About Kevin Frey
Kevin guides Right To Play's long-term strategic direction, while overseeing its global operations. His previous roles include the Managing Director of Rotman School of Management, Chief Business Development Officer and Director and Business Development and International Programs—all at the University of Toronto.
Kevin is also the Founder and Chairman of Teach Away Inc. and the Co-founder of Skooli and LearnKit.com. He has an undergraduate degree with High Distinction from the University of Toronto, an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management and Schulich School of Business and a Doctorate in Business Administration from IE Business School in Madrid.
COVID-19 in crisis settings and the power of play. CEO of Right To Play, Kevin Frey, joins Alberto Lidji to discuss how they’re preparing for the pandemic in 52 refugee camps across 22 countries.
This episode looks at Right To Play’s work and how it impacts lives in diverse ways – we frame the whole conversation within the coronavirus context and the challenges for their workforce and beneficiaries alike.
Right To Play is an international organisation that was founded in 2000 by Johann Olav Koss – a former Norwegian Olympian. They’re working in 22 countries – mainly in Africa, Middle East and Asia – and reach over 22 million children every year. They work in 52 different refugee camps and have extensive experience in crisis settings.
Kevin and Right To Play Internatiponal are based in Toronto, Canada, and the organisation has offices in many countries, from New York and London, to Amsterdam, Norway, Sweden and Germany. They use all forms of play, from gamified learning to music, sports, arts and more.
We hear of the organisation’s trajectory, from 2000 until today. Over the years, they have secured impressive government and foundation partners. They work closely with the LEGO Foundation and the IKEA Foundation, and have collaborated with the governments of Canada, UK, Switzerland and Germany, to name a few. They have also entered into a high-profile partnership with Liverpool Football Club and have Right To Play’s logo featured on Liverpool's kit for Champions League games.
When asked about COVID-19 and his concerns of how this pandemic will impact their work, Kevin notes that they have concerns about preparing their staff in the Global South for what’s coming and protecting their beneficiaries – the millions of children who they reach every year.
The dynamics on the ground in many of the countries and settings where they work present real challenges. Densely populated areas, refugee camps, poor water sanitation, poor access to healthcare etc – the list is lengthy.
This will impact local communities in many different ways and at Right To Play they’re not only doing pre-emptive work on hand washing and social distancing but are also paying much attention to providing psycho-social support for the trauma that will ensue post-pandemic. Mental health and wellbeing are key considerations beyond the direct viral impact of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19.
Interestingly, Right To Play learned much from when they were doing charitable work in Liberia back in 2014 during the Ebola outbreak. They hope that in countries that have coped with Ebola, there will be experience, expertise and insight that will help them better prepare for the imminent challenges of this crisis.
We hear how ‘play’ is a means to an end. Through play, they manage to improve children's lives across many areas, including quality education, gender equality, peaceful communities, health and wellbeing, and child protection – it’s a holistic set of objectives and play is merely a means to achieve this.
Kevin notes that Right To Play’s name can be misleading since they don’t actually exist to defend children’s right to play – rather, play is just the mechanism that they use to drive these really important changes in kids’ lives. It’s a powerful force in children’s lives.
Play can convene children so they come out to whatever programmes you’re running and to teach them active experiential gamified learning – there is very strong research that shows this is how kids learn best.
Impact is at the core of their activities and they’re incorporating RCTs (randomised control trials) wherever possible into their programme design.
We hear how building local capacity is key to Right To Play’s model. RTP employees don’t work directly with children. Instead, they always train local partners to run those programmes on the front lines. They train and engage with diverse stakeholders, from community organisations and teachers to prison guards in children’s correctional facilities.
Historically, Right To Play were keen to enter whatever countries they had funding for. Today, however, RTP tries to go deep into the countries where they have an existing presence. That being said, they have recently announced with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada a joint partnership bringing Right To Play to Senegal. This is an exciting addition to the work Right To Play is already doing in Mali, Jordan, Thailand, Mozambique, Burundi, Pakistan, Ghana and several other countries.
When asked about what success looks like in the next 10 years, Kevin remarks that: It’s not about achieving some headline number. Rather, they want to continue to serve more and more children in the run up 2030 -- the target year for the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They want to get to more kids to protect, to educate and to empower them. They’d like to engage with other international organisations that may already be working at large scale across 50 or 100 countries; they’d like to explore how such global organisations can become delivery and distribution partners for the evidence-based work Right To Play is offering. Scale and reaching more kids really matters.
Kevin’s key takeaway: Speaking within a COVID-19 context, Kevin notes that leaders can get hit by these crises that you never see coming and you can be stunned and left wondering what do I do next. But he notes that it is precisely when the world is changing super rapidly like this that actually new opportunities are emerging – opportunities to serve new populations, or born out of necessity, to invent new and disruptive ways to innovate and to deliver impact. New opportunities to get into relationships with people that up until now you hadn’t been talking to. There are huge opportunities to leapfrog on strategy, on delivery methodologies, on organisational structure. Ask yourself, how can I make this crisis a force for really progressive and positive change for our organisation.
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