The off-field impact that the NRL can be proud of

With the footy officially back, I'm counting down the days until I can get to Parramatta's first home game of the season. I've been a member of the club for 11 years and for the most part, have sat with the same group of people during that whole time. The people I sit with at games have become my rugby league family and we have shared some dizzying highs and devastating lows both on the field but also off it too.  

My footy family come from many different walks of life. We have grown up in different parts of the world. We come from different cultural backgrounds. We are different ages. But what has brought us together is our love of rugby league and in particular, our love of the Parramatta Eels. But for this game, I almost certainly would never have crossed paths with these people.

Often it's very easy to only think about rugby league as a sport that happens on the field. But it's this ability to bring people together that sets rugby league, and sport apart from many other pursuits. At its core, rugby league is more than just a game. It's a community and communities look after each other.

Today, the NRL has released its Social Impact Report for 2018. This is the third report of its kind.

The report demonstrates the many ways in which the NRL community has looked after and cared for thousands of individuals throughout the last year. It highlights the programs that the NRL delivers each year. These programs, being Voice Against Violence, NRL State of Mind, In League in Harmony and School to Work are strongly supported by our NRL players, the clubs and some of the NRL's major sponsors and have been delivered not just across Australia in the past year, but also in Papua New Guinea, Fiji and Tonga.

Each of these programs focuses on some or all of the following key themes: respect, inclusion and supporting mental, physical, spiritual and emotional well-being, and targets one of four key groups, being young people, our multicultural community, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island people and women and girls. Importantly, some of these targeted groups include people in our communities that can sometimes be highly disadvantaged and disengaged; so via these programs the NRL is often helping the groups that need assistance the most.

One of the challenges that organisations often face when talking about the community work that they engage in, is quantifying the value of this work. Intrinsically we know that community work is important and has a big impact on communities, but putting a dollar value on that work is hard.

In this year's report, the NRL engaged Social Ventures Australia to conduct an analysis using the Social Return on Investment Methodology. This methodology is a cost-benefit analysis that, via a ratio, demonstrates how much social value is delivered in the community for each dollar that the NRL invests. So it's very clear exactly just how much social revenue is generated by the NRL in delivering these programs.

Here's a snapshot of those programs.

The In League in Harmony program focuses on issues like social disengagement, racism, gender, inequality and bullying. For every dollar the NRL invested in this program in 2018, $3.38 of social value was created. Over 2,204 people participated in these programs throughout the year. Two of those people were the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who took part in the program during their Australian Royal Tour.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took part in the National Rugby League's 'In League in Harmony' program.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle took part in the National Rugby League's 'In League in Harmony' program. ©NRL Photos

Voice Against Violence is a program designed to help the NRL community have conversations about domestic violence and empower participants to stand up, speak out and take action to prevent this violence against women and children. This program was delivered to 2,102 people in 2018 and importantly for every dollar the NRL invested in this program in 2018, $4.09 of social value was created.

Particularly relevant, given some of the conversations that we have been having over the off-season, this program is delivered in strategic partnership with White Ribbon Australia, the Full Stop Foundation and OurWatch and is a fitting example of the focus the NRL has on education in this space.

Through the NRL's School to Work Program, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students are encouraged to stay in school, complete their HSC and transition into further work and study. For every dollar the NRL invested in this program in 2018, $4.28 of social value was created. This program has been exceptionally successful with 500 students taking part each year and a 95% transition rate from school-based studies to further study, training or employment.

Finally, the State of Mind program supports the delivery of positive mental health messages through the community. This program is exceptionally important given the prevalence of mental illness in Australian society. Rugby league has a very real role in demonstrating that it is OK to speak out, just like several players have done in the last year including Darius Boyd and Josh Dugan. For every dollar the NRL spends on this particular program, $4.18 is generated in social value.

Undoubtedly each of these programs will continue to grow in 2018 and with each individual that the NRL reaches through one of these programs a genuine difference is being made.

There have certainly been some challenges that the game has confronted over the off-season and these absolutely cannot be ignored. But what also cannot be ignored is the work that our game does in our communities. Our game has a very real and powerful role in encouraging the people in our communities to be the best they can be by inspiring them, motivating them and supporting them. This is a responsibility which the games takes very seriously and something which we, as fans, should all be very proud of.