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Product, Service & Design Innovation
One World Futbol:
Saving Soccer in the Developing World

To prepare for this year's Sustainable Brands Innovation Open (SBIO) competition, we're catching up with some of our favorite entrepreneurial ventures from competitions past ...

With billions of fans and millions of amateur players, soccer is one of the most popular sports in the world. Requiring little more than an open field and ball to kick around, the pastime has become a mainstay of the developing world. Despite the sport’s universal appeal, however, there is a lingering hindrance from the fragility of traditional soccer balls — they are easily punctured and require frequent inflation using pumps and needles.

The common result is a glut of discarded, deflated balls piling up in backyards and on the streets. In areas where families are barely making ends meet, scrounging up enough cash to replace the ball is just not in the cards and many young players must resort to kicking around rocks, cans or “rag balls” made from trash, plastic bags and string.

Recognizing this pervasive problem, Bay Area start-up One World Futbol developed a soccer ball that is virtually indestructible and never goes flat or needs pumping. The company sells the ball directly to institutions, companies and non-profit organizations, as well as individual consumers through a “Buy One, Give One” model: For every ball bought at retail, the company donates a second ball to organizations working with underprivileged communities around the world.

So far the ball has been distributed in 137 countries through 138 organizations impacting more than half a million youth worldwide. Recently, the company delivered 11,000 balls to the Joyce Banda Foundation for allocation to project sites and schools in Malawi. The country’s President Banda announced on national television that the balls would go to support the first nationwide youth soccer and netball tournaments, which was previously impossible due to a lack of durable balls.

In 2011, One World Futbol won the Sustainable Brands Innovation Open after pitching their offering before a group of social and sustainability investors, executives from leading companies and top brand consultants. For winning, the company received free consultancy time with investors, designers and communications professionals as well as a complimentary pass to the Sustainable Brands 2012 conference.

“Winning the SBIO competition gave us the opportunity to consult with investors, designers and communications professionals that helped us to become clearer on our internal priorities,” said Eric Frothingham, Chief Business Officer at One World Futbol. “Understanding that we needed to do more internal work to be ready for outside consultation was a significant step in our organizational awareness.”


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