At Alive & Kicking we have followed the controversy surrounding World Vision’s donation of 100,000 unwanted Super Bowl t-shirts with interest, and largely agree with the criticism it has drawn. However, we must admit to being a bit puzzled as to why such a storm has arisen around this particular act, when similarly ill-thought-through donations appear to be a regular occurrence. One such project that is particularly affecting our work as a manufacturer of sports equipment in Africa is Hyundai’s ‘One Million Dream Balls to Africa’ scheme.
The concept behind One Million Dream Balls is that for every person who buys a Hyundai car or signs up to Hyundai’s Football World Cup 2010 micro-site, the company will donate a ball in Africa. The scheme began in June 2010 and its launch was attended by Ban Ki-moon, as 900,000 of the balls are to be distributed through UN-HABITAT and the UNDP. The exact targeting of this donation is rather unclear, although Hyundai’s website helpfully describes the promotion goal as to ‘send dream balls to Africa’.
Donating balls to African countries through UN agencies may not immediately sound like a problematic example of development aid. However, as with all gifts in kind, a thorough evaluation of whether the donation is needed, and what affect it will have on local economies is necessary. We have been unable to find any such evaluation from Hyundai, UN-HABITAT, or FIFA (who have endorsed the project and whose logos appear on the balls). One thing that is certain is that the balls were not made on the African continent, so their production will not be benefitting local people.
Articles from Good Intentions, Tales from the Hood and Peace Dividend Trust amongst others, have detailed the need for gifts in kind to be properly evaluated if they are to be given at all. We have synthesised their work into a series of questions in an attempt to evaluate whether Hyundai’s dream balls are a wise intervention or an example of marketing taking precedence over responsibility. We would appreciate comments from anyone, especially if you think we have judged the project unfairly:
- Are the balls needed? Short answer: possibly. There is a shortage of sports equipment in many sub-Saharan African countries. However, this does not necessarily mean that every school or sports project cannot afford to purchase footballs. At Alive & Kicking we do donate a percentage of the balls we make where appropriate, but our preferred option is always to sell them. Last year, we sold over 55,000 balls in Kenya and Zambia alone, with over 20% of those going to NGOs, so it is certainly not the case that every NGO, project or child in Africa requires free balls. If balls are to be given out in kind they will need to be carefully targeted inline with the needs of local communities and with strict monitoring and evaluating procedures in place to ensure the integrity of the decision to donate.
- Are they appropriate? Short answer: no. The balls Hyundai are donating appear to be made out of plastic, as is commonplace for balls that are sold in developed countries. These balls are not appropriate for the conditions that are typical in Sub-Saharan countries, and the balls are therefore likely to burst within days. An appropriate alternative would be to donate leather balls which last a lot longer on dusty pitches, or if kicked into acacia thorns or sharp rocks. Leather could, and should, have come from African tanneries.
- Are the balls produced locally? Short answer: no. They were not produced in Africa. It is most likely they were made in Pakistan, India or China. There is no mention of the conditions in which the balls were made on any of Hyundai’s promotional material or press statements.
- Could the balls have been produced locally? Short answer: yes. Unfortunately we cannot answer this question without shamelessly self-promoting ourselves. Alive & Kicking manufactures balls in Kenya and Zambia, which are sold to companies, schools and NGOs across the continent. We have distributed balls to all 53 countries in Africa during our 7 years of operation, and have coped with comparably large orders from big international organisations, such as UEFA.
- Will the donation do more harm than good? Short answer: quite possibly. We have already been told by African organisations who want to purchase balls from us, that they will not be doing so in the near future as a result of the thousands of balls set to be donated through UN-HABITAT. This doesn’t just affect us as a manufacturer, but also the tanneries we buy local leather from and the shopkeepers that sell our balls.Furthermore, as many aid commentators have noted, when communities receive free goods a dependency culture can develop, whereby people feel aggrieved to pay for the goods the next time they need them. This means that even after the balls have gone they may have contaminated the market for years to come.
As the reader can no doubt tell, Alive & Kicking feels incredibly threatened by the entire Dream Ball concept and we are particularly concerned that UN-HABITAT, the UNDP and FIFA are involved. We find it incomprehensible that local manufacturers were not considered, and fear that the project risks being more about selling motor cars for Hyundai than actually fulfilling the real needs of sports NGOs and projects in African countries.
Alive & Kicking could have made the balls locally, providing demand for African leather, creating better jobs and reducing transport costs and emissions. Furthermore we could have applied our expertise in ensuring that donations get to those who genuinely cannot afford to buy a ball, minimising any negative effects to local markets. As it is, we are deeply concerned that the One Million Dream Balls donation will rapidly turn into a nightmare for retailers, our 150 staff in Kenya and Zambia, and to many local suppliers.
Alive & Kicking is writing to the UN, FIFA, and Hyundai to request an explanation of the thinking behind the ‘One Million Dream Balls’ programme and we’ll let you know what their responses are.