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Soccer for Entrepreneurship

The Big Idea: The beautiful game is everywhere. 1 billion people watched on as Germany and Argentina faced each other in the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final. Many more live and breathe soccer everyday, playing on tropical beaches, muddy streets and grass fields around the globe. Playing and watching the game is a way of life, an inextinguishable passion passed down from one generation to the next.

Across emerging markets, young soccer-mad adults languish in unemployment or in low-paying jobs with no prospect of true careers. They struggle as “involuntary entrepreneurs” in the grey economy, selling socks on the streets or cellphone scratch cards outside major hotels – with almost no opportunity to advance professionally or grow their skills. So why not use soccer to generate essential business and entrepreneurial skills to those who need it most?

Inspired by soccer for social change programs such as Grassroots Soccer which has had dramatic success combatting AIDS in Africa and IADB’s A Vencer/A Ganar program which has worked with street children and other at-risk populations, we see a great opportunity in mobilizing the world’s game as a platform for teaching and promoting entrepreneurial skills to the young adults that need them the most. Getting started could be simple: all you need is some basic curriculum, instructors… and a ball.

How It Could Work: Just as soccer leagues consist of a season played out in weekly games, our proposed Soccer For Entrepreneurship (SFE) approach is set out in weekly training sessions. Each section covers a topic crucial to the process of starting or running a business. Topics would include choosing your business, sales, HR, marketing and leadership training, and each topic would make use of soccer as part of the lesson. The HR lesson might talk about choosing your team, the marketing lesson about promoting ticket sales, and the leadership lesson could use team management as the focus. The “beautiful game”, after all, is also a VERY successful business platform, one accounting for billions of revenue across the world every year.

Classes are split between pre-game and half time sessions. Over the course of a season, participants will gain a clear understanding of the tools needed to start (or expand) small businesses. And with the team relationships they develop, graduates might even have some partners to start their ventures with.

Two aspects of this initiative are especially appealing to us: Its logistical simplicity and opportunities for sponsor participation. All that would be required is the staff and material supplies for a business-training program. Moreover, given the size of the existing soccer economy, there are a host of logical NGOs and sports companies (think Nike, Adidas) that could make excellent – and obvious – partners. At the same time, local firms, religious institutions or even communities themselves could sponsor a team or a league. The chance for sponsor recognition is there, literally, right on the front of the shirt!

Finally, the SFE approach is one that can be replicated around the world. Emerging markets as different as Angola and Ecuador face the same struggles in being unable to provide young adults with entrepreneurial opportunities. With a little bit of creativity, many parts of the system can scale. Banks could work with a large SFE program to help micro-enterprises spawned by the system to get loans from a special window. Universities could work with SFE to compare approaches across regions to better understand the best way to reach different groups – including rural audiences and young women.

For most young adults in the developing world, a traditional job is not just waiting to be found. Many people will have no choice other than developing the skills to “hire themselves”. Soccer for Entrepreneurship will help them understand how business works. The opportunity is there and the demand is there. All it takes is for someone to take the first kick.

What Makes The Approach Cool:

  1. SFE has a global appeal: Soccer is an unwavering international phenomenon, something that people enjoy and associate with.

  2. It addresses the right audience: SFE hits a target audience of underemployed youth who can and should be contributing to the workforce.

  3. Promotes a positive lifestyle: SFE promotes health, teamwork, trust and fair play, skills that crucial to building a business, working with customers or even being a valued employee.

  4. The program is scalable: SFE programs could be replicated around the world with relatively limited need for change across geography. While business culture differs with culture around the world, the basics of business are largely the same.

  5. It is by nature collaborative: It allows for potential entrepreneurial cooperation as participants could work together to start a business.

  6. It is perfect for partnerships: There are many possible partners who could both benefit from and could offer value

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