Kizazi - Changing the Face of Football; An Interview with Franco Silva

What inspired Kizazi?A bit about myself…I am originally from Mexico, and moved the Houston at the age of 8. Mexico iswhere I fell in love with the game, and have played every year of my life since I learnedto walk. In terms of soccer, I have built a life deeply rooted in the game. Growing up Iplayed for several club teams in Houston, as well as for my school. After graduating highschool I attended Tufts University and played on the Varsity team during my 4 yearsthere. I also traveled to Spain and played for a summer there with an international teamof select players in a short campaign competing against third and second divisionprofessional teams in Spain.Although I have always loved soccer, my objective for a long time was to build a careerin medicine as a surgeon. I have felt a calling to help people since I was young, andmedicine allowed me to do so while also enjoying the intellectually challenging nature ofthe field. For many years, up until my graduation from Tufts, this was my mission and Iworked hard every day to attain it.The Start of Kizazi…After eight years of clear vision and drive towards entering medicine, and afterfour years of extremely hard work at Tufts gearing up to attend a strong medical school,one moment turned my life upside down and changed my future. One month beforegraduation, as I walked into the library to study for an organic chemistry exam, I receiveda call from a buddy asking if I wanted to play in a pick-up game that afternoon.Regardless of how committed I was to my studies, the opportunity to play soccer on abeautiful Boston spring day was unbeatable, and obviously I agreed to join. That day,after 15 years of playing the game, my biggest fear on the field came true: I destroyed myknee. I say “destroyed” because even my doctor, familiar with sports-related kneeinjuries, acknowledged that it was one of the worst injuries she had seen. That day, I toremy ACL, MCL, LCL, strained my PCL, dislocated my knee, and tore my meniscus.For both internal and external reasons, that moment spun my life into chaos andredefined my life. Externally, the injury caused me to miss my application cycle tomedical school, by delaying my course completion and thus graduation from Tufts due topainkillers and intense recovery therapy. I would have to wait another year until I couldapply to medical school. Internally, I faced the fear of never playing the game that I loveagain. This may seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but for my whole life Iclosely tied my identity and happiness with the game, and the possibility of not playingagain caused some serious confusion and distress.In the two months that followed, I had my surgery, finished my coursework, andgraduated (2013). I now had to wait nearly a year before my application, and although Icould not walk, I saw an opportunity to expand my mind and took to reading and criticalthinking. During that time, I read a wide variety of books and spoke to many greatpeople. On the inside, I made several self-discoveries, such as my desire to test mypotential and to live with a mission, not just a career. On the outside, I discovered theworld of social entrepreneurship, using business to create positive change. The twoworlds were a perfect marriage, and I discovered my calling to use socialentrepreneurship to help the world. I still love medicine, but this path aligned even moreclosely with my passions and values, in particular the reality that in business there are nolimits, and although the vision of a company that can help 1 billion people is farreaching,it is by all means possible. I love this even more than medicine, this limitlesspotential.The next question was… having left a career in medicine, what undertakingwould justify the change. In other words, the drive behind the change was the desire totest my potential, so what mission would have no limits and could have a massive impacton the world. Although it took a few weeks of thinking, the answer was clear when itappeared. I would channel the world’s passion for soccer (including my own) to fightworld poverty. I would mobilize one of the world’s largest communities, a game with 3.5billion fans, to fight one of the world largest crises, world poverty: I would fight a giantwith a giant.Soccer was the perfect game in which to create this movement for two reasons…1. The game transcends all boundaries (religion, race, age, gender, etc…),having an exceptional ability to unite individuals from all walks of life(played in every country on earth, and loved by 3.5 billion people).2. Many idols in the game came from extremely humble backgrounds, andhave created awareness for poverty and other issues around the world.I love the game. I understand the game. I know that the community aroundsoccer is worldly and conscious of the millions and billions of people in need around theglobe. The world of soccer is changing; we see that through the demand for reform inFIFA, for instance. A new generation of players sees that the game has in many wayslost its way, and although still beautiful at its core, it is used for greed and abuse. Kizaziwill give soccer a new brand, a name with which players and fans can continue to lovethe game on the field, but have an impact with it off the field. We will channel thispassion, we will concentrate the reform of soccer, towards fighting world poverty.What makes this model different from other Fairtrade football brands?The Difference…The primary and most obvious reason is that our impact at Kizazi goes far beyondthe manufacturing stage. Kizazi is designed to help the world in the past, present, andfuture. This is what we mean…* Past: The ball is ethically constructed (fair labor, responsible environmentalimpact, and community development and empowerment). Therefore, from day 1, beforeit even hits the field, it’s having a positive impact.* Present: On the field, the ball is built for competition. Every layer was carefullychosen and crafted for quality. From exceptionally high air retention, to a soft cover forcontrol, to significant durability, to metrics that abide by the FIFA lab testing parameters(bounce, water absorption, circumference, weight, air retention, roundness): this ball hasa positive impact on athletes during play.* Future: Once the ball is purchased, it has an impact that ripples into the futurethrough economic empowerment. This is ultimately the key differentiator: our modelwith which we fight the roots of poverty trough microloans.The Kizazi Model and Impact of Microloans…At the start of 2015, we came across some research shedding light on theineffectiveness of using “goods” to fight poverty. More specifically, after weeks ofdeeper research, we learned that the traditional aid model of giving people things(clothing, food, etc…) only truly works for emergency situations, but is inadequate forfighting a systemic issue like poverty. This approach merely addresses the symptoms ofthe problem, but falls completely short in addressing its roots. In fact, in many casesgiving people goods can actually be detrimental, causing more harm than good in thelong run by issues such as creating dependency.Long story short, we decided to redefine our impact model, staying congruentwith our mission to truly help the world. After making this decision, we spent a longtime researching the many alternatives to fighting poverty, and came across Mohd. Yunusand his model of economic empowerment through microloans. Poverty is a complexissue, and there is no single solution, no silver bullet. However, this approach allows usto empower individuals in poverty to create their own wealth and thus raise themselvesout of poverty. It is the creation of opportunity, the first step in progress. Economicinclusion is critical to fighting poverty, and microloans are a major step in empoweringindividuals financially.For every Kizazi product that we sell, we will use a portion of the profits to fundmicroloans around the world. In this way, we redefine the game by giving itpurpose/meaning through the story behind the products, and address the roots of povertythrough microfinance. Each time we sell a product, we put a portion of the profits intothe Kizazi Fund: the pool of money from which we make the loans. Each time a loan isrepaid, we loan it out to a new person, time and time again. In this way, the money thatgoes into the fund is never spent, but recycled, and so the fund only gets bigger withevery sale. As Kizazi grows and we introduce new products, each product will be linkedwith the fund, and every sale will grow the fund. Since the fund is not spent, it will onlyget bigger as we grow. The model is designed to become more powerful with every sale.Therefore, growing is critical. We will do so by making Kizazi a brand with a strongpersonality representative of a new generation of players, as opposed to following atraditional “non-profit” like personality based on guilt-based request for herlp. At Kizazi,individuals have a brand that helps them enjoy the game to the fullest on the field throughquality, but gives players meaning and something to play for through the story behindthose products.The Problem that we are solving…We are actually solving two problems simultaneously, with each other. Its likewe have glue that needs using, and a broken toy that needs fixing, we use one to solve theother’s problem.1. On the end of soccer, we are helping to redefine the game by giving avoice to the players and fans who love it. Soccer is a sport that has a beautifulability to unite and create positive change, as seen evidently during the time of theWorld Cup, yet today it is overshadowed by greed and corruption with power inthe hands of a few. A new generation of players understands this situation, andhas voiced a demand for reform. We empower the fans to create this change, andso we will lead the charge in making the game beautiful again by giving itpurpose and meaning.2. On the poverty end, we are addressing the shier scale and complexity ofthe issue. Aside from merely existing, that is the problem of global poverty. So,by mobilizing the world’s largest sport towards eliminating poverty at its roots,we will create a large-scale movement providing millions of individualsworldwide economic opportunity that they don’t otherwise have. Soccer is acommunity that can provide the resources necessary to address the massive scaleof poverty.This mutual problem solving is the beauty of Kizazi. Soccer must be refocusedon its ability for positive change, and poverty needs an intelligently crafted and unitedmovement to fight its roots. We bridge the two worlds, and use them to solve eachother’s problem. We fight a giant with a giant.The Future of KizaziOur Vision for The Next 5 Years…5 years from now, Kizazi will be seen as the new brand in soccer. We will havemultiple products cycling the market, each linked back to the Kizazi Fund growing ourimpact, and all designed for competition on the field through quality. We will have ateam of capable and intelligent storytellers, serving as a voice for a new generation ofplayers through a powerful social media presence and strong content marketing. We willpartner with multiple professional athletes who understand the power of the game, andtogether we will continue to fuel the power of soccer to fight poverty. Finally, we willbuild strong alliances with organizations that see the power of this movement, such asteams/companies/organizations, and will use our mutual strengths to continue to redefinethe game of soccer. Finally, we will have a loyal and established community ofsupporters who are readily involved in the Kizazi story through exciting events (socialmedia campaigns, sponsored tournaments, etc…), and through us they can voice theirlove for the game.The Big Dream...Kizazi will one day establish itself as the name in soccer. Soccer needs a face.Today, that face is FIFA, and so the game is synonymous with corruption and greed.One day, Kizazi will be the face of soccer, a name that represents everything that isbeautiful about the game. At that time, we will use our model to fight poverty, but alsoour reputation to inspire change on other fronts and mobilize the game’s massivecommunity towards constant progress. One day, Kizazi will have redefined the game,and by helping 3.5-billion fans see the power of unity and progress, we will becomeindustry leaders in improving our world and making decisions for the greater good.How Can People Support your Work?Kizazi does not sell a ball. We sell a mentality, a story, a mission. The potentialof this movement is tremendous, but the key to unleashing it is to mobilize the soccercommunity as one, aligned in the same direction. Therefore, what we need to do is tobuild the Kizazi community. Those who support our vision can help us by purchasing theKizazi ball, spreading the word of the story, and following and sharing us on socialmedia. It’s simple… The potential is there, but today we need to get this company offthe ground and we need the voice of the community to help us do that. Now is the timeto redefine the game, to play for something bigger, and we need the support of the soccercommunity in sharing the story and fueling the mission by purchasing the Kizazi ball.Additional…Where I draw inspiration fromI firmly believe that the key to unleashing one’s potential is to believe that youhave it. My inspiration comes from a wide variety of places, but all are stories orthoughts on how every great success began as an idea. Every beautiful and powerfulthing that humanity has done once started as a thought, and so the vision that Kizazi is theseedling of a though that can grow into a tree that nurtures the world fuels me every day.There are no limits but those that are self-imposed, and although there will be failures,each failure serves to strengthen us and so each failure takes you closer to success. Thismentality, that all great things start in the mind and are made reality through hard workand perseverance, inspires me every day. I am a very philosophical and self-reflectingindividual, and maintaining this ideology fresh in my mind is the key to my inspiration.The story behind the name “Kizazi”.Kizazi means “generation” in Swahili. This name is symbolic, because Kizazistands for a new generation of players, a new generation of soccer. Furthermore, wechose Swahili in order to convey the worldly core of the company.