Last week we profiled streetfootballworld, aka the “Big Daddies” of the development through football world. Alongside their CEO, Jürgen Griesbeck, there is yet another German Ashoka fellow right here in Berlin who is using football to do very GOOD things, and that is Thorsten Kiefer from WASH United. We are fairly sure that this has nothing to do with extreme football fanaticism on the part of Ashoka’s management team, but more to do with the fact that WASH United is tackling a very delicate issue in a fun and innovative way…

4 out of 10 people lack access to something as basic as a clean toilet. Preventable diarrhoea caused by a lack of access to sanitation and poor hygiene kills more children than malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS combined. Poor hygiene also accounts for 443 million school days being lost every year - that’s a sh*tload of wasted potential.

Thorsten recognised that the problem doesn’t stop with having the right facilities (toilets, clean water, soap & co.). It’s about changing behaviour and attitudes. WASH United’s work is based around the notion that in order for there to be a sustainable change to hygiene in developing countries, you need to make toilets desirable and good hygiene cool. Only a wanted toilet is a used toilet. And what better way to transmit the messaging than through the only truly global language - football - and using footballers aka modern-day Gods - as ambassadors to affirm that messaging.

Achieving behavioural change is not just about what you say, but how you say it and who says it. Using the power of sports, superstars, interactive games, fun and positive communication, WASH United - which has their headquarters in Kreuzberg - works to change attitudes around sanitation and hygiene and facilitate behaviour change on a large scale in Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Uganda, Rwanda, Bangladesh and India. So far they have trained 100,000 children in youth sports teams and in schools and estimate having reached over 300,000 million people with campaigns and media work.

2015, during the African Cup of Nations, they will host an alternative WASH Challenge Cup (together with streetfootballworld - hurrah for collaboration not competition in the non-profit sector) which will bring East African organisations together and equip them as WASH experts for their communities. In this football tournament, it is not only goals on the pitch which contribute to a team’s score, but also their ability to answer questions about and practise good hygiene.

The secret to their success has been a combination of the fun-factor of interactive games and the collaboration with some of the world’s top football stars. Schweinsteiger, Drogba und Robben are amongst the WASH United ambassadors and serve as inspiration for kids all over the world. Together with partners like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNICEF India and a wide range of local organisations, WASH United sets out to tackle the global sanitation crisis... As we know, it takes a team to win a game, and WASH United won’t settle for a draw.

Originally published June 24, 2014

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