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Inventing a Soccer Ball for Poor Countries (nytimes.com)
199 points by mhb on Nov 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 122 comments



I live in Rwanda and see kids playing with the trash/string balls all the time (among other toys they build out of random waste). I really don't see the point. The kids have plenty of fun with their homegrown balls.

Just as the cardboard box the toy came in came be more fun than the toy alone, the fun of playing with a ball doesn't come from it being a 'proper' ball, but rather than it is a game to be played with others.

This is a first world solution to a problem that it created to make itself feel warm and fuzzy inside.


I see a lot of reasons to think otherwise:

According to the article, regular balls are already being donated but usually go flat quickly. This basically means donations are currently being wasted. If this wasted money can be redirected into something which will not be wasted, that seems like a definite win.

Further, balls are not just used for neighborhood games, but by organizations which use football as a tool for reaching other goals. If these organization are at all helpful, scrounging in the trash for materials to make balls is probably not a good use of their time. An organization may need dozens of balls, and if a trash ball only lasts for an hour (just a guess, I've never played football with a trash ball), then they may need over a hundred of them a day. The opportunity cost of the time spent making trash balls is probably higher than the cost of these balls, especially if they can truly last for years.

You could apply the same thinking about opportunity cost to the children's time. If play is important for children and if making balls out of trash is not play, then giving them more time to focus on play is a win.

Having cool things seems to be universally enjoyable. This gives the children something cool, probably adding to the fun of playing.

Digging in the trash is probably a lot less safe than playing football.

According to the corporation's website, 20 million deflated balls are discarded in Africa every year. If these balls last longer, there will be an environmental impact.

And finally, the main ways other charity attempts backfire (economic damage, not meeting the whole need [providing things the community can't maintain/support], giving a fish instead of teaching to fish, etc) seem to just not apply.


I also live in Rwanda and whilst I don't agree with my friend's argument that playing football with a piece of trash is as much fun as playing with a real ball, I do agree with his conclusion that this a solution looking for a problem.

There's no doubt that kids will be happy if you give them a shiny new football. They'll also be happy if you give them a secondhand t-shirt or new pair of shoes. That makes for lots of donor 'feel good' and nice photos on your Facebook page, but that doesn't make it good aid.

If the priority here is to do something helpful for the developing world, and that's why they're willing to put all the required effort and money into this project, then why not start by asking the developing world what their pressing problems are? Ask a few developing country governments and see how many of them report a lack of good footballs as a pressing problem.

When people don't ask questions like that it's usually an indication that the aid is more about the donor than the recipient. This project sounds a lot like TOMS Shoes Buy One Give One which has been frequently criticized for being a donor oriented initiative with little long term benefit [1]. It might sound completely harmless to hand out free shoes to kids, but it ends up undermining local producers and sellers, and perpetuates a 'handout' aid culture.

[1] http://goodintents.org/in-kind-donations/toms-shoes http://www.nextbillion.net/blogpost.aspx?blogid=2345


I'm not ignoring what you're saying, but...

There are no local producers of indestructible soccer balls. What will this undermine? I'm not trying to defend all comparable initiatives. I'm trying to understand the opposition to this particular one. Tom's shoes is a completely different issue.

Further, one cannot live on soccer balls no matter how indestructible. We aren't talking about giving out food for 10 years and then expecting someone to provide for themselves. We're talking about something that, where livelihood is concerned, is completely useless. A toy. I really do not see how giving a toy could create or perpetuate an expectation of handouts for any "real" aid. And I also don't see how handouts of toys can do any harm. I'm open to being corrected. I'm just letting you know why your argument hasn't convinced me yet.

Finally, asking someone what they want is not necessarily the best way to determine how to help them. I'm not suggesting that this is the best way to help. I'm just pointing out that, "If you want to help, ask, then do that," isn't foolproof.


I mentioned TOMS shoes because I believe that the buy-one-give-one model is usually not helpful. Giving sometimes does more harm than good. 50 years ago, many African countries had booming textile industries. Most of those have completely collapsed because they can't compete with the flood of donated second-hand clothes from the west. Our good intentions have been ultimately harmful.

Your argument seems to be that since footballs don't contribute to development, then this project won't do any long term harm or good. That just seems like a great shame to me - if we're going to invest all this money and effort, can't we find something to do that brings long term good? And something that won't perpetuate the common western view of places like Africa of hungry kids needing handouts.

But you're right that asking won't always yield the best solutions - let's say then you should spend sometime getting to know the place you want to help. Not convinced that has happened with this project.


I watched this last night:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oj__w87vkow&feature=plcp

"Social Mechanics: Bonding, Gratitude and Karma (Earthlings 101, Episode 7) "

Poor people are karma producers. Rich people are karma consumers. Rich people buy karma from poor people to make themselves feel better.

The whole Zog series is a fun (if a bit hard-line) presentation of evolutionary bio theory, in animated form.


Agree with most points, a real football beats trash and amplifies the positive experience many time over.


I strongly disagree. I grew up in uganda as an expat's kid (age 1-15). I used to play everyday with a lot of kids in the neighborhood. I was the only one with an actual fifa ball and they always waited for me with giddy eyes to show up on the local grounds despite having their own ingenious banana bark and kavera (plastic bag) balls. I made sure to give each one of them a ball when i left and most of them still treasured them when i went back a year ago. Sometimes it's not about a warm and fuzzy feeling. You have to see first hand how these kids live.


I grew up in India and totally agree. Sure, playing with friends is what made it fun. But it was always better to play with durable toys. Nothing kills fun faster than a torn rubber ball during a game of cricket.


Happy kids doesn't equal good aid. Are those footballs helping to improve the long term living conditions of those kids? If we have money and resources to help the developing world, assuming that actually is our goal, then shouldn't we strive to find interventions that actually have lasting impact?


You are pushing a bit hard there. What is point of having a lasting impact? So that people can can life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness

Happy kids does not equal good aid? Really?


Uh no. The goal of good aid/development is to help countries develop their economies, infrastructure and institutions so that people have access to education, healthcare and decent paying jobs... and are enabled to pursue their own ideas of happiness... rather than settle for a free football

Handing out money to kids would make them happy too, but would also not be good aid


I've never played soccer with a ball made of trash but I'm sure that this ball would be seen as better by any child comparing it to a ball made of trash.

Sure first world quality soccer balls aren't necessary for children to have fun, but there is nothing wrong with an intelligent entrepreneur making them available to third world children.

If we all spent more time on projects like this instead of the next Twitter, or designing new weapons the world would arguably end up a better place.


  " If we all spent more time on projects like this instead of the next 
   Twitter, or designing new weapons the world would arguably end
   up a better place."
This is an all too common attitude and one I used to share before spending time in the developing world. The plain fact though is that it is wrong.

Doing something is not always better than doing nothing. As a matter of fact a great many things, perhaps even most, interventions do more harm than good.

I'd recommend starting off reading "White Man's Burden" if you are interested in the topic. For a more fun example, google "one million t-shirts for africa"


> but there is nothing wrong with an intelligent entrepreneur making them available to third world children.

Unless money is diverted from more useful projects to buying balls?

I don't have enough information to say. Personally, I think this is a good project.


Unless money is diverted from more useful projects to buying balls?

Fair enough. If this project siphoned off money that would have been used to provide food or medical aid then it could be seen as a waste. But it sounds like there is a mix of corporate sponsors providing money and a One Laptop Per Child style "buy two, get one" program for the general public.


I also think that this durable ball is actually a savings as it will last many lifetimes of previously donated inflatable balls.


One could make the (admittedly flimsy) argument that a proper ball could reduce injuries caused from improvising balls from refuse, and lessen the need these kids might have for medical attention resulting from which.


Fair? I don't think so: the "waste" is providing the money for food, instead of teaching them how to farm their own food, teaching them where and how to build good well. And the most important (so I think) – Giving them their original African seeds instead of our weaker and GMOded one

It's like giving them a fish instead of a fishing pole… If we will provide them food, they'll grow even more dependent on us :/

Is that fair?


Yes, there are things lower down on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs that should be addressed. However, it is not the only thing. I grew up in an international community in the US, playing street soccer with people from different nationalities. We didn't play with trash. But I can tell you first-hand, being able to bond with other kids (of different ages) and having fun is very important.

Is it as important as teaching children how to farm their own food? It is very difficult to learn when you are not having fun. Children -- even adults -- learn best from play. I don't see the harm in having something that brings the neighborhood kids together.

There's also a big myth that people of the Third World don't know how to farm, don't know how to feed themselves. In the past, NGOs have brought in modern farming technologies that ultimately devastated the local environment and the ability for the communities to feed themselves. It's been a big problem, it isn't just about those "lazy" and "ignorant" Third World farmers who don't know how to farm and feed themselves.

Projects like the Open Source Ecology are much better suited for ... "teaching them how to farm their own food", and they need people. If you're concerned about this one entrepreneur and want to do something about it, see what you can contribute to OSE.


What's wrong with trying to build a Twitter?

Twitter was instrumental to communication during the Arab Spring. In general, it has served as a very nimble and functional communication medium that has, in some cases, surpassed the speed and breath of news networks for covering events in real time.

Open and powerful platforms like Facebook and Twitter aren't just outlets for wasting your time, but can be used in meaningful and impactful ways. The game is far from over - we still need people to build products like Twitter .


Exactly! You'd be amazed at how many people use Twitter here in Rwanda - practically everyone in the government from the president, to the ministers are all on there, and if you've got a question you can tweet them. The main telecoms company also enable people to tweet via SMS.

People need to stop thinking of the developing world as a simple place with simple problems.


It's not a problem that needs to be solved, but that doesn't mean an improvement isn't worth having.

I went to a private school in England - about as far removed as the kids this ball is aimed at - and therefore for us money was never the problem, but sometimes due to various reasons we'd be playing football in school breaks using a tennis ball, and we'd much preferred to have a real football to play with but happened not to that day. That doesn't take away from the fact that we still enjoyed ourselves with the tennis ball, and no doubt if circumstances had required it we could have enjoyed ourselves with a self-made ball.

The current solution doesn't have to be unenjoyable for this to be a great improvement


Do you play soccer? For someone with a real appreciation for the game, I'd say there's a huge difference between a trash/string ball and a proper soccer ball. Or maybe I'm just narrow minded.


I agree. As a brazilian I grew up playing soccer with anything available, and the joy to have a proper ball for a kid is amazing. Also there is a much better chance for a kid to evolve his skills and maybe be a professional player if he have a decent ball to learn the game.


I agree. While I don't live in Rwanda, I have been there a couple times and played soccer both with college students and young children. In all instances, we played with the best ball available.


It's about as far to the other extreme as possible, but when I worked at Google and we'd play soccer after work, there were usually a couple balls available and we always played with the best one we could. Better balls feel better against your feet, do what you're expecting them to do, and increase your enjoyment of the game.

If you're a kid anywhere, and you have a choice between a ball that bounces well and has a sweet spot that lets it leap off your foot and doesn't hurt or make you bleed when you get smacked in the face with it, you.will.prefer.that.ball.every.single.time.


And this ball probably isn't for) those people. Sort of how you can tell when a basketball or a football is not regulation, or one of those self-inflating ones. It's just not the same and won't satisfy a player who wants a "proper" ball (get them a regulation ball)


Obviously the ball isn't the same as a regulation ball, but the point is that the game is not being played on pristine World Cup pitches, but rather in dirt lots, streets, on cement, etc... So rather than sending over inflatable balls that are essentially unusable and thrown away after only a few uses, why not offer something more durable that is very similar.


Would you rather have a ball made out of trash that falls apart when you kick it, a "proper" ball that gets torn to shreds, or this "not regulation" ball that can withstand any abuse you throw at it?

This seems like a no-brainer to me. These kids don't need a regulation ball, and they deserve better than trash.


The durable ball potentially changes the economics of building community organizations based upon sports. Organized sport may be used as a less belligerent means of expressing community solidarity and a relatively healthy outlet for rivalries between communities.

While this may be marketed on the basis of "Do it for the children," sport specifically and play in general are important mechanisms of adult social interaction. Futbol is no more a child's game than dominoes.


> Organized sport may be used as a less belligerent means of expressing community solidarity and a relatively healthy outlet for rivalries between communities.

Tangentially related to this point, I've often wondered if this is simply a zero-sum game, and the unity you gain through supporting a particular team comes at the cost of disunity with supporters of other teams.

Sports team rivalries produce all kinds of stupidity the world over. People are routinely killed or severely injured simply because of the sports team they support.


Soccer balls are probably a less volatile export than religion.


Supporters of the other team are far away and have discounted relevance to your life.


The guy making the ball didn't create the problem, except in a very indirect and academic way. He certainly can't stop the problem. But he can can make a contribution today. Good on him.


You could try asking the kids which they'd prefer.


It's nice to know that you've decided that your local kids are having enough fun, and that you've decided that there's a ceiling to it that they don't need to cross.

Ah, how I wish I had been told when I was younger "no more Lego for you, you're having plenty of fun with the one set you do have". I needed to have my wings clipped for my own good!


Then he happened to be having breakfast with Sting, a friend from his days in the music business. Mr. Jahnigen told him how soccer helped the children in Darfur cope with their troubles and his efforts to find an indestructible ball. Sting urged Mr. Jahnigen to drop everything and make the ball. Mr. Jahnigen said that developing the ball might cost as much as $300,000. Sting said he would pay for it.

Well...that's always helpful.


Always helpful to know a super rich guy whom you can have lunch with and propose business ideas to. Funding aside, I'm sure it helped to have Sting's backing when this guy was approaching material producers and manufacturers and other corporations for sponsorship. I'm happy that it did get done, but how far would an average hacker get without those kind of connections? I suspect the startup cost would have been larger.


True! However what's amazing is that with a vision like this, he could have pretty easily funded this through Kickstarter... and given out indestructible soccer balls as a reward. I would've funded something like this in a second... it's a powerful vision.


Essentially they do the same thing as One Laptop Per Child. You buy one and a third world child gets one. They didn't go through Kickstarter but I think the model they use is more effective anyway.


> Mr. Jahnigen told him how soccer helped the children in Darfur cope with their troubles and his efforts to find an indestructible ball.

Indestructible balls will only lead to a race of stronger, indestructible-ball-destroyer children.


That's what Kickstarter is doing very successfully -- turning the Internet into your rich friend who sponsors your projects.


That's just the startup/angel investor template.


Sting: Like Bono, without the douche?


Somebody never watched Dune.


I have one of these (and donated one). It's a pretty amazing ball.

There's another charity called Alive & Kicking[1] that makes more traditional balls. The main advantages are that the balls are actually made in Africa, giving people jobs, and the outside of the balls have HIV/AIDS awareness messages on them.

[1] http://www.aliveandkicking.org/


How does it feel as a ball? Can you give a short review?


The material feels like the Crocs foam, and I think it's a bit lighter than a regulation ball. It also squishes down more easily; you can flatten it by stepping on it, though it'll pop right back into shape. It also has different bounce characteristics than a regulation ball, I assume due to its weight and materials.

The biggest downside is that the one I got is slightly out of round, though for anyone playing on a dirt "field", it wouldn't matter that much.

Overall, it's kind of incredible what they've been able to do with it. That said, I wouldn't choose to use it over a regulation ball. But if it's all I had, I'd be glad to play with it.


I am sorry, but I have to ask. Why ship bulky non-de-flatable balls from their manufacturing in China (presumably) or North America all the way to Sudan or Rwanda? All this is being run with donations anyway, right? Why not setup a ball-manufacturing unit somewhere in Africa? Something that uses the bare minimum of automation that still results in a decent product? Employ a few dozen/hundred locals, aid the economy, more or less solve the shipping problem. Its probably not easy, given political situation, but I am sure some location can be found out there? Won't that help even more?

I understand that something like the iPhone or a Tesla S cannot be manufactured out there. Supply chain issues, profitability concerns, reliability of production, etc etc. But these balls are anyway meant for Africa, they are meant to be given away, and they are supposed to be in a charitable cause. The complexity of production is (presumably) much much lower than manufacturing an iphone, there isn't much of a concern for profit, labour would be as cheap in Africa as it is in China, if not cheaper, and periodic disruptions in production won't affect the stock price of any large corporation.

So why not?


The article says they're made in Taiwan. The manufacturing process for fancy plastics can be quite complex, and the whole point of these balls is to be consistently high quality, something that would be hard to achieve with African production.

Not to mention that setting up your own factory is a massive amount of work compared to simply coming up with a design and outsourcing production to an existing supplier. Best to start with small steps for the first iteration.


http://www.aliveandkicking.org/what-we-do/

What We Do Alive & Kicking manufactures quality sports balls in Kenya, Zambia and Ghana. Our footballs (soccer balls), volleyballs, netballs, handballs and rugby balls generate employment for over 120 people, provide a product tailored for the African market and are used as a tool for raising health awareness.

Established in 2004 by the late Jim Cogan OBE, an inspirational teacher with a passion for African development, we are the only formal manufacturer of sports balls on the African continent. His vision was to see the large scale production of sports balls in Africa – to use the continent’s passion for football to boost local economies, provide children with the right equipment to play and to use sport to help combat the spread of deadly disease.

This vision drives Alive & Kicking to this day.

We are a social enterprise – an organisation that uses business practices to pursue our charitable objectives:

Creating sustainable employment in the manufacture of sports balls Ensuring that disadvantaged children have access to balls that are suitable for the conditions Using sport to raise health awareness in sub-Saharan Africa The standard Alive & Kicking ball is made of African leather, which makes it twice as resistant to puncture as the most robust synthetic ball on the market. This helps our balls to be competitive in African retail outlets, where the majority are sold. We also supply NGOs, companies (for CSR and marketing) and government departments.

Each of the 120 people that we employ typically supports an extended family of six people on their salary, so their jobs are extremely valuable to their communities. By focusing on sustainable solutions to real problems, Alive & Kicking is driving change in the communities in which we work.


The article has a link to where you can buy one, but it's not called out as such. To make it easier for you to buy and/or donate to this awesome cause, here it is: http://www.oneworldfutbol.com/


An inflated football in the middle of a game of 10 kids stopped because of a punctured ball is priceless.

Bought 1, and will take 1 with me to my hometown next summer. This is not a cure for inequality, it will only make a temporary difference for the little people who are bound to suffer a lot further in their lives. I don't have any illusions of having done my part or anything, which is something that is being marketed at Starbucks with fairly traded coffee, donations etc. This is something I am doing, because I want the kids to be happier right now.


Fairly pricey. Even at bulk and without the built in donation they are $15-$20 in bulk.


I think that the durability of the ball and its ability to outlast previously donated balls by many years makes the price acceptable. The article notes that standard inflatable balls will become useless in short order, whereas this ball might still be in use for years after it is donated.


I agree it's really pricey. I remember when I was a kid, a lot of times we didn't have a ball and we used whatever round thing we had and still had A LOT of fun.

Let me tell you that scoring a goal with a can of coke it's priceless!


And shipping outside of the States doubles the price. The high cost makes it even more important to donate.


YouTube/Hulu ad campaign: Black screen, large font "Give Balls", small font "oneworldfutbol.com", 5 seconds. How much would something like that cost to run for a week?


Obligatory "it's football not soccer" comment from the Brit.

That aside, this is a fabulous thing. Anyone can play football in tight spaces with a group and on their own. Being the biggest sport on the planet, it's a marvellous thing that you can go literally anywhere and ask someone to play a game and you pretty much all know the simple rules. I'll always get behind things like this.


It is a great idea, if it works like they say it does :) .

I've seen foam footballs before... (after google search):

http://www.decathlon.es/balon-futbol-de-espuma-kipsta-foam-i...

and they're much cheaper than the proposed one (you can get them for 1-2 dollars), but probably way less durable.

"A lion at the Johannesburg Zoo, who would go through six regular balls a day, played with two balls. A German shepherd spent a year biting on a ball. In every case, the balls withstood the abuse."

That does sound durable. As stated, U$ 40 is way too expensive for a ball, so the only way it will work is if they continue giving them away as part of relief efforts.

Unicef: "“compared to the $2.50 we pay for a regular football, the current cost difference for the more durable solution is currently too high.”"

And the shipping problems are also a hindrance.

"because the balls cannot be deflated, they are more difficult to ship"


Build a factory "over there" and provide employment opportunities. This helps develop infrastructure in a sustainable useful way.

This also provides income replacement for the little children who are no longer stitching traditional footballs.

(http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-09-27/rest-...)

[1] Sorry for the "over there" which is a lazy perhaps offensive way to refer to the developing world.



I've seen foam footballs before...

I've played with it, my son has one. It has a weird way of bouncing, compared to inflated ones.


Is it "soft" foam, or "hard" foam like the author describes?

Do you think it could be durable as the OneWorldFutbol?


Soft. And no, this kind of ball are not very durable.


Not a Brit, but yeah, it is football to the world at large.

Congratulations to Sting and Tim Jahnigen, this is heart warming.

Regarding the cost of the balls, I think when you factor in a 30 year life and assume a cost of $30 per ball, we are looking at a $1/year cost. The up front cost might be higher, and that is an issue, but the actual cost per ball/year is a heckuva lot less. I'm not sure what kind of calculation Unicef is doing when they say “compared to the $2.50 we pay for a regular football, the current cost difference for the more durable solution is currently too high.”


Their funds are finite and the increased cost of a football would take away funds for other goods and services which they deliver. They need to prioritize their the current needs and demands, not just optimize for the long term cost of a football.


In Britain, the game is called "Association Football" to distinguish it from Gaelic, rugby, and other forms of football.

The game is officially, "soccer" in the U.S. [United Sates Soccer Federation] and Canada [Canadian Soccer Association].

FIFA calls the game beach soccer, "Beach Soccer." It is played under the "Beach Soccer Laws of the Game."

http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/tournament/competition/52/76...


I ignored the other comment, but since people are trying to quote stuff, I feel it's important to put it right. Football is the official name in the United Kingdom and especially England. We don't have the Association Football Association but rather the Football Association. It doesn't not have a prefix when it's referred to in any form of media at all. 'Beach Soccer' has no relevance here.


"Association Football: the game controlled by FIFA and organised in accordance with the Laws of the Game." [FIFA Statutes, July 2012 edition, page 5 (definition 12)]

http://www.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/generic/01/66/5...

This definition applies to the FA per it's constitution and bylaws.

"All Clubs and Aiffliated Associations shall play and/or administer football in conformity with these Rules and also: (a) The Laws of the Game (as defifned in the Articles); and (b) the statutes and regulations of FIFA and UEFA which are in force from time to time." [THE RULES OF THE FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION LIMITED, page 1]

http://www.thefa.com/~/media/Files/TheFAPortal/governance-do...

Here is a list of references to "association football" on the FA's Website: https://www.google.com/search?q=site%3Athefa.com+%22associat...

"Beach Soccer" is of course relevant because that's the name of the game sanctioned by FIFA.


Oh, I see what you've done there. In the very thing you quote, it refers to Football and Football Associations. For further reference, we look no further than Federation of International Football Associations and Union of European Football Associations. Which is not FIAFA nor UEAFA.


You may already be aware of this, but the word "soccer" in fact comes from shortening the word "association":

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_for_association_football


Agreed. Some of my happiest times playing football were on a small side street using a dustbin as a goal net. There's a reason it's by far the most popular sport in the world and as such this news can only be a good thing.


If any of you is ever in Uganda hit me up for a game of football. That aside i wish this had come when i was still younger. I remember inflating polythene that was used for packaging 1ltr milk sachets and using tyre tubes as strings for holding up these packagings and for football we lived. I should post a how to video for that come to think of it.


It is my belief that the common usage of this word will be an indicator when the English language stops being defined by its native speakers and starts being defined by its more numerable foreign speakers.

In most languages, it is called something very similar to football.

Since I don't have a native English language, I prefer to call it football for that reason. I don't give a damn about its history, soccer's origin as association football, etc etc.

Football is Fussball is fotboll is futbol is fudbold is futebol is futball is fútbol is ..


No it won't, it'll indicate when the sporting options available to people have shrunk so that they no longer need words to differentiate between football (soccer), football (gaelic), football (Aussie Rules), football (rugby league), football (rugby union), football (gridiron) and any other kinds I'm not aware of.


Football is what the English, who have the best claim to being native speakers of English, call it.


A native speaker is someone who grew up with the given language as a primary language, not someone who comes from the country the language is named after.


Up until a few years ago, a lot of the english-speaking world called it soccer: Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the US, Canada. It is called 'sokker' in Afrikaans. Additionally, in Japan is is most commonly called 'sakka'.

Brits were truly the only ones calling it Football.


In Argentina there is only one word for it: "fútbol"


Then I'll throw in the obligatory counter that the term 'soccer' was coined in Britain.


I guess I'll make the obligatory American comment that we should ship them balls used for Stickball (American not Australian game) so when they grow up they would become fans of Baseball.


If you're going to be pedantic, then you might as well at least go all the way. The sport is called "association football". It is correct for Americans to call it soccer because, well, that's the most common name for it here.


It seems that, as only Americans call it soccer, only Americans think it's real name is "association football".


I was born and raised in Turkey. When I was little, I and the other kids in my neighborhood got together regularly and played soccer using crushed soda cans. While it was fun, there were several disadvantages:

1. They required one of us to purchase a soda (and chug it) 2. The cans only worked on asphalt and concrete. We couldn't play on grass. 3. Since the crushed cans had sharp edges, they ruined our shoes. 4. Occasionally they would take to the air and become dangerous flying projectiles.

That said, they were far more reliable than actual soccer balls, which we could buy easily from sporting stores. They didn't go flat (they already were, ha!) and didn't need to be inflated regularly.


"In May, Chevrolet, the General Motors division, agreed to buy 1.5 million One World Futbols over the next three years and donate them to needy children. "

"At the end of September, the factory in Taiwan that produces the balls has been working two shifts a day to meet its target of 45,000 balls a month."

Do we have a production problem? Maybe I missed it but it seems so. If Chevrolet is buying 1.5m balls in three years, that's 500,000 balls per year. If production is ideally reaching 45,000 balls per month, that's leaving very few for defects and other buyers.

The other thing I thought of is that, if the ball is virtually indestructible, at some point there are enough balls deployed/in-place and we can stop production all together, right? At 500,000+ balls per year, how many years will it take before everyone who wants one has one? I know there are a lot of poor areas but surely there's a number at which point critical mass has been reached.


well at 6 billion people on the planet and growing they might just run out of an market in a few thousand years.


??? The market is poor countries/people who cannot afford soccer balls. That's hardly 6 billion.


I laughed out loud on first reading this sentence (it could use an extra capital letter): "A German shepherd spent a year biting on a ball. In every case, the balls withstood the abuse."

Man that must have been one bored shepherd.


I'm not knocking this idea, but it would be so much better if the balls could be manufactured in Africa using locally sourced materials rather than paying a factory in Taiwan to make them and ship them around the globe.


TL;DR: entrepreneur invents always-inflated, indestructible ball made of Crocs' foam, finds an investor (Sting) who sees a business opportunity selling to charities who cater to third world children. Now they're making ~$1M/month from customers such as GM and Unicef.


It is true that this not a non-profit organization. It is a B corporation. According to Wikipedia: "A benefit corporation is a class of corporation required by law to create general benefit for society as well as for shareholders. Benefit corporations must create a material positive impact on society, and consider how their decisions affect their employees, community, and the environment. Moreover, they must publicly report on their social and environmental performances using established third-party standards."

How common are these B corps? Any other notable examples?


Why is GM spending millions of dollars on soccer balls? Didn't they go bankrupt recently?


Marketing? Also, it is not as if 'millions' is a lot of money for them. They will spend half a billion or so sponsoring a football club (http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/07/30/uk-gm-manu-idUKBRE8...)


Yes, but they came out of bankruptcy and are profitable again.

See https://www.google.com/finance?client=ob&q=NYSE:GM.

For the nine months ending in September they increased their cash position by 7.2 billion if I'm looking at their financials correctly. Their net income for the last quarter was 1.8 billion.


I wonder if I'm the only one who wished someone would start a company to sell soccers balls at a low price point to poor people instead of donating them, as it seems a better solution then making uber expensive balls that are then sold on a buy one/donate one basis (looks like it's about $40 http://www.oneworldfutbol.com/shop/one-world-futbol/)?

Is that crazy?


The great thing about soccer is that even having an actual soccer ball is not a necessity. Empty cans, ragged tennis balls, anything will do. This used to be perfectly fine in the first world country I grew up in, so although this is a great product, it doubt it will make as much of a difference as the author suggest. Kids will play soccer and enjoy it no matter what.


The point is not so much to get kids playing soccer: they do that on their own. The point is safety: if the ball holds up, they won't resort to making their own from unsafe materials.


>But “compared to the $2.50 we pay for a regular football, the current cost difference for the more durable solution is currently too high.”

My brain hurts. If a ball that costs $20 and lasts 30 years is too expensive, then a ball that costs $2.50 and lasts a day is also too expensive. This is not a difficult math problem.


One possible problem is that they say (estimate) that the new model last 30 years. (Let's wait until 2040 and see.) It's very difficult to estimate how many years it will last with the real use.

* What happens when they get wet? Does it get a lot of mold?

* What happens during a flood?

* How fast the surface wears away?

* What happens when a dog bites it?

* Does the dirt accumulate inside and make the ball heavier?

It's looks like an interesting idea, but the 30 years claim is a little optimistic.


Even so, it only has to last 8 days to break even.


Hats off to you mr. Jahnigen and hats of to you mr. Sting for not just being good with music, but for being Good in general :) It's absolutely one of the most beautiful ideas I've ever heard. So simple, so powerful. Saw the Joy and harvest the Good.


No idea why this wasn't mentioned, but http://soccket.org/ (a soccer ball that's also a generator) seems like it would be significantly more useful, while also satisfying the same fun purposes.


The core reasoning behind the foam ball was that inflatable balls don't even last a day.


Anyone else thinking such a ball would make an ideal "case" for a Raspberry Pi, especially once they add wi-fi to the R-Pi? Here's a ball, kids...BTW, it's a computer too. A kickable, waterproof, indestructible computer.


"Then he happened to be having breakfast with Sting, a friend from his days in the music business."

Ahhh... that was easy.


How long before folks complain that the indestructible ball is, well, indestructible?


Amazing story. Love the game and love the idea!


Maybe this guy could pivot and invent a soccer ball that feeds starving people.


Meat balls!


The real pivot would be soccer-balls-as-a-service.


Cut it in half and hollow it out.


Minimum viable help.


Years ago I saw a video where kids made a ball by blowing up a condom and covering it with some srap fabric.



That's not too far from what an actual ball is. Much better than a trash & string ball.


Don't we have more pressing matters to devote brain power to?


Exactly! What a risible waste of time and effort.

Now: take your pet, snap its neck, and throw it in the trash. Then make a list of your family members and sort them by value. Get the least essential ones out of your life, by hook or by crook. Finally, start removing your least essential fingers. You can type with just two! Focus, focus, focus. This world is made for Big Thinkers, Important Ideas, and Stuff That Matters. Like you, your worthless values, and your blithering cynicism! It's all about YOU!


Sure. And there are plenty of people working on that, too. But maybe the skills to invent a durable non-inflatable football aren't needed so badly when trying to solve energy problems or trying to bring peace to Syria. Or should people having an idea scrap it immediately just because it's not the most pressing concern to the world at the moment?


Like commenting on HN?


Like making another social app?




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