Sports: A Whole New Ball Game for Social Enterprise

In the sports world, the month of January is jam packed with big news and lots of excitement. From football playoffs in the NCAA and the NFL, to the heart of competitive ski & snowboard season, to the start of the tennis circuit with the Australian Open, there's plenty to get fired up about. Sports really has no off-season, whether as a personal activity or as a business. It's "Game On" from Jan 1 through Dec 31 every year for me.

Senda and Pass It Forward Soccer





I'm a big proponent of the social enterprise movement and have spent much of the past several years studying, learning and sharing ideas with colleagues in the sports, business, nonprofit and academic community about using business practices to address social issues. For the past few years I've been very involved with the Los Angeles chapter of the Social Enterprise Alliance, and this year I'm honored to have been asked to serve on the board where I'll help guide the educational programs and resources we share in our community. LA has a thriving social enterprise culture, with dozens of business and nonprofit orgs who are taking innovative approaches to solving critical local, national and global issues. My goal is to take a lot of what's being accomplished here and share it with the Sports community.

I've found some fantastic social enterprise brands operating in the Sports industry, each of which has identified their own niche, a cause that drives them and a business model that fits. Some of my favorites include:

Through each purchase of Janji’s distinctive running apparel, a portion of proceeds funds organizations that are alleviating the worst problems related to food and water. By funding solutions and raising awareness through running apparel, Janji wants to create a nation of runners that run for another and eliminate the global food and water crisis.

Kourage Athletics
Kourage Athletics creates running apparel that is designed, manufactured, and managed in Kenya by Kenyans. Kourage garments are exported and sold in the developed countries with revenues reinvested into the Kenyan economy. Production for Kourage Athletics is sourced to a Kenyan owned and operated factory in Rift Valley, which is home to the greatest Kenyan runners.

Apparel brand 4Point4 sells uniforms for soccer, lacrosse and basketball, with 4.4 percent going back to a nonprofit org the user chooses. They're working with several orgs in our networking include, America Scores, US Soccer Foundation, Doc Wayne and Courts for Kids.

Hendrick Boards
Hendrick Boards manufactures and sells a line of eco-friendly, handcrafted maple and bamboo skateboard decks and apparel. But these skateboards are more than just good for the planet - they’re good for its furry inhabitants as well. Hendrick Boards gives 20 to 40 percent of the purchase price of each item to animal shelters and rescue programs.

Senda Athletics
Senda manufactures and sells Fair Trade certified soccer balls, uniforms and apparel that operates to “respect the people who make the products and the environment, and promote soccer as a tool to improve lives.” The company is committed to providing good working conditions and fair wages to the people making their products, and they work directly with nonprofit programs that are using soccer as a tool for development in their communities.

Pass It Forward
Pass It Forward sells soccer balls and accessories, and works through a "buy one/give one model" to provide equipment for nonprofit soccer programs around the world.

On the nonprofit side, there are a few orgs that have found ways to turn their assets and resources to revenue. The standout in my mind is definitely the soccer NGO Kick4Life, who opened a soccer facility in Lesotho in 2011 that they rent out to local teams. They've recently opened an attached restaurant, conference center and small hotel, so they can host events and also provide job skills training for their program participants. And all of the proceeds go back into running Kick4Life's health and education programs. Absolutely awesome!

I look forward to learning more from my colleagues here in LA and throughout the Social Enterprise Alliance network so I can share everything with business execs, entrepreneurs, and nonprofit leaders in the Sports community. While January is the kickoff, it's a long season and we want to make sure everyone in our circle has a game plan, good coaching and a fired up team who's ready to tackle the year ahead.

Game on!

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  • commented 2015-03-03 11:47:38 -0800
    Loved your article, Howard. You are such a great resource for the latest and greatest in Social Entrepreneurship.

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