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Helping All Children Overcome The Barriers To Sport & Play With Jumpstart’s Marco Di Buono

Marco Di Buono | Associate Vice President of Programs & Operations | Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities

I am extremely proud of the time, energy and effort that our team makes to prioritize participant input as we continue to help all kids, regardless of ability, achieve their full potential through sport and play.

Marco Di Buono

Associate Vice President of Programs & Operations

Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities

× The interview with Marco Di Buono was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

Tell us about your role as the Associate Vice President of Programs & Operations for Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities. What does a typical day look like for you?

This is one of the most exciting roles in the Canadian sport landscape. The AVP Programs & Operations is responsible for the design and execution of Jumpstart’s community granting initiatives and other programs designed to help kids overcome the barriers to sport & play.

A typical day will involve listening to and learning from community organizations across the country and understanding some of the emerging challenges and/or opportunities that the sport, physical activity and recreation sector is facing.

Unique to Jumpstart, which receives the generous support of Canadian Tire Corporation and its family of companies, the AVP Programs & Operations also spends a significant amount of time engaging with internal stakeholders, many of whom provide incredible insights into the challenges and opportunities at a local, community level.

Despite our national scope, we are able to maintain a hyper-local focus in our approach to supporting sport and play because of the passion and enthusiasm of our internal stakeholders spread out across Canada.

Lastly, we have an opportunity to engage with municipal, provincial and federal leaders in sport, physical activity and recreation which enables us to deliver many of our programs in a collaborative way.

What was the launching point for your desire to work on the diversity and inclusion side of sports?

Although Jumpstart was established in 2005 to specifically help families overcome the financial barriers to sport & play, we developed meaningful partnerships with organizations serving children with disabilities, including the Canadian Paralympic Committee, the Rick Hansen Foundation and the Abilities Centre early on.

Our work with these organizations inspired us to launch our Inclusive Play Project in 2017 – a $40M commitment from Jumpstart to address the systemic barriers faced by children with disabilities to access quality sport and physical activity.

Our collaborative and consultative approach to designing, launching and executing Jumpstart’s Inclusive Play Project served as inspiration for the way we engage all community sport and physical activity stakeholders.

As we continue to listen, learn and engage collaboratively with our grant recipients and community sport stakeholders, we continue to adapt and evolve our approach to diversity and inclusion.

This includes updating our grant evaluation criteria to expressly favor organizations and initiatives that have a firm commitment to inclusion, partnering on research and advocacy efforts such as Canadian Women in Sport’s Rally Report, and taking a participant-centred approach to program design, among others.

What do you think are the three most important skills or attributes that an aspiring professional needs to have if they want to be successful in Programs & Operations?

Whether at Jumpstart or elsewhere one should embrace a continuous passion for learning.

Whether that is listening and learning from stakeholders, staying current on research trends, or cultivating a “test and learn” environment based on strong programmatic evaluation, it is imperative to take a data-driven approach to addressing the barriers to sport and play.

This includes searching out global examples and examples from other sectors to identify best practices.

Additionally, one needs to approach this work collaboratively and in partnership with the sport and physical activity ecosystem.

Combining the national scope of an organization like Jumpstart with continuous collaborative engagement allows one to facilitate the sharing of best practices across geographic boundaries, cultivate meaningful and sustainable partnerships, amplify the work of organizations that are generating impact, and effectively “connecting the dots” within the sport & physical activity ecosystem.

Finally, one must never forget that the most important stakeholder is the participant.

Although many of us have fond memories of our experience in sport – whether it be recreational or competitive, others will experience their journey through sport differently, and it is incredibly important to understand, respect and appreciate the lived experience of all participants if we are going to truly leverage sport and play as a way for us to become our better selves.  

What does it mean to you to work at Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities? Can you tell us about a special moment or highlight that you have experienced in this role?

It is an absolute honour and privilege to work for an organization that embraces the values of equity, diversity and inclusion, and is supported so enthusiastically by the Canadian Tire Family of Companies and its tens of thousands of employees across Canada.

This continuously gives the Charity the resources it needs to innovate in order to meet the changing needs of communities across Canada.

In September of 2020 we announced an $8M Community Sport Relief Fund to help organizations overcome the challenges imposed by COVID-19.

Our team worked diligently to create a 5-week turnaround from the day applications opened to the day we awarded funds. I had the privilege of calling a handful of the 668 organizations across Canada that received support to let them know they would be receiving funding.

The responses were incredibly emotional, underscoring the depth of the damage that COVID-19 has inflicted on community sport. In the days following our outreach to successful applicants, our team was awash in feedback from parents and kids who would benefit from the support we provided to their communities.

We don’t often have a chance to learn with such immediacy about the impact of our work and it has fuelled us to work even harder to support the kids and families we serve through the pandemic.  

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your role? Has it been difficult to provide children with chances to play?

On March 13, sport and play across the country went dark and it wasn’t until late June that Provinces started to gradually introduce return to play guidelines. The recent spike in cases across the country has seen a renewed series of program suspensions across most of the country.

For the sport and physical activity sector, the recovery is going to be long and the need for Jumpstart will be greater than it has ever been in our 15-year history. Consider that three quarters of community sport organizations had to close their doors in March and over 50% will not be resuming operations until well into 2021.

Considering that over 40% of community sport organizations are either entirely or predominantly volunteer-run and many of these volunteers are facing challenges of their own thereby creating unprecedented operational gaps. And consider that job losses are 4 times higher than what they were during the 2008/2009 global economic crisis and there will be more families than ever relying on support from organizations like Jumpstart.

But most importantly, consider that school closures, suspended sports & recreation, family confinement and separation, missed milestones and disrupted routines have affected the mental and physical well-being of children and youth. Removing the barriers that help them play will create a sense of belonging and will help them heal from the social and emotional trauma of COVID 19.

In late March we leveraged our relationships with our national network of community partners as well as some of Canadian Tire Corporation’s sport partnerships to funnel resources into online program delivery. We launched #PlayFromHome to help keep kids active by providing safe, quality programming on our web and social channels.

We offered online training to over 1,000 coaches and youth activity leaders, continuing to push the importance of inclusive sport and play, and we partnered with Canadian Women and Sport to launch the Rally Report – drawing attention to the continuing gender gaps that exist for girls and young women and identifying tangible solutions to help girls and young women achieve their full potential through sport & play.

In September we launched the Jumpstart Sport Relief Fund and invested $8M to help 668 organizations in every province and territory by providing grants to help overcome the financial and other barriers imposed by COVID 19.

And we continue to engage, listen and learn from our partners across Canada to understand how we can continue to respond to community needs as we navigate a COVID 19 winter.

Emma Greer Emma's Final Thoughts

Marco Di Buono, Associate Vice President of Programs & Operations for Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, holds an extremely important role in sport. With his passion and commitment, he is able to break down the barriers that stand in the way of children getting an equal, safe and fun sport environment. The programs that Marco and his team create help provide equal opportunities for people who have been systemically excluded. Marco cherishes his work and you can see his passion shine through in this interview! People like Marco are helping shape the future of sport. A future that is more inclusive, diverse and equitable.

Connect With Marco Di Buono



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