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Alive & Kicking: the African Social Business Transforming Lives through Sport

Alive and Kicking are a social business with a difference! Based in Africa, they make hand-stitched, durable footballs that are sold and donated so kids can experience sport with the appropriate equipment - often for the first time. Each ball is handmade and individually screen-printed, which allows them to carry specific messages. Alive and Kicking take this opportunity to promote a range of causes, from peace and reconciliation to wildlife conservation. 

Alive and Kicking believe that football can be more than just a game - the sport itself is a great way to engage young people and educate them about their health. By working with specialist health partners they train local football coaches to deliver health educative training drills to their teams using footballs printed with health messages.

They have made over 750,000 footballs already - 20% of which have been donated to good causes across Africa. We caught up with CEO Glenn Cummings to find out more:

Tell us all about Alive & Kicking and your mission:

Alive and Kicking’s 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 achieve this mission by making hand-stitched, hand screen printed, durable 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 put to use to run our health programmes and donate more balls.

What is the social impact of Alive & Kicking? 

We currently have 155 full time staff making the balls and running our health programmes. We employ people who struggle to get jobs elsewhere – people living with a disability, women, poorly educated people – and give them an opportunity. Only 27% have ever had a formal job before. On average, each salary we pay supports 5 other people – 77% of our staff use their money to pay for school fees for their children and brothers and sisters and 90% use the money to pay medical bills for their extended families that would otherwise go untreated. 98% report an improved standard of living since joining Alive and Kicking with 96% being able to improve their standard of housing. 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.

On top of that over 150,000 of our sports balls have been donated to community groups and youth clubs who could not otherwise afford proper equipment.

Alive & Kicking Processing Centre

Alive and Kicking’s Kenya Stitching Centre. Photo credit: Alive and Kicking

Why did you choose football as a channel to raise awareness of HIV and other health issues?

Sport has incredibly strong convening power, particularly in Africa. That convening power makes it a perfect vehicle to talk to young people about social issues of any kind. We work in partnership with local HIV focused organisations; it was really pleasing to hear one of our Zambia partners talk about the fact that they really struggle to reach young people aged 14- 18 years old but by far the most successful way they have found to do so is in partnership with us, using sport.

It has the added bonus of being a healthy activity in its own right, so you’re not only raising awareness about preventable disease, you are also promoting healthy, active lifestyles. And as we make the balls that are used in the programmes we are able to print health messages on the balls that reinforce the messages that the coaches are talking about during the sessions. So even if the ball is not being used in an official training session with the coach, the messages are still seen by the players, reminding them of what they have learnt during the formal training sessions.

How critical has being a social business been to the success of Alive & Kicking?

Being a social business has been critical to our success. Being able to talk to potential customers about the fact that we reinvest profits into addressing social issues in the country is powerful. It has opened doors for us to NGOs and the UN in country who can see that buying from Alive and Kicking doubles their impact – their programmes will have the same impact, but by using ethical supply chains they can have an even bigger impact, in our case ethical jobs created, additional balls donated and health programmes funded.

When talking to some of our major retail partners, being locally made, creating local jobs and having a positive impact on wider society, allows us to negotiate differently. We are able to leverage our social purpose to obtain more promotional slots in their stores or more prominent positions in sections because they also have an interest in seeing the local communities thrive. And like other businesses in countries who buy our products, they can talk about ethical suppliers as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility programmes.

Kids Playing With Alive & Kicking Football

Boys play with a donated A+K ‘Sting’ football, near Kisumu, Western Kenya.
Photo Credit: Alive and Kicking

Where do you see other areas of opportunity for social enterprises to make sustainable impact 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 and very creative diaspora are returning from places like Britain with plenty of ideas about how business can be done better. 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.

You can find out more about Alive and Kicking, donate to the cause, or buy a handmade football from their website

1st Image: Walter Onyango, stitching a Cheetah football at A+K’s Kenya stitching centre. Photo Credit: Kate Holt.