Playing for Change is a major Swedish initiative that seeks to promote social enterprise focusing on the right of children and young people to play. In 2009, it issued a call for creative and innovative social entrepreneurs around Sweden to come up with ways of making the world a better place. Out of thousands of respondents, they selected eight winners.
Playing for Change supports numerous projects in aid of children, such as the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child. Photo: Mark Vuori
The vision is a world that acts swiftly and creatively to deal with global challenges – a world in which all children have the freedom and right to play. Playing for Change actively seeks out, supports and invests in social entrepreneurs who introduce new ideas that promote the right of children to grow and develop and to empower themselves and others through play.
Winners with fulltime salary
The eight social entrepreneurs that were selected as winners (in column to the right) are to be awarded a fulltime salary for up to three years, and professional guidance and coaching by some of Sweden’s top managers, and will also have access to expertise in the fields of entrepreneurship, business law, marketing and communications.
Hugo Stenbeck’s Foundation and the Kinnevik Group investment company are behind the initiative. The foundation was launched in 1968 by Hugo Stenbeck, the grandfather of its present head, Sophie Stenbeck. “We want to encourage the kind of freedom of thought and ingenuity that leads to real development,” Sophie Stenbeck says. “I’m absolutely convinced that Playing for Change will generate revolutionary ideas.”
Supporting children and young people has been its principal aim from the outset, but the Foundation has now joined the Kinnevik Group’s Swedish companies (Metro, MTG, Tele2, Korsnäs, Kinnevik, Transcom) in focusing on the Playing for Change initiative.
Cristina Stenbeck is Chair of Kinnevik and one of Sweden's most influential women. Photo: Åke Gunnarsson/VUE
Cristina Stenbeck, Chair of Investment AB Kinnevik says, “Investing in social enterprise and play reflects the group’s business-oriented, innovative spirit. Playing for Change will allow us to break new ground in the social arena, too, and bring about real change for deprived children and young people in Sweden.”
In assessing the social entrepreneurs who applied for support, Playing for Change used the following criteria:
- The social entrepreneur’s idea must in some way promote the right of children and/or young adults to play.
- The entrepreneur starts or runs a socially-oriented/community-oriented company or organization where the aim is to create a better society.
- The entrepreneur is results-driven and keeps going until the idea has been put into practice.
- The entrepreneur is creative and has the ability to think along new lines, to be flexible and to adapt whenever required.
- The entrepreneur is reliable and is driven primarily by a desire to bring about social change.
- The entrepreneur thinks globally and acts locally.
Why focus on play
It is easy to imagine that play is a self-evident right. But for many of the world’s children, both in Sweden and abroad, the reality is different. When poverty, starvation and child labor intervene, children lose one of the most important aspects of growing up.
Children and young people at play have fun, but their games also enable them to develop into independent, creative and innovative world citizens. Children and young people who get the chance to play are tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and leaders. In Playing for Change, social entrepreneurs can approach play in many different ways.
Play in the UN convention
Anders Petterson, International Coordinator at UNICEF says, “Play is no small matter. On the contrary, it’s essential to your development as a human being – in every way. Play is so important that the right to it is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
Play is essential to children and is included as a right in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Photo: Paul Blomgren
Olof Risberg, a child psychologist who heads the Children and Young People in Crisis program at Save the Children Sweden says, “Play helps children develop in all kinds of ways, both mentally and physically. That’s how we learn how to manage the tasks we are set and to find solutions – and above all, that’s how we learn to cooperate and integrate with other people.”
What work is to adults
In many respects, Risberg says, play is to children what work is to adults. It is there they find stimulation and affirmation. “It’s exactly the same with children and play. Building a castle out of Lego blocks is rewarding and shows the child what he or she is capable of. And a study from Umeå University showed that when refugee children who had come to Sweden were asked what they appreciated most, it was being able to play in a soccer team!”
In the same way as adults tend to suffer from not having a job, adds Risberg, children who don’t have the chance to play miss out on a vital part of their development. “We know today that this can have serious consequences. Children who are unable to play often have difficulties. They are under-stimulated and tend to develop more slowly.”
UNICEF is investing in a major campaign to get children around the world into school.
“School is the most natural place for play, but by no means all children even get the chance to attend,” Petterson says. “School is a place where the children recognize both other children and the teachers. It gives them the opportunity to be kids and to play.”
Bullying a game-stopper
In Sweden, too, play is not something that’s available to all. One of the biggest problems is bullying. The National Agency for Education estimates that at least 60,000 children are bullied every day in Sweden.
Sara Damber is the Chief Operating Officer for Hugo Stenbeck’s Foundation and Playing for Change. She is also a social entrepreneur who 19 years old started Friends Foundation, which is Sweden's foremost organization in the fight against bullying.
Sohipe Stenbeck and Sara Damber. Photo: Pressphoto
“Even in the most terrible situations, play can give children the strength to struggle on and be a key to their future,” Damber says. “I’d go so far as to say that it’s as important as food, housing, medical care and education. It also represents a progressive and hopeful approach to social development, one that’s seldom found.”
Krister Thun of the Friends foundation says, “Bullying makes social interaction with other children impossible. Children subjected to bullying tend to withdraw into themselves. They stop taking initiatives or asking other children to play. Also, bullying is often the start of a vicious spiral for the victim. Someone who withdraws is considered strange by his or her classmates and has even less chance of finding new friends to play with.”
Can bullying be stopped by more play?
“Absolutely!” Thun says. “A major step if we are to stop bullying is to ensure that the children get to know each other properly – and there, play has a crucial role. That’s why it’s important for teachers to dare devote time to it.”
Sweden should lead by example
Chair of the Hugo Stenbeck’s Foundation, Sophie Stenbeck also runs Remedee, an organization in her home town of Los Angeles that helps children and young people in deprived areas. Her Swedish background has proved valuable.
Montessori Droppen in Haparanda, northern Sweden, was the first school to join the World’s Children’s Prize. Today 53,000 schools with 23 million students have followed suit. During Droppen's Global Vote, students cast their votes in a ballot box made of ice. Photo: Kim Naylor/World’s Children’s Prize
“The whole world looks upon Sweden as one of the leaders in global innovation, and we must continue to promote the kind of entrepreneurial spirit that will take the world in a new direction,” she says. “Focusing on play – as a right that leads to progress, happiness and new ideas – also comes naturally. Playfulness runs in my family.”
The foremost entrepreneurs are playful people, too, she adds. “They view the world with wonderment, curiosity and excitement, and have a positive energy that gives people a boost and motivates them.
“I believe that playful people – who once played as children – are the ones who will bring about change and innovation. They view the world with wonderment, curiosity and excitement. Children who play become playful adults. And I definitely believe that adults, too, need to play.”
Johanna Ögren & Gustaf Brickman
The authors alone are responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
Translation: Stephen Croall
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