Skateboarding has long been associated with freedom, creativity, and self-expression. It’s a sport that transcends borders and brings people together, regardless of their background or circumstances.
Skateistan, an award-winning skateboarding and education NGO, has taken this power of skateboarding and harnessed it to create a global movement for change.
With a mission to create spaces where young people can learn, play, and shape their futures, Skateistan is making a significant impact in promoting inclusivity, diversity, resilience, and autonomy among at-risk, LGBTQ+/BIPOC, and migrant communities.
Founded in 2008 on the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan, Skateistan has since expanded its reach to Central and Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East, working with over 27,000 children to date.
The Vision of Oliver Percovich: A Skateboarding Haven in Afghanistan
Skateistan’s journey began with the vision of its founder, Oliver Percovich. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Oliver found himself in Kabul in 2007, with his girlfriend who was working in the city as a researcher.
Being a skateboarder all of his life, Oliver naturally took his skateboard with him and before long he saw an amazing opportunity to connect with the local community through skateboarding. Within weeks of his arrival in the war-torn city, Oliver was running small skateboarding sessions, attracting children from different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds.
What struck him the most was the inclusive nature of skateboarding in Afghanistan. Unlike other activities that were restricted for girls, skateboarding provided a loophole, allowing girls to participate freely.
Realising the transformative potential of skateboarding Oliver decided to establish an organisation that could provide a safe space for children to learn, play, and shape their futures. With just $1,000 and a bold vision, Skateistan was born.
“I didn’t have any background in international development. But I was bold enough to try to start an organisation on the ground in Afghanistan,” Oliver revealed in a recent Advisor Insights interview with Advisory Board Centre’s Louise Broekman.
Despite the initial success of Skateistan, Oliver discovered pretty quickly that he couldn’t achieve his goals by himself.
“I realised I needed lots and lots of support from lots of different types of people,” Oliver admitted. “I needed people who understood how to navigate working with corporates and governments and understood how to work in the international development space.”
The Role of Advisory Boards in Skateistan’s Success
After moving the Skateistan office to Berlin in Germany, Oliver decided that he needed to have an advisory board structure as part of Skateistan’s overall umbrella entity.
“That was in 2012,” Oliver revealed. “So, four years down the road from the start of Skateistan we officially formalised our advisory board structure. By that time, we’d been able to garner a lot of international press and get the attention of a lot of very influential people.”
The Norwegian ambassador to Afghanistan was a big fan of what Oliver was doing on the ground and got behind Skateistan and helped to get the German and Danish governments on board too – which is pretty impressive. Being a skateboarding fanatic, the first-person Oliver asked to be part of an advisory board was the US skateboarding legend Tony Hawk.
I realised I needed lots and lots of support from lots of different types of people,” Oliver admitted. “I needed people who understood how to navigate working with corporates and governments and understood how to work in the international development space.
“It was very nerve-racking sending off that email request,” Oliver said. “And I can still remember reading the email response saying that he would us. I was sitting in the back of our minivan in northern Afghanistan at Mazar-e-Sharif on an afternoon where not many things were going right. So that gave me a really big boost.”
Setting up an advisory board played a crucial role in Skateistan’s success. It helped provide guidance, expertise, and diverse perspectives that shaped the organization’s strategies and initiatives. By including advisory boards in the NGOs bylaws, Skateistan ensured transparency and credibility, attracting donors and stakeholders who value independent and ethical practices.
Oliver said that having transparency in decision-making helped make Skateistan attractive to donors to support them as an NGO.
“When we first established, I was the 100% shareholder, and it just didn’t look good to have a 100% shareholder as well as being the executive director and founder. Where are the other people? Who else is actually making sure that this is as solid as possible?” Oliver revealed. “Over time, we changed that, and there are now five shareholders, but they play a much more minor role than our advisory board. Our advisory board is specifically there to guide the organisation. And we feel that that is the best possible structure that we can have.
The Impact of Skateistan: Empowering Children and Creating Social Change
Skateistan’s impact is far-reaching and multi-faceted. Through their skate schools and partnerships, they provide safe spaces for children across the globe, reaching 4000 weekly attendances in 15 locations. Their focus on at-risk, LGBTQ+/BIPOC, and migrant communities promotes inclusivity, diversity, resilience, and autonomy. Skateistan empowers children by providing them with the opportunity to develop skills, gain confidence, and believe in their potential. The statistics speak for themselves:
Partnering for Change
Skateistan’s success is made possible through partnerships with major donors and organisations that share their commitment to empowering children and creating positive social change. Nike, the Swiss Development Cooperation, and the Be That Girl Foundation are among the major supporters who have contributed $1 million or more to Skateistan’s cause.
To further expand their impact and change the lives of more girls and refugee children globally, Skateistan is seeking additional major partners. They have set an ambitious goal of securing $10 million in support over the next four years. With this funding, they aim to reach even more children, provide them with safe spaces, and inspire them to become leaders in their communities. You can donate here.
Skateistan’s call to action is clear: “Together, we can make a difference.” As the global refugee and climate crises continue to impact children disproportionately, it is essential to support organisations like Skateistan that provide safe spaces, role models, and opportunities for children to thrive.
Of the future Oliver revealed, “We’re still working in Afghanistan under the Taliban. We’ve got our skate schools in Cambodia and South Africa and a project in Jordan that’s been ongoing for a while. But last year we expanded out a lot with other partners. And we have added projects in Iraq, in Lebanon, in Kenya, in Bolivia, and we want to expand that out to 50 locations over the next three years. So,it’s a big expansion piece. And the way that we’re going to do it is to utilise our knowledge-sharing network.
“It’s a very different model, not many organisations want to share everything that they know with everybody else, but that is our approach. We wanted to share our secret source. So, four years ago, we established the Good Push Alliance which shared everything that we know about what we do and how to do it with other social skateboard projects to really have as much social impact as possible.
“Because we don’t need to be the only ones doing this work. It’s possible for lots of other organizations to also do it, which helped us grow really fast. We’ve got 834 social skateboard projects in over 100 countries that are part of this knowledge-sharing network. And that knowledge-sharing network is then the next base for us to be able to then expand out in terms of where we’re also active and in being able to enter into partnerships with those organisations that are part of our network and do more with them.”
It goes without saying, the creation of an advisory board early on in Skateistan’s history was instrumental in the NGO’s remarkable journey to promote inclusivity, diversity, resilience, and autonomy among at-risk communities worldwide. By seeking guidance, expertise, and diverse perspectives from their advisory board, Skateistan has not only ensured transparency and credibility but also attracted crucial support from donors and stakeholders who value ethical practices.
Through this structure, Skateistan has empowered children and fostered positive social change, emphasising the importance of collaboration and guidance in achieving their ambitious goals. Skateistan’s continued expansion and impact serve as a testament to the vital role played by its advisory board in shaping a brighter future for children around the world.
To watch the full ‘Advisor Insights’ interview with Oliver Percovich, click HERE.