Social enterprise draws on football for impact in Africa

Alive and Kicking is an award-winning UK charity that runs social enterprises in Africa which make and sell footballs and other sports balls in order to create fairly paid jobs, increase access to sport and improve awareness of preventable diseases. 

We asked CEO Glenn Cummings to tell us about their operations and the prospects for social enterprise in Africa.

What is Alive and Kicking’s business model?

We make hand-stitched, hand screen printed, durable footballs and other sports balls in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana. All the materials – leather, cotton sheets, thread, wax, latex, glue – are sourced locally, with the exception of the bladders that go into the balls. 

We can make custom designs in any quantity, so companies and organisations such as UEFA and Arsenal Football Club brand the balls with their logos and messages and use them from marketing or CSR purposes, while the UN and NGOs will print social messages on them to reinforce their programme aims.

We sell about 85,000 balls per year with over 80,000 of them sold in Africa.  Our main sales channels in Africa are through retail outlets, companies and NGOs and the UN.  The balance is sold in Europe.  

Sales account for over 80% of our income. The remainder is donations from the public, from corporate supporters and from trusts and foundations. 

We are not-for-profit so any money we make is used to run our health programmes and donate more balls. 

How do you create a positive social impact?

Our social mission is threefold. We create fairly paid, ethical jobs in areas of high unemployment; increase access to sport by donating quality equipment to schools and clubs; and improve awareness among young people about preventable disease. 

We have 155 full time staff making the balls and running our health programmes.  All but three of those jobs are located in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana.  We run a pretty lean head office in London.

We employ people who struggle to get jobs elsewhere – people living with a disability, women, poorly educated people – and give them an opportunity.  We are delighted that 25% of our staff are saving some of their monthly salary to start their own business.

Proceeds from the sales of the balls have been used to train over 955 football coaches and teachers to deliver health training about preventable disease in their communities, reaching over 30,000 people in a sports-based HIV prevention campaign.  

Why do you work with coaches and teachers to tackle HIV?

The power of football to bring young people together is really strong all around Africa.   By using respected community coaches  to teach and reinforce health messages makes the messages more likely to get through.   As one coach from Chongwe in Zambia told us, “My group has totally changed; they have even become counsellors in the community.”  This is echoed by a coach in Kabwe in Zambia, who said, “They have changed for good. Their knowledge of HIV is better. They have better attitudes.”  

By working with local partners including a group of community leaders living with HIV, we not only train young people about protecting themselves against contracting the disease, we make it easy for them to find out their status and also help to break down the stigma and dispel many of the myths that still exist around the disease. (article continues below)

What about your ball donation programme?

As part of the health programme, we donate balls that are printed with relevant health messages that reinforce the lessons being taught during the coaching sessions.  

These donations form part of a larger programme of ball donations designed to increase access to sport and allow children to exercise their right to play.  To date, over 150,000 balls have been donated to schools, community groups and sports teams.  A simple ball can make a big difference to a young child. 

Does social enterprise offer a good model for addressing social challenges in Africa? 

Africa is in a unique position in so many ways.  While the context in each country is different, broadly speaking the population is very young and very entrepreneurial.  And there is a passion to make a difference in the world.  The private sector remains relatively undeveloped, so there is no business-as-usual mindset.  Young, enthusiastic diaspora are returning from places like Britain with plenty of ideas about how business can be done better.  

I think that social enterprises and socially responsible businesses will be at the forefront of growth in Africa in the coming 10 years, ensuring that they are part of the solution to the social and environmental challenges facing the continent.

How will Alive and Kicking develop in the next five years? 

The next five years is about growth. We are looking at locating our next operation in Nigeria, Uganda or Rwanda.  We are also considering franchising options with local partners.  Our aim is to sustain 500 fairly paid, ethical jobs by 2020.

Additionally, we aim to triple the number of balls we donate, the number of coaches we train, and the number of young people we work with annually by then.

We also want to expand our profile and sales in the UK and Europe.  We have just opened a shop in London, on Hoxton Street, which is generating great interest and our new online store is also drawing in new customers.  We are looking at entering into strategic partnerships with like-minded companies to further raise our profile.

Charities and social enterprises talk about sustainability; we know what that looks like and how to get there.  We are now looking for capital and supporters to help us increase our impact.

To make a donation, purchase footballs or find out more, please visit Alive and Kicking’s website