Basketball and inclusive education in West Africa: Tidjane George’s dream

Tidjane George wants to apply the resources he is acquiring as a student of the Master in Sport Management to found a basketball academy in Sierra Leone, with sport and inclusive education as pillars, to offer a future to young talents

Inclusive education is a topical issue that concerns both policymakers and people in the workplace worldwide, including the sports sector. The more people from different backgrounds will be able to engage in projects or activities, the better chance they will have to create a productive future. For Tidjane George, a student of the Master in Sport Management in Amsterdam, this forms part of his daily work as program manager for Aflatoun International, where he contributes to the delivery of social and financial education for children and young people in anglophone Africa.

Tidjane’s dream is to combine his work in international development with his passion for sport and create a basketball academy in Sierra Leone, to give young talents the opportunity to grow through sports and education. “I think the biggest challenge will be to reach the most vulnerable,” says Tidjane “because when we say inclusive education, what we are really saying is that nobody should be left behind.” He decided to study the Master in Sport Management as a first step to realize his dream.

Tell us about the dream that brought you here, to Johan Cruyff Institute.

I know Sierra Leone —and Africa in general— as a place with great people and many opportunities. Now, playing basketball is my passion. So that’s how the dream started of creating a basketball academy over there. I’ve played basketball in a lot of different places and countries, sometimes just for fun, but also at a higher level, and as captain of a few teams. I pretty much was always playing basketball everywhere I went. I think that I have developed quite a lot of knowledge on how the sport works, also when you look at it in terms of structures.

It all starts with understanding the grassroots, of working with young people, to teach them basketball and about life. I talk to a lot of people about it, and we consider education just as important as practicing the sport; we would aim to do both on a professional level. And after a sort of initial teaching of the sport is done, knowledge of ways of getting to the next level is needed, to create chances, for example, to study on a scholarship program abroad. Or at some point, we could maybe even contribute to a more professional basketball league in Sierra Leone.

A basketball academy and inclusive education in Africa: Tidjane George's dream - Johan Cruyff Institute

Tidjane with the team of Sussex.

I hope to build the basketball academy from these ideas. Sometimes, you just need a nudge, or the right infrastructure, to make things work. That would be something I can see on the horizon, and I believe the Master in Sport Management is a first step to get there. I think it would be amazing to see where we could go with this idea.

Are you looking for specific knowledge to help you realize your dream?

I am very interested in the Strategic Management module of the Master in Sport Management, to learn how you can create a basketball academy, and having a sound vision and philosophy behind it. That also comes back to Johan Cruyff, and the whole philosophy of why Johan Cruyff Institute was founded, and how it developed into something with such a strong identity, beyond athletes just coming to study. Johan Cruyff Institute does inclusive education in its own way; they are finding ways of delivering education to athletes around the world, ensuring that athletes can shape how sport is run in the future.

“Johan Cruyff Institute does inclusive education in its own way; they are finding ways of delivering education to athletes around the world, ensuring that athletes can shape how sport is run in the future”

Aflatoun is doing something similar, with its own goal of delivering inclusive education worldwide. And one of the challenges will be the same for both —how to reach the most vulnerable. That’s always an issue that you really need to strategize about because, at the end of the day, those are the people who have the least access, not only to education, but also to other things in life. And that’s why I think inclusive education is so important, because when we are saying ‘inclusive education’ what we really mean is that nobody should be left behind. I think that’s the most important thing, that everybody gets chances in life.

A basketball academy and inclusive education in Africa: Tidjane George's dream - Johan Cruyff Institute

Tidjane is being appreciated for his work for Aflatoun.

“When we are saying ‘inclusive education’ what we really mean is that nobody should be left behind. I think that’s the most important thing, that everybody gets chances in life”

From what I’ve learned so far, I see this strategic management perspective as the biggest connection, where I can really learn a lot. But I also know that everything I am learning is going to play a huge role. So, in a way I am looking for very specific knowledge, but in another way, I know that everything will be very useful to me.

Can you explain how Aflatoun International works, and what your role is?

Aflatoun International delivers social and financial education to children and young people around the world. We develop educational content, and we are working with a huge network of partners around the world to train them, so that they can then teach children and young people this educational content.

Our motto is ‘Children Empowered’ and that’s part of our vision, to empower children and young people, to have the necessary skills and tools, to become agents of change and have the skills to change things in their own communities. And I think fundamentally, that’s what it comes down to: finding the best way to try to help. And I believe if you empower the people who are already there, so they can help themselves, you’re on the right track.

A basketball academy and inclusive education in Africa: Tidjane George's dream - Johan Cruyff Institute

Tidjane George posing with the mascot of Aflatoun.

My role specifically is to manage the projects and programs for anglophone Africa. So, I’m quite busy but I really love my job, because it means you’re working internationally, implementing projects around the world for education.

Do you see yourself managing the basketball academy from Europe, or would you prefer to live there?

That’s a great question and I think it’s a bit of both. I’ve been living pretty much all my life in Europe and I have all these connections with anglophone Africa. I have visited the region multiple times, but I think I know how to use my network from where I am right now. From here in Europe, I know how to get things done, get my daily work done.

But I do want to go, although I don’t know exactly where that will be, Sierra Leone or maybe another country. And make a fresh start there, with the network that I have, but also creating a new network in the region, and creating a new life. I think, fundamentally, in the long term I would like to go, but right now I am very firmly rooted in Europe.

MASTER IN

Sport Management

The Master in Sport Management in Amsterdam is tailored for people with a passion for sport who value professional career development in the sport industry. This 10-month intensive program is delivered in English and explores the most important aspects of management applied in sport, where personal development of each student is key.

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