Street Football Shapes FIFA Giant: Football Industry’s Perspective on Social Development

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BERLIN, Germany – For someone who still believes he has trouble articulating his ideas and vision for the future, Juergen Griesbeck, CEO and founder of streetfootballworld has gained enormous clout in the football industry for effectively illuminating the tremendous potential football has in social development.

In 2002 Griesbeck created streetfootballworld, an organization that employs a network model to connect organizations all over the world that use football as a tool to tackle social issues such as homelessness, HIV/AIDS and landmine awareness.

Ten years later, streetfootballworld has become synonymous with the idea of sports as an agent for change. The non-profit organization has grown to include close to 100 separate organizations in over 60 different countries and has even formed a partnership with football’s global governing body – FIFA. Yet even with the progress that has been made, Griesbeck admits that work still needs to be done to embed the idea of football as a tool for social development in the heart of powerful governing organizations, clubs and players that shape the football industry.

The first thing Griesbeck says must happen is a shift in mindset. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) within influential organizations needs to be more than sharing a piece of the profit. CSR needs to be elevated beyond what it is today and instead should be about ecosystem thinking. Corporations and organizations need to pursue a collective impact that is driven by a mission and cause, rather than just individual organizational success.

The need for collaboration and ecosystem thinking is evident in the charity landscape of English Football Clubs. Of the 20 English Football Clubs that are in the top flight of play, the English Premier League, 15 of them have affiliated non-profit registered foundations. All 20 football clubs have made charitable efforts in the health and education fields, and the majority also operate in social inclusion and disability awareness. There are also many individual players that operate foundations associated with their respective clubs, also focusing on issues such as health and disability awareness.

Although the efforts of the football clubs are to be applauded, an eco-system approach would help to maximize impact (especially in health and education efforts) and eliminate financial resource redundancies in the fragmented charity landscape. The evidential need for collaboration demonstrates the necessity in shift in perspective. Once a shift in perspective has occurred, the process of removing and challenging the current incentives that exist at the individual, club and organizational level within the football industry can begin.

The football industry is constrained by a culture of individual success that is built on – and perpetuated by – the nature of sports. At the moment, there is no incentive to change the way individual employees within the football industry behave and think. People are so busy doing what they understand as their core business that there is no time to engage in collaboration. Individuals are already advocated to act like they are acting, work like they are working and think like they are thinking by an environment that focuses on individual success. To start the process, organizations and corporations within the football industry need to offer individual employee rewards to motivate the change in perspective at a systemic level.

Once this mindset of embedded CSR begins to occur, then change must happen at an organizational level. Powerful Governing bodies such as UEFA and FIFA that have the responsibility and opportunity to embed social value can start to make strategic moves that will demonstrate a shift in perspective. It is essential that these omniscient governing bodies are the ones to lead the change, as they are often the only entities powerful enough to change regulations and influence the behavior of national organizations and large, popular football clubs.

Financially, the funding landscape for development organizations has the potential to be radically changed. Whether it is funneling a percentage of player transfers through a specific fund as an investment to development through football or organizing annual charitable matches, the possibilities seem limitless to Griesbeck. But it is when moves are made at an organizational level, that the changes in behaviour will start to trickle down, creating and reinforcing the individual shift in mindset needed to authentically embed social responsibility in organizations. Although the changes proposed may seem radical, what matters is motivating the thought processes that encourage looking beyond organisational boundaries without sacrificing individual business aspirations.

Streetfootballworld’s road map for the 2014 Brazil World Cup and the 2022 Qatar World Cup is signaling that the shift in mindset has started to occur in certain capacities. In partnership with FIFA, streetfootballworld is continuing two initiatives at the Brazil World Cup that were first proposed in 2010 in South Africa:

  • A festival during the World Cup that showcases 32 international organizations that use football as a development tool
  • A forum at the Confederations Cup in 2013 that will bring together football’s best minds with development

A third new financial initiative is also in streetfootballworld’s social development strategy. For the 2014 World Cup, FIFA has committed to investing capital in local organizations in Brazil. streetfootballworld will play a crucial role in the process, using its expertise to advise FIFA on the best way to invest their funds.

However, for Griesbeck, the Qatar 2022 World Cup could be the crucial step towards truly shifting the mindset of social responsibility. For the last six months, streetfootballworld has been in an ongoing conversation with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in order to help them develop a 10-year strategic plan that will promote football as a tool for social responsibility, development, and investment. If the AFC decides to follow through on the strategic plan, Griesbeck believes it could be the game changer that will embed social responsibility at the hearts of these organizations.

For Juergen Griesbeck, football is more than a sport. It’s a global language that speaks to a CEO of a corporation the same way it speaks to a homeless person in London or New York. It’s an opportunity for collaboration on an international platform. It’s a source of capital for organizations that are tackling some of the world’s most pressing issues. That’s why, for Griesbeck, now is the best time to bring football into a new generation, one that sees it as more than a sport, more than entertainment, but rather as a crucial tool in social development.

This post is part of a series produced by Student Reporter for The Huffington Post and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. To see all the posts in the series published on The Huffington Post, click here.

Feature Image: Street Football in Morocco; Source:

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