Changing lives through sport and education
The most remarkable journey can begin with one small step. It also can start with the push of a foot. It was in 1980 in Melbourne, Australia, that Skateistan Founder and Executive Director Oliver Percovich first hopped on a skateboard. Little did he know it would propel him onto a path to bring joy, exercise, and educational opportunities to the world’s most dangerous and war-torn places.
In 2007, Percovich’s passion for the sport did just that. He headed to the Middle East for a research trip, bringing along three skateboards, which he rode through a number of neighborhoods. The local kids took notice, dazzled by the excitement and freedom of his movement. When one grabbed his skateboard, refusing to give it back, Percovich realized he was onto something. Skateboarding had the potential to bring together youth from different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders in a celebration of sports and learning.
Percovich began loaning his skateboards to teenagers—these were the area’s very first skateboarders. In 2008, he officially launched Skateistan, with the help of sponsors from Europe, Australia, and the United States.
“Our mission is to empower children through skateboarding and education,” Percovich says. “We want to create leaders who create a better world, and we believe those leaders can come from any background.”
What began with regular skateboarding sessions in an orphanage and an abandoned fountain in a Middle Eastern neighborhood has grown into an international non-profit based in Berlin serving 3,772 children at two sites in the Middle East, one in Cambodia, and one in South Africa. Skateistan distributes skating equipment, offers skateboarding lessons, and provides educational programs to underserved children in these communities. Skateistan school staff members represent 20 different ethnicities, and are former Skateistan students.
“We don’t see other organizations doing good in the world as the competition—we see them as potential partners working toward much larger goals.” – Oliver Percovich, Skateistan founder and executive director
Skateistan makes a mark through its Outreach, Back-to-School, Youth Leadership, and Skate and Create. The organization also recently launched Goodpush.org, to offer advice and their institutional knowledge to other social skate projects around the world. Still, program development, sustainment, and expansion can be as tricky as a doing a successful Gazelle Flip on a broken skateboard. Being part of .ORG has been a tremendous help.
“It [.ORG] connects us to an amazing community of people who are interested in a better world and can potentially get involved with what we do,” Percovich says. “We’re really happy to be linked with that, and we want to learn as much as we can from other people in the space. We’re also interested in providing support to organizations that want to do something similar.”
To date, being a .ORG has opened the program’s doors to more than 150 skateboard projects in 62 countries. “When people see .ORG, they know what we’re talking about, what we’re trying to achieve, what space that we’re in, and where we’re headed,” Percovich explains.
And where they’re headed is strategic growth of the program to serve more children. With the help of the German government, the organization will expand within the Middle East to a third site, where it will open a school in 2020 within a UNESCO World Heritage space that once featured the famous, and now destroyed, sixth century Buddhas carved into the mountainside. In the next 10 years, Skateistan plans to open another six sites. They will need to raise $40 million to accomplish this. With the help of its partners and the added platform that comes with being a .ORG, the organization is confident they will keep things rolling.
- .ORG Impact Award Winner 2019-Best Integrated Communications Campaign
- 92nd Academy Award Winner 2019-Best Documentary, Short Subject for Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
- Tribeca Film Festival Award Winner 2019-Best Documentary Short for Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)
- BAFTA 2019-Best British Short Film 2019 for Learning to Skate in a Warzone (If You’re a Girl)