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Our Work

Our empowerment philosophy at the Center for Sport, Peace, and Society is simple. We want to expose, equip, engage, and entrust local and global audiences to use sport to make a positive difference in the world.

4-EModel-page-001Our work is grounded in more than twenty years of international sports development experience, using sport to promote empowerment and peace-building in some of the most volatile post-conflict and post-disaster regions of the world. We also work locally, creating sports and physical activity opportunities for a growing number of refugees, immigrants, and underserved youth in East Tennessee. As educators, we teach courses related to leadership, sport, development, and peace, and conduct research on the power of service-learning and sports-based exchange programs. All of these experiences prepared the center to receive the 2012 inaugural US Department of State (DoS) “Empowering Women and Girls through Sports (EWGTS)” cooperative agreement, under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This multi-million-dollar initiative has allowed us to host more than 275 women and girls from more than fifty-five countries on sports-based exchanges, which has inspired our campus and bridged a number of new interdisciplinary partnerships.

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With the discontinuation of the U.S. Department of State Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative in 2015, the USDOS created a similar initiative based on one of the pillars—the Global Sports Mentoring Program. The CSPS was named the cooperative agreement partner in late 2015.

Building on the successes of past sports diplomacy programs, the GSMP combines mentorship and cultural exchange in yearly programs focused on empowering women and people with disabilities through sports. Through these programs, 113 international sports leaders from 63 countries have returned home to advocate for inclusion, accessibility, gender equality, and the rights of people with disabilities.

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The U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative was launched by former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton in 2012 and existed through 2015. During this four year period, the CSPS served as the official cooperative agreement partner of the U.S. Department of State.

The initiative was comprised of three pillars: the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP); Sports Envoys; and Sports Visitors. These programs, administered by the CSPS, built on the United States global commitment to advance the rights and participation of women and girls around the world. Over the course of the cooperative agreement, more than 300 girls and women from 60+ countries participated.


The VOLeaders Academy—a dynamic partnership between the CSPS, Center for Leadership and Service, and Department of Athletics—was developed in 2015 to cultivate positive student-athlete leaders through sport to create positive social change.

By using their platform in sport, student-athletes admitted into the VOLeaders Academy learn how to be a positive force for their team, campus, and local and global communities. The program inspires student-athletes to find ways to use their influence and passion for sport to enact change that transcends their athletic success.

The VOLeaders Academy uses the frameworks of servant leadership, transformational leadership, emotionally intelligent leadership and strengths-based leadership to develop each student athlete into a committed and effective leader. The academy engages students in experiential and service-learning activities, both locally and abroad, that provide them with unique opportunities to learn, lead, and empower underserved populations through sport.

“I learned a lot from this class; how to be a friend, how to be a leader, and how sports can really change a child’s life. It is different from other classes because you really get to build on yourself with your classmates as well as with your service site. This class really helped me grow as a person. It gives more meaning to your accomplishments when you can watch someone else achieve their goals rather than just doing a good job on an exam. It’s given me a whole different perspective on what achievement really means.”

—Avery Anderson, service-learning student, spring 2015


“Prior to GSMP, I was a jangle of ideas and nerves. The CSPS provided me the impetus and the wherewithal that eventually enabled me to launch my own sport for development programs in my country. Drs. Sarah Hillyer and Ashleigh Huffman clearly walk the talk. Their vast experience in the field of sport for development is embodied in how they implement programs—that goes way beyond the one-off approaches that most programs fall prey to. Even years after, they continue to connect and involve us, ensuring that the “sisters” will always have a web of support and opportunities for cross engagement. The CSPS formula in a nutshell: Mentor. Nurture. Capacitate. Empower…Now, share and repeat!”

—Geraldine Bernardo, Philippines, GSMP: Empower Women class of 2012 alumna


“I’ve been on different mentorship programs around the world before, yet GSMP was the only one that continued being part of my life even after the program ended. The amount of support I got during the program from UT, both for my enterprise (Educate Me) and my own personal growth, was life-changing. The environment created by Dr. Sarah and Dr. Ash allowed everyone to let go of their prejudices and open up to being influenced by one another and grow together, which is what a community is really about. I came back home with tons of fresh ideas for my enterprise, meaningful friendships, and a great sense of belonging to a clan that is changing the world every day.”

—Yasmin Helal, Egypt, GSMP: Empower Women class of 2014 alumna

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