When I sat down to talk with Molly Rhone, President of the International Netball Federation, I thought we were going to talk Netball, Elite Netball and what her plans were for the future of it, especially with the Netball World Cup coming up. However I came away in awe of what she has achieved and the impact Netball is having at grassroots around the world.
Molly has a passion and belief in what she is doing and she wants to share this with everyone she meets, this isn’t about a CEO/ President who is here to ‘run a business’, this is a woman who at the age of ten started to play netball in Jamaica. As she said, “...it changed my life and I saw how it changed other girls”. It is this ethos and driving force that has pushed Molly all these years, the desire to make a difference.
“To whom much has been given, much is expected,” she says to me of both her talent and then the positions she found herself in. First, as a member of the Jamaican Netball team ‘the sunshine girls’, and then vice-captain and President and finally President of the INF. With award after award, including Jamaican’s Gleaner Honour Award and the Canadian Commander of the Order of Distinction. She doesn’t dismiss them, but in no means is motivated by them. She very amusingly says that “….it’s great to get awards and recognition while you are alive! (and laughs) but I don’t work to get awards.”
Seeing the impact of Netball in the inner cities and the positive impact it had spurred her on to ensure that a raft of programs are in place around the globe to affect change. Using netball as a catalyst, modules have been created for talks about HIV, accounting, lifestyle etc. The challenge has not only been to engage the girls, in many countries it has been about persuading the mothers to let their girls get involved. The popular view is that they need to stay at home and shouldn’t be learning, but Molly and her team have listened, talked and persuaded them - and the programs are a success.
From the slums of Delhi to sub Saharan Africa there are no programs that - as Molly says “...get girls active and playing and teaches them life skills.” Interestingly, she makes the point that there are many sports programs around the world but they are in the main aimed at boys, and she is very clear that this is about netball for girls. “I make no apology for this,” she says of her focus “…grassroots is important”. This is Molly’s raison d’etre: she is the epitome of the phrase ‘giving back’.
Molly has a three pronged strategy in her quest for netball. First, governance of the sport and all the administrative set-up needs to be in place. From when she first took over as President with one part-time member of staff to a fully-fledged international organisation with full time staff and representatives in many key countries, she has put a structure in place to not only deliver her vision but to grow the sport around the world by providing the support needed.
Second, Molly wants to grow the sport at elite level with more countries becoming members and it being included in more international events. When Molly started there were thirty seven paid members of the INF, now with seventy five paid members and many more countries playing she is very excited. “It’s so exciting to see teams and countries coming through and for many it’s about talent with minimum resources. Just look at Malawi, Zambia and Uganda.” She speaks with the pride and excitement of a parent talking about their child. There is no corporate speak here, she is clearly wanting new countries to play netball and to grow the game at elite level. She overflows with stories of countries and the things they have achieved, as well as telling me of new countries playing netball. As she readily admits, given the success of this part of the strategy her challenge is now to ensure there is enough technical help in place to help these countries. “It’s all about developing talent,” she explains.
The third and final part of her strategy is the grassroots focus, to build future generations - but most importantly for Molly it’s to empower and uplift a generation around the world. What an incredible vision and what a legacy to leave behind. Whilst talking with Molly she is clear that you need to make a difference in a position like hers. As she said, “if you haven’t made a difference, don’t be involved.” Which may sound harsh, but for Molly it’s about being at the top of your game and always being fresh.
To this end Molly has created a ‘term presidency’ that ensures that no single person stays in the role, there is always change. She sees that new people bring new ideas and a fresh energy. But more than this, she says that “…while you are there you need to be a revolutionary”. And maybe this is the root of what makes Molly the way she is: she sees herself as netball revolutionary and not a corporate president - and this is why she has achieved so much and will leave a legacy any would be proud of. All that is left is for her to fulfil her desire to see netball as an Olympic sport - and given all she has achieved, the smart money is on her doing just that.
For more details on Netball for peace, Netball safari’s and Goal India programs the International Netball federation run please visit http://www.netball.org/sustainable-global-development