Growing up, many of our toy boxes were full of tennis balls, NERF balls, and soccer balls. As no surprise, even these simple toys are expensive and hard to come by in developing countries such as Darfur and Malawi. But with soccer being the most popular sport in the world, it has come to symbolize a strong sense of community. It is an obsession and passion with children who can barely afford a meal but will scavenge through trash to find anything that could remotely serve as a makeshift soccer ball.
In 2006, Tim Jahnigen was moved by a report on children in Darfur using pieces of trash and rocks as toys. A musical producer and multi-patent holding inventor, he decided to put his connections and passion for soccer to use. With a starting grant of $30,000 from friend and fellow musician Sting, Jahnigen created a prototype for an indestructible soccer ball. Made out of a material called ‘PopFoam’ (think the flexible but tough plastic used for Crocs), these balls can be left outdoors in rough conditions, played on dirt fields, and basically be beaten up and still have a natural bounce to them. These characteristics make them perfect for the environments children play in developing countries.
Within the past two years, One World Futbol has delivered over 200,000 balls. Despite these efforts, Jahnigen is determined to reach millions, if not all 1.3 billion children under the age of 12, through his organization. With financial support from Chevrolet, manufacturing is still continuing but the organization needs much more funding.
OWF is not a non-profit. It functions more or less like TOMS Shoes does (buy-one-donate-one) so about 25% of its soccer balls have been bought through their website and delivered with this business model. However, Jahnigen is much keener on having partner organizations and donors to help with the production costs since online purchases actually cause the price of the balls to go-up.
Ever so optimistically, Jahnigen has already been in talks with creating PopFoam cricket balls, focusing specifically on the South Asian market, where cricket is widely played. With the support of five major cricket organizations for this project, it boosted Jahnigen’s confidence in not only expanding the indestructible balls to cricket but to other sports such as football, volleyball, rugby, and basketball.
With so many intensive organizations around the world, it is always important to remind ourselves how a child’s life can be so easily changed. Soccer brings together the rich and the poor, the hungry and the full, and has the power to break across political boundaries. Supporting ventures such as One World Futbol can have an immediate impact on those worried about donating their money to other causes. Humanitarian aid can take many shapes and forms but the most basic ones, whose goals are simply to bring joy to children, also have the strongest impact.
– Deena Dulgerian