I'll be honest. I don’t do much about charities in this space. Not because they are not worthy, but because they’re harder to discuss from a business perspective.
But there’s a new initiative that I think is groundbreaking.
As you know, soccer is the world’s most popular sport. But when kids in third world countries are given soccer balls, they hardly last. They don’t have pumps to blow the ball up again and they’re often playing on rough dirt, instead of the well-manicured fields we have here.
The solution is a ball called the One World Futbol, which was developed by a man named Tim Jahnigen after he watched footage of children playing soccer with a ball of trash in Darfur. The ball is made out of a special material that allows it to last for years. It never needs a pump and never goes flat because it doesn’t have air in it.
So far, the ball has been distributed in 137 countries, thanks in part to a program that donates one ball overseas for every ball purchased here (retail is $40). But this week, One World got its biggest boost asChevrolet, in conjunction with its new deal to be the official car of Manchester United, agreed to sponsor the distribution of 1.5 million of the balls over the next three years.
“We pride ourselves in being part of communities through sports,” said Joel Ewanick, the global chief marketing officer for General Motors, parent company of the Chevy brand. “We were discussing how we extend what we do here in the US globally and we found One World Football and, frankly, discovered that they were struggling.”
The ball, made out something called cross-linked closed cell foam (that’s similar to the material found in Crocs shoes), is not cheap to make, but when a ball is delivered to a community, the reaction on the faces of the kids make it all worth it.
“We went out to El Salvador and every ball we saw was either completely flat or didn’t have a cover on it,” said Lisa Tarver, One World Futbol’s co-founder and chief operating officer. “These balls were donated with good intentions, but they last a couple games or maybe a couple weeks. We bring our ball and smash it flat and when it bounces back, they look at you like it’s magic.”
Tarver said Unicef did a study of the One World ball compared to an average soccer ball distributed to 80 schools in Uganda. After a month, 75 percent of the inflated balls were flat. After four months, there were no balls that were still inflated.
“Every one of ours, except one, which was either lost or stolen, was still in play,” Tarver said. “And they’ll be in play a year from now and even ten years from now.”
As part of the deal, Chevrolet will get its logo on the balls, but as is the case with most charities, the car brand doesn’t expect much real financial return.
“We’re thrilled with giving these kids something they can play with that’s going to last a long time,” Ewanick said. “The places where these balls are going aren’t in places with much traffic. We’re not going to sell a lot of cars there.”
In order to make sure the balls reach the greatest amount of needy children, they are distributed to community centers in the countries who keep the balls after the kids play with them to ensure that they are not going home with the kids.
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