Growing up in Argentina, my childhood was shaped by the constant upheaval of a country alternating between democratic governments and military dictatorships, as well as by my own sense of general uncertainty about the future as a boy from a modest background.
One escape and source of hope was sport, which I was passionate about from an early age. Something else that I came to appreciate was the study of mathematics. I found refuge in the clear certainties of the subject and the security of knowing that there was always a right or wrong answer.
Over time, democracy became more stable and social issues which had been swept under the carpet for decades were exposed. This, as well as my own increasing maturity, led my interests to move gradually away from the exact sciences and towards the humanities and social sciences, alongside my unwavering love for and dedication to sport. Mathematical "certainties" became less important to me and gave way to an interest in analyzing complex social situations and a desire to contribute in some way to finding solutions for the most pressing problems in our society.
Thanks to the values instilled in me by my parents, my good state education, my enjoyment of sport and the precise methods, sense of order and analytical skills that came from my scientific background, I was well equipped for the challenges ahead.
Many years later, in 2005, FIFA entrusted me with managing its new Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department (the first such department to exist in any of the international sporting federations) and developing a strategy for this new area. My upbringing and education would again come into play in identifying exactly what we wanted to achieve and how: to harness football's popularity to alleviate social problems around the world through efficient processes managed in an almost mathematical manner. Thus, Football for Hope was born.
The clearest, most authentic and most effective way for an organization to be socially responsible is by aligning its CSR activities as closely as possible with its own product or core business -- its very raison d'être. Football for Hope, the flagship social development program within FIFA's extensive sustainability strategy, is a clear example of this alignment, investing specifically in programs that use football as a tool for social development.
To explain this aspect of football, one that is the least known and studied but that is probably the most all encompassing and powerful of all, I must turn once again to my old friend mathematics, specifically to simple exponentiation.
Football1 (football to the power of 1) equals the most popular sport in the world: the people's passion, "the beautiful game". It is also one of the simplest and most accessible sports and has a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of hundreds of millions of players and fans. This type of football offers opportunities for leisure, is a source of employment and generates an emotional response as well as financial resources that enable it to be developed in every corner of the world. This football provides the foundations, solid and strong, but is not, in itself, enough...
Football2 (football squared) obviously goes further. It increases the value of football by multiplying its basic qualities to result in innumerable benefits: teaching children and young people about the value of teamwork, respecting others, defining goals and fighting to achieve them, rising to challenges and overcoming adversity. Organized football can have a significant role in imparting these essential life skills.
But football can be even more than this. It can (and, in FIFA's view, must) contribute towards building a better future. If used correctly, it is a powerful and unique communication tool that can be used for education, awareness raising, information and integration.
Hundreds of organizations all around the world use football on a daily basis as a tool to achieve their social development aims. Such organizations are tackling the issues facing children and young people in the most disadvantaged communities and offering them opportunities to grasp a brighter future, with projects ranging from education and conflict resolution to the promotion of health messages and environmental protection. One example is Kick4Life in Lesotho, which has been supported by FIFA since 2009 and is the beneficiary of one of the 20 Football for Hope community centers recently built in Africa. The organization uses football in its work on disease prevention, teaching literacy, and social integration of orphaned and vulnerable children.
This is football exploiting its unique and powerful potential, resulting in a force that is rarely recognized but that is contributing to the creation of a better future for an ever increasing number of individuals and communities, especially those most in need. This is football3 (football cubed): football elevated to perhaps its highest "power."
Since its launch, Football for Hope has provided support to over 450 programs like Kick4Life in more than 80 countries on every continent, thereby becoming the most ambitious initiative of its type in the world. FIFA's involvement in social development through football and with the organizations implementing this ethos at the local level has grown exponentially and become a fundamental part of our commitment to social responsibility. One of the pillars of FIFA's mission is to "build a better future" and we fully believe in using football elevated to its highest "power" to achieve that.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Kick4Life, which is a non-profit that uses soccer as a vehicle to address social disadvantage and transform the lives of youth in the nation of Lesotho. To see all the posts in the series, read here. To learn more about Kick4Life and their World Cup Challenge on Crowdrise, read here.