Johann Olav Koss

Ashoka Fellow
Toronto, ON, Canada, North America
Fellow Since 2009

When I started Right To Play, the biggest focus was to provide as many children as possible with access to our child-centered, play-based programs. Then, there were 37,000 children in our programs. Now, 15 years later, we’re reaching over one million children every single week. This evolution has created many changes, including one for me. Last summer, I shifted into a strategic planning and fundraising role to help shape the development of our programs, while expanding our donor network. This has allowed Kevin Frey to step into the role of CEO. This transition has also allowed me to focus on setting and achieving new goals to strengthen our work.

One of these goals is to significantly increase the number of children and young people we reach over the next three years. By entering the classrooms of schools in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, we are making great strides in this direction. We are empowering teachers to learn our play-based methodologies and tailor their lesson plans and classroom demands to the needs of the students—all to engage more children in a quality education. Because of generous and unwavering support all over the world, we see the impact our work is having in our programs in 20 countries. Our supporters are helping us transform children’s lives to overcome adversity, keep themselves safe and healthy, build stronger relationships and stay in school. My work continues to focus on constant evolution and positive change in children's lives to enable them to become changemakers themselves.

Related TopicsChildren & Youth, Non-formal education, Development & Prosperity, Poverty alleviation, Health & Fitness, Reproductive health, Social Entrepreneurship


This profile was prepared when Johann Olav Koss was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009.
The New Idea
Right to Play operates in countries affected by war, poverty and disease in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, identifying local issues and addressing them through adapted sport and play programs. The principle guiding Right to Play is to the goal of bringing about a behavioral change among children and youth, furthering their holistic development. Such behavioral changes are cultivated by the involvement of young people in Right to Play’s sports programs, which are designed to teach values and life skills like teamwork, inclusiveness, discipline, and communication.

Right to Play has successfully established a coach-teacher model that builds local capacity by training participants to become future coach/trainers. This not only promotes income generation and career building through the development of leadership skills, but also provides a meaningful connection between youth and adults, thus eliminating barriers in education. The activities are practical and also build role models for children, which has led to an increase in attendance rates in schools. Since many countries are very elitist with respect to competitive sport, Right to Play’s approach of bringing such activities to some of the world’s most disadvantaged youth has also helped reduce class, gender and other social barriers.

Johann has strategically partnered with local communities and citizen organizations in every country his program operates in. Currently, he is entering into a dialogue with national governments to influence public policy, building upon his local success to effect systemic change through the United Nations. By providing assistance to several countries in shaping education policy and advocating for governments to make sport an integral part of education, Right to Play seeks to cultivate sport as a tool for development.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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