In light of the 2018 World Cup, we looked at some of the groundbreaking organisations based in Berlin, which use the beautiful game of football for more than just an opportunity for face painting, beer drinking and making money.

First up, streetfootballworld. 

streetfootballworld is the world’s largest network of global organisations using football to change the world, comprising of over 100 network members from Köln to Kenya and reaching 750,000 young people every year.

It was started and is based right here in Berlin back in 2002, and they now have around 30 staff members in places as far spread as Cape Town, Rio de Janeiro, New York and Bogota. (Here’s the disclaimer: I used to be one of them). Some of you may remember the street football tournament which ran parallel to the World Cup in Mariannenplatz, back in the heady days of Summer 2006. Well that was one of streetfootballworld’s first big projects, allowing it to make a name for itself not only here but across the world and reach out to corporate partners like FIFA itself, Sony and adidas.

Since 2006, streetfootballworld has worked with UEFA and the EU to bring together disadvantaged children and young leaders from all over Europe during the 2008 and 2012 EUROs; run employee and consumer engagement programmes for Sony, Gillette and Hyundai; and provided multiple platforms, on and offline, to connect their network members so that they can learn from each other and maximise their impact. They also helped develop a Measurement and Evaluation software and training programme called InFocus, to help their members recognise, communicate and optimise their outcomes and impact. And have been honoured with Ashoka and Schwab membership, which has seen their CEO Jürgen Griesbeck jet off to the World Economic Forum and lobby for a business sector which takes its social responsibility more seriously. And all that without ever having to bribe anybody.

So what exactly is “football for development”? It’s easiest to understand by looking at some of the examples from streetfootballworld’s network members, who are the ones on the ground using their local knowledge to create programmes which change the lives of young people for the better. Street League is UK based and has developed a programme for NEETS (young people Not in Education, Employment or Training), which first of all gets them off the streets and out of their isolation simply by encouraging them to come to a football training on a regular basis. Once there, they are engaged and advised by social workers and career advisers, and enrolled into a structured football, education and job skills programme and given access to work placements. At the end of the programme (and this is my favourite bit) they are invited to the headquarters of one of their main sponsors, Barclays Bank, and are awarded with a certificate by one of the executives with a view right over the city of London. With this (for some first ever) sense of achievement and perspective, and improved teamwork and discipline, they are then actively helped into further education or longer term employment.

At HODI in Kenya, where tribal conflict is still rife, football is used to bring young people together, often for the first time, with others who they only know as the faceless enemy. The same principle is used in other conflict regions like Israel and Palestine, in the cases of the Peres Centre for Peace and Mifalot. In South Africa and Lesotho, several organisations use the language of football to make HIV education more accessible to young people, whilst in former war zones like Cambodia and Iraq, Spirit of Soccer combines football with landmine awareness - very literally saving lives on a regular basis.

The list is endless, but you no doubt get the picture. Football is the facilitator, driver and vehicle for change. It can be played anywhere, doesn’t require a lot of kit and helps instill important life-skills in its players. Above all, these organisations are united by the unparalleled power of football to bring people together behind a common goal with a passion like no other. streetfootballworld takes its drive and motivation from its founding belief that if you can harness even some of this energy for positive social change, the world would be a much better place.

Originally published June 14, 2014

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