Strategies for Change - A Guide to THE SKATEROOM's Social Impact

Social change is the driving force behind all of THE SKATEROOM’s practices. We bring consistent, tangible impact to global communities worldwide through skateboarding - a medium we know and love best. These are not just empty promises but concrete actions, rooted in careful strategic planning, monitoring and evaluation. THE SKATEROOM’s Social Impact Manager Zelia Corbia is here to offer a comprehensive guide to our social partnerships, the responsibility we take and the procedures we put in place to ensure the most effective support, where it’s most needed.

What is your role at THE SKATEROOM?

I am the Social Impact Manager, the main point of contact between THE SKATEROOM and all social projects that need funding or that we are having an ongoing partnership with. The role involves regular contact with the projects, seeing how they are developing, what impact they are delivering and what kind of support is relevant for us to provide.

How many social projects has THE SKATEROOM partnered with so far?

So far it’s roughly 40 organizations and counting, but the year is far from over! There are still multiple partnerships in the pipeline. Over the last decade there has been a huge variety of educational and empowerment programs which combine skateboarding with creative initiatives and also skatepark constructions.

Are all social projects supported by THE SKATEROOM related to skateboarding?

Currently, all of the projects that we partner with use skateboarding as a tool for social empowerment. Each project works within its own context, with response to its own specific needs that are relevant to the local community - but skateboarding is the common thread through all of them.

What other criteria do you look for when researching social partners?

From an organizational capacity there are a lot of different indicators that we look at. The four main ones, which we measure year to year, are: Gender Equity - how do your programs ensure that they’re as inclusive as possible for all types of genders to participate in?; Inclusion of Minority Populations - this is relevant to a huge variety of different demographics but it’s about identifying which population would benefit from this kind of support the most and how to reach them in the best way possible. It's also about being aware of any obstacles an individual might face in accessing the programs - social partners should demonstrate action-based initiatives that target persons facing any kind of social exclusion and encourage them to participate in their programs; Project Sustainability - making sure that each project which reaches out to us has some kind of funding diversification, allowing them to carry on outside of just THE SKATEROOM’s support; Economic Empowerment - we want to make sure that each project is responding to a specific need in a specific local context. It’s great when projects can provide staff salaries to ensure that their programming is durable, which is possible for projects that have been operating for a long time but this isn’t feasible for all projects. Economic empowerment can also involve encouraging youth to step up and become leaders within the organization, and about teaching them relevant employability skills and ensuring that they are able to exercise and develop them within the context of the educational program.

Do projects reach out to THE SKATEROOM or do you reach out to them first? What is the ratio?

About 70% of the projects reach out to THE SKATEROOM when they have a defined program, a goal that they want to accomplish and a concrete idea of how we can support it. Another 30% is me reaching out to a project when, eg. an artist wants to support a specific area or has a specific theme in mind that they want to touch on with their collection. Then it’s my role to figure out which project puts this theme at the forefront of their mission.

What does the process of partnering up with a social project look like?

There is an Open Call form for social projects on THE SKATEROOM’s website that can be filled out anytime of the year, and submitted multiple times if an organization has different activities that evolve over time, or specific programs that need funding. What we look for in that form is a clear vision and timeline of the input and the outcomes, as well as having the capacity of delivering accurate budgets and reporting on the project’s impact, and identifying what the challenges and accomplishments are. What makes THE SKATEROOM stand apart is the fact that it’s not a traditional grant funding body, which allows for great flexibility in creating new social partnerships and responding to a need as efficiently as possible when we see it, without any strict deadlines. When we have a collection that is relevant to the project, or the timing is just right to begin supporting a construction, we begin a series of follow-up meetings to define the financial needs, the expected outcomes of the partnership, and the duration of the partnership.

What kind of support does THE SKATEROOM bring? Is it a one-off donation or is it more of a long-term commitment?

The only types of one-off donations that we do are for construction projects which have a clear deadline for when the concrete needs to be poured and when the park needs to be finished. These will sometimes be just a six-month, or a one-year partnership, where we roll out the funding in installments to allow the partner project to fundraise and prepare. For organizations running programs on a daily or weekly basis, we do a year-long partnership which allows us the time to really see the evolution of the project and conduct monitoring and evaluation practices. With some partners, this opens up the possibility for a multi-year partnership. There have been some really beautiful evolutions where we see a project which started with one skatepark construction suddenly expand into three or four different locations and grow their local staff. Those kinds of partnerships are such a strong foundation of reliable funding, which benefits the project’s sustainability and ensures that their programming and impact can last a long time. It’s not as impactful for THE SKATEROOM to be involved in projects which only have a vision that will last a few months. When we partner with a project, it’s really an investment into the local community. We want it to be something that will last way beyond what the program’s initial outcome forecast was.

You mentioned monitoring and evaluation practices - how does that look in reality?

After signing the contract we ensure that there will be follow up meetings, especially if the project runs into any significant challenges. We want to be able to ensure that the project can deliver on what their programs are and to let them know that they can reach out to us and we can find a way to make sure that their programs are still viable. It involves regular calls, usually on a quarterly basis. We also ask for quarterly reports which touch on how many people are participating, where are they coming from, what are the inclusion practices, is the project targeting youth with disabilities, or LGBTQIA+ identifying people, or any population that might face any additional obstacles. We’re really interested in seeing how they are able to respond to the needs of different populations and also understanding what their challenges are, and what the local context is. These monitoring practices are also really interesting in terms of evaluating THE SKATEROOM’s impact and how many people we reach every year. It’s a way to put our money where our mouth is. We need to know that the projects we work with are responding to a need that exists.

What are some of the challenges that social projects from around the world are facing most often?

From a local perspective, having active and positive relationships within local municipalities and authorities is probably one of the most recurring challenges. This is in terms of projects that want to expand with skate park space, community centers or offices to operate from. Since skateboarding, especially social skateboarding, is relatively new and outside of the typical scope of what a social project might look like, it’s easy to see how it might be a little bit shocking, new and stigmatized by local authorities. They might still hold on to this dated vision of skateboarding being tied to anti-social behavior and other negative stereotypes. Maintaining active communication with their local governments regarding building permits, bureaucratic processes, legally registering as a charity or an organization - usually those are processes which demand a lot of time and energy, and they also necessitate funds. You need to have people that are experienced in that area and it’s important to be funding all aspects of an organization. If we are only supporting the material costs of the program, we are completely neglecting the administrative work and the organizational capacity that goes into making sure that a program exists and continues to run in the long term.

Is there a limit to the amount of projects TSR will be partnering with? How do you avoid spreading yourself too thin?

Financially, we provide 10% of all revenue to social projects. This helps us have a projection of how much we are able to support at the start of the year, and we make sure to space out the new partnerships throughout the year to ensure we deliver on our responsibilities and bring reliable support without overpromising.

Are there any specific areas or communities that you would still like to reach with THE SKATEROOM’s social initiatives?

Worldwide, there’s so many projects coming up in places that have very limited skating infrastructure - they don’t have skate shops, skate parks, there are kids practicing on the side of the road or on public plazas from which they get kicked out… It’s generally not as safe for them, so we want to look at places with very limited infrastructure in order to provide them with the material support and funds to equip themselves with skateboards, pads, and protective helmets, as well as being able to build - whether it’s mobile ramps, permanent skateparks or permanent community centers. Most of the time these areas will be in the global South. We’ll be looking specifically outside of Europe and outside of the US, where there is already a huge skateboarding scene.

What are some examples of the tangible impact THE SKATEROOM has had over the past decade?

Over the last decade, THE SKATEROOM has supported over 40 projects, in over 50 different locations, across 31 countries worldwide. We generated approximately $1.5 million in support, sponsoring projects both on a long-term multi-year basis and short-term basis. So far, 17 skateparks have been built all over the world with THE SKATEROOM’s support, with an aim to support a project on each continent, especially locations which don’t have a solid skateboarding industry. Last year alone, there were nearly 10,000 kids that were involved in some kind of skateboarding program sponsored by THE SKATEROOM and there were 180,000 attendances recorded. It’s a lot of work and a huge variety of different projects that we’ve been able to support. It’s the great thing about THE SKATEROOM - there’s endless possibilities to the projects we are able to help.