"We would like to provide more ethical jobs, donate more sports balls and reach more young people with vital health education"

We had a chat with the Alive & Kicking team, an organisation that uses football to develop communities in Africa. They make football, thus providing sustainable jobs to more than a 1000 people.

MSS: We should introduce Alive and Kicking. What is it, and how was it created? What are its aims?

A&M: In 2004 our founder, Jim Cogan, wanted to ensure that young people in communities across sub-Saharan Africa facing disadvantage had access to high quality sports balls. The balls made of plastic and string were fantastic creations but they didn't last long so he wanted to provide something that could handle the local playing conditions. Rather than donate balls from the UK he wanted to go further by having both an economic and social impact on the areas where the balls would be used. As a result Alive and Kicking was born.

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We make hand stitched durable sports balls across three not-for-profit centres in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. Our operations provide sustainable and ethical jobs in areas in where over 70 per cent of workers are in 'vulnerable' employment. Proceeds from selling the balls go back into each centre and fund effective health and wellbeing education through sport programmes. Since 2004 we’ve made almost 900,000 balls with a mixture of local leather and upcycled leather, provided over 1,000 employment opportunities, reached over 30,000 young people through our network of health education coaches, and donated over 160,000 balls.

So you make durable footballs. The balls are not only object for fun now, but they also carry a strong message of hope right?

Yes, our balls last up to eight times longer than a standard ball on the surfaces they're used so they're definitely durable. Fun is definitely a key element with each ball reaching an average of 45 young people but as you say they go much further than that. Each ball we make helps us to provide more ethical jobs across our centres helping to bring families out of poverty. The profits made from selling the balls as well as additional fundraising then means we're able to reach more young people through ball donations and our innovative health education programmes. If you delve even deeper we know that 75% of our staff use their income to pay their kids through school so the social and economic impact locally is significant.

What difficulties have you faced? How did your group learn from them and grow?

Setting up a new centre is always a challenge. It is important to understand the market as the three countries we work in are very different. The networks we sell through want different things whether it's the type of ball, the branding, the material … it can all change depending on where we are. That's definitely been a learning curve but we feel we are getting our range of sports balls to a place where we can cater for a number of needs.

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You organise a five-a-side competition, which got you a nomination in our #MSSWeeklyAwards . What does it consist of?

Yes, it's a fantastic event just before the World Cup. It takes place in Shoreditch London where organisations enter teams with the aim of wining the famous A+K trophy. It costs £500 with all proceeds going to support our three centres in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia. We'll also be playing with A+K balls of course! If anyone would like to enter a team they can by emailing joel.phillimore@aliveandkicking.org

You've recently presented a new ball, the A + F x Feed me Light, with a special design. What can you tell us about that? It's a great looking ball

Thank you, Feed Me Light have done a fantastic job bringing their ideas to life while at the same time helping to promote our mission. We wanted to create something a little different with the World Cup coming up and Feed me Light, who are local to our shop in Shoreditch, kindly offered to help with their expertise in design. As a result we have a great looking ball with a strong back story that is having a positive economic and social impact in the areas it is made. If anyone would like to purchase one you can get one from our shop in Shoreditch or visit our website at aliveandkicking.org

As always, we ask what you would like for the future of your organisation and what plans do you have?

Linking into our mission, we would like to provide more ethical jobs, donate more sports balls and reach more young people with vital health education. To do that we need to grow our existing centres, start to think about new countries to open in and consider what balls to bring to the market. As always this depends on creating successful partnerships so we hope to grow our brand and see our sports balls being played with by people all over the globe. Maybe one day our ball will be used in the World Cup Final…

 

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