problem in SA and my focus is to not necessarily exclude boys but to be able to say to girls, this is built for you. We’re going to create a community for you, where you can become the best girl and woman that’s possible.

What do you mean, ‘a girl problem?’

Patriarchy runs deep in SA and we have sexual harassment.

Is it as bad as that? We saw Charlize Theron not long ago coming out and saying, SA men are rapists and the worst in the world, etc., is it…? Statistically, we know but is it really that bad?

I think so. Statistically, it is that bad. Often girls are treated as second best in situations where there is an issue around patriarchy. Let me rephrase that. The girls we deal with and the women we deal with have had to face these things, whether they’re middle-class or working-class, young or old, everyone has a story. When you are faced with that sort of problem are you equipped to deal with it? If you’re coming from Philippi, probably not. Are you learning it in school, no. So, how do we teach those girls who won’t have access to a therapist or a social worker of high calibre, to actually face those problems and work through them and make sure that they become representatives in their communities to stand up against things like that. In the same vein, middle-class women standing up for those things across the board.

Who do you play against, you said Philippi so that’s near CT?

Yes, actually we all play against each other. The whole thing is mostly around social games. There are a lot of leagues that take place and you can enter teams into leagues but the whole thing behind Badgers Academy and Badgers FC is that we have enough people to play against each other. It’s more about having fun. We’re often not keeping track of a score. Our rules are mostly around how to play nicely, how to play kindly. In which case, it’s not that sort of competitive nature might be there and it’s important to have that as well, when you’re growing up. But it’s not necessary the be all, and end all.

Very different to boys?

Well, we have mixed gender games as well and they must play by our rules, and they do.

Badgers, the name?

The honey badger is a ferocious little beast, and small but will take on a lion so, it stems from that. These girls might be small and young but we’re telling them, ‘they can take on the world.’

How do they, in their playing football, overcome the issues that you were talking about earlier?

I think it’s more an aspect of team sport so, whether it’s going to be football, or hockey, or netball – the idea of having someone who’s coaching you, who really sees you grow in your skill level, who can praise you when you’re doing the right thing, who can guide you in the right direction when you need growth. That’s what builds people so, it doesn’t necessarily need to be football, but football is what we’ve moved into. But I think it’s about team sport and building community through team sport. You go through all the emotions in a team game. You’re going to have the loss when you concede a goal. You’re going to fall bad if the ball gets past you. You’re going to celebrate with your team if you score a goal so, you’re going in the space of an hour through a lot of emotions and that tends to bring people closer together.

It sounds like a lot of people, 80?

Yes, currently we’re on 80, but we want everyone to be playing so, it’s not big for us yet.

Where do you come from? How do you get something like this in your mind that you want to build such an unusual ‘doing good’ project?

For me, it came out of this new obsession with football. I was not offered a lot of sport at school so, I feel a bit cheated out of football. When I discovered it late, at 33, I feel like I’m making up for lost time so, it doesn’t feel like work. All of this ends in a day of football and that feels like fun. So, I got there through just becoming obsessed with football.

Do you have support from corporates, is anybody funding you?

So, at the moment, I’m actually here in Davos to put feelers out for funding. Can we talk figures?

Of course.

I essentially, want R10m to run a full operation for two-years and that will give us high calibre staff. We want social workers, we want the right coaches, we want to bring in international coaches and that would be more on a volunteer program. So, I’m here to see if Davos has R10m in small change, which I think in these circles, they do.

But who are you going to be tapping for that?

Well, corporate social responsibility is definitely a way to go. Local Government in SA also has funding for these types of initiatives. Individuals, tax rebates, it’s all there. People want to do good with their money or they want their tax rebate or both, and we’ll take it any which way it comes. But I think we also offer something where for me, the foundation is about effective outcomes. I don’t want to just be the loudest voice saying, ‘give us your money and we’ll do good with it.’ I want to be able to say, ‘here’s the data, we’re tracking these girls now. We’re going to show you how effective this can be.’ And that’s, because I have a data background and I want to be able to show that it’s not just about fun and football. I want to show that we can change the lives of these girls.

Can you give us some examples, obviously without sharing names, of people whose lives have changed?

I think we’re a bit new for that. I think we need a good five-years to show where people have gotten to in life and how mentoring got them there. But I look to examples in a similar space. I’ve touched base a lot with the Chrysalis Foundation in CT, and they take high-risk youths and put them through a great program and then track them, and their program is only three-months and the outcomes are amazing. Where you see young women and young men really changing their life paths just because they went through a program where they got the love and support that they needed, and discipline in some cases. So, I think we’re a bit too young to show the data but we’re collecting it.

Romaney, what is it about CT? I know an organisation there called Yabonga, which does incredible work as well. You’ve just mentioned Chrysalis Foundation too. You’re in the same space. What’s it about the place that breeds these NGOs or people who want to do good – is it like the mountain?

Well, I grew up in CT so, I’m there. I think it is the gang problem in CT that’s so big and so all consuming that there is so much scope for NGOs to be there doing work. Other cities have their issues but the gang problem runs deep in CT, and it’s driven by the Group Areas Act, it’s driven by a past we’re not dealing with properly in the city, in the province, which means that we have a case of absent fathers. We have mothers who need to leave before dawn to get to a job and they might have all the love in the world for their child but they can’t physically be there because it takes so long to get to and from where they’re going. So, the scope for NGOs is big but the scope for children who are left alone in a schooling system that is not meeting all their needs, means there’s space for them. As soon as that bell rings at the end of school, what happens next? Do you choose a gang, because gangs are cool? Or can we create something that is just as cool or cooler than a gang? Because at the moment, if you and I were in similar streets, why would we not join a gang? They really are cool. They are giving you a sense of community so, let’s just make something that mimics that and its healthy.

Davos 2019 – this coverage of the global conversation on change is brought to you by BrightRock, the first ever needs matched life insurance that changes as your life changes.