Poverty Pitch

The intersection of American business and global poverty

All is Fair (Trade) in Love and Soccer

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"warning: children playing soccer" sign

Warning: soccer empowers youth
(photo credit: Vinicius Depizzol via creative commons)

Maybe not everyone can have the reach that big name corporations have with their social initiatives. Is it even worthwhile for smaller businesses to engage in similar programs if they dont have the resources of a major corporation?

Senda is a Berkeley-based social enterprise that creates fair trade soccer balls for youth athletic training programs around the world. They seem to have it all figured out. They managed to create a business that helps the environment, that provides quality jobs for poor laborers to help their communities, that empowers the underserved youth through sports, and that can be commercially competitive while still partnering with non-profit organizations. What is their secret? They found their niche and made it work.

I had the privilege of hearing Santiago Halty, Senda’s founder, speak at an entrepreneurship panel of a student organization, Cal DoSomething. He said his story, and emphasized that he wanted to focus on just one thing – just soccer equipment- so that everything aspect of his business could be managed properly and could make a social impact. Looking at the company’s website, it is clear that every aspect of the business is focused on their one mission “to make quality Fair Trade soccer equipment that connects and benefits athletes, and to promote sports as a tool for development.”

Kids against a wall, one holding a soccer ball

Kids with a soccer ball
(photo credit: Lucas Ninno via creative commons)

What does say about global poverty? That the poor kids will get out of poverty through soccer? Not necessarily. Even if equipment allows kids to be included in the soccer world, they may still be sleeping in the same streets where they play. Soccer alone may not be an answer, but partnerships with NGOs could make a difference. Soccer could be a motivation to stay in school or a golden ticket to youth development programs. However, do we really need to coat these vegetables with chocolate just to develop a community?

Now let’s shift to the parents. The parents who could very well be producing the equipment that their children play with. Senda’s approach to fair trade is interesting because their laborers are not only paid with fair wages, but they are given an additional bonus to help in the community development of their area. Community development is all well and good, but who decides what services or programs this money goes to? Is it needed and is it effective?

“Our logo is like a fast path. It comes from the bottom and continues forward, fast” says Halty (quoted from the company’s website). By saying “it comes from the bottom” Halty differentiates his business from other companies that engage in philanthropy by donating part of their income or products to the poor. Instead, Senda includes underdeveloped communities in its production process and treats them as clients rather than beneficiaries.

“Bottom up”… sounds like an Easterly argument on “searchers” finding their niche problem to focus on.  But isn’t this still an American business providing equipment for the poor? Who are “the bottom” and who is in control?  Even if Halty did spend his childhood in Argentina, has growing up in America given him the idea that capitalism will solve everything?  Sounds more like Sach’s “big push” or (maybe a big kick) to me.


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