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about us

Debate Spaces is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that aims to connect communities and empower students through debate. Debate Spaces brings together middle and high school students for extracurricular programming that offers students world-class public speaking and debate training while helping students apply the skills they’re learning to make change in their communities.

Since its founding in 2017, Debate Spaces has:

  • Impacted 600+ students from schools representing 30+ countries

  • Matched over a dozen college mentors with debate teams and students


When Matt first arrived in South Africa in 2016, it had just passed Brazil as the most unequal country in the world. The place he was living, Stellenbosch, was (and still is) the most unequal town in South Africa. To Matt, living in South Africa felt like living in two different countries that did not interact. This reality hit him most forcefully when he met a 19-year-old student at Makupula High School, the school he was working at. This 19-year-old student had never sent an email and didn’t know how to navigate the internet. The contrast between this student and Matt’s 19-year-old roommate in Stellenbosch, with his Macbook and new car, felt enormous. These two people were the same age and lived less than 3 miles from each other, but they would never meet and their lives would never cross. That’s why Matt started Debate Spaces.

In Stellenbosch, South Africa, Debate Spaces focused on bringing together primary school students from opposite sides of unequal communities to have fun while learning the important skills of debating. Student’s improved their confidence while speaking in front of a room, they trained their minds to solve problems critically, and they learned how to present themselves so that they are listened to and taken seriously despite their age. When Matt came back to the United States in 2017, he knew that Debate Spaces could also play role here.

In 2017, Tessa had just graduated from Bates College. While in college, Tessa had started the first high school debate team in Bolivia, which was part of independent research she was doing on using debate as a tool for encouraging youth activism and political participation. Using Tessa’s experience using debate as a tool for youth civic engagement and Matt’s experience starting Debate Spaces in South Africa, they worked together to create what is currently Debate Spaces.


100 %

of student participants said that Debate Spaces helped them meet people who were different from them

96 %

of student participants said that Debate Spaces will help them in school 

93 %

of student participants said that their public speaking improved after Debate Spaces

OUR Values

Student-Centered Learning

We believe that learning happens most when it is student-driven and meets learners on their own terms. We value the skills and experiences our students bring, and our programs are designed to promote lifelong learning among a community of empowered young people by infusing fun, innovation, collaboration, and critical thinking into the learning experience.

Community Activism

Debate is a powerful tool, and we believe that both Debate Spaces and our students have a responsibility to use that tool to improve our communities, rectify systemic inequities, and promote equality and wellbeing for all. Our programs strive to create new opportunities for young people to realize their potential and effect societal change.

Welcoming All Voices

We are committed to serving all young people, regardless of background or identity, and we recognize that barriers impede equal participation and leadership within Debate Spaces. Our success relies on elevating voices from the communities we serve at every level of our organization. In place of barriers, we help students build bridges across diverse international communities.

Meaningful Discourse

Communication is vital to creating and disseminating solutions to the collective challenges young people face, and open dialogue is essential for personal growth. We uphold respect, empathy, intellectual humility, and active listening as essential to promoting these constructive and informed conversations.

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