Today saw me interview a sport for development enthusiast, none other than Steve Fleming! Steve has had some incredible life experiences, including setting up a life-changing organisation in South Africa, writing a book about the power of football and becoming a pioneer in the sport for development landscape.
Q1) Steve, it’s great to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Let’s kick this off by understanding how your sports career began?
Great to be here Ash. It started back in 2004 when I was working in marketing at a local government position in London. I wasn’t getting up every morning feeling super enthusiastic about the day ahead. However, I’ve always been interested in sport and international development.
Eventually, I became inspired to raise funds for an orphanage in Malawi. My brother and I came up with a bizarre but extraordinary idea to do this by dribbling a football for 250 miles to Malawi. We spent six months training, preparing and fundraising this initiative, which soon became a life-changing adventure. It was then when I recognised the power of sport for development. This was the year I registered my current co-founded organisation, Kick4Life as a charity and I’ve taken it from there.
Q2) Now, moving onto your position at Kick4Life. Tell me more about what the organisations represent and the achievements you’ve made across sport and beyond?
When completing the dribbling challenge, my brother and I identified Lesotho, South Africa as a country where we’d want to focus our efforts. We managed to get some seed funding from the Vodafone Foundation, my brother then moved to South Africa and got down to business. We began focusing on HIV testing and education. We explored other areas surrounding gender equality, life skills, employability and gradually, the charity grew.
In 2010, we secured funding from FIFA when the world cup took place in South Africa to have our own centre in Lesotho; this allowed us to create social enterprises. This provided an opportunity to generate income through our various programmes. Later, we developed a restaurant and a conference centre over several years and by 2014; we launched a football team that competes in the Lesotho Premier League. We have sixty employees and are working with hundreds of thousands of young people to transform their lives through sport.
Q3) I understand you’re the first sporting organisation to establish equal gender budgets in South Africa. Would you mind talking through this process?
Initially, we didn’t pay too much attention to this as we thought it could compromise our identity as a charity. However, we had a women’s football team associated with us, which was vital for optimising engagement from a broader community. Eventually, this team got promoted to the Lesotho Premier League which we’re very proud of. We also play an integral role in the foundation of structured Women’s football too. The Lesotho FA are a sports property we work closely with considering the growth of women’s football.
The equal gender budgets provide an opportunity for females to have a represented voice in a male-dominated society by breaking down social barriers. Last year, we made the bold step to becoming the first club to establish this initiative and gained coverage worldwide, which is an enormous achievement.
Q4) I’m aware you have a sub-organisation called Kick4Lifeassist. Let’s hear more about that.
Kick4Lifeassist is a training and consultancy service who works with global organisations to help them in various activities surrounding curriculum development, coaching and training. We’ve worked in Gambia, Guinea, Pakistan, the UK and Brazil.
The priority for both Kick4Life and Kick4Lifeassist is to protect the firms amidst COVID19 to enhance future sustainability. We’re looking to grow programmes in Lesotho, seeking funding for a ‘stadium of life’ which we’re looking to evolve our 11-a-side pitch from for people to access education and health facilities.
Q5) With any successful journey comes an array of challenges. Could you share some which you’ve faced throughout co-founding Kick4Life?
Reflecting on COVID19, we worked hard on developing the restaurant, conference centres and other entities. Still, when the pandemic hit, it significantly impacted our income while many costs were still running. This meant we had no choice but to close up. There was no furlough scheme, staff protection and prospects of the organisation and I hope we can open up ASAP after lockdown. Therefore, sustainability has been the biggest challenge meaning it’s difficult to look too far into the future and plan long-term, indicating a need to explore new revenue streams.
On a positive note, 2010 was the year we realised we’d need to rely on more than one source of income. This was when we worked hard to bring diverse sources in and think innovatively. This included more partnership building to generate revenue. One creative project we’ve come up with is developing a new consulting tool called ‘RAFT’ which stands for Reduce, Adapt, Fundraise and Trade, where we support other sporting organisations with financial adversities caused by COVID19.
Q6) I’d love to talk more to you about your book. Eleven: Making Lives Better: 11 Stories of Development Through Football. Where did the inspiration come from and share the impact this book has made on your career and others?
The book is ten years old and launched in 2010, and my experiences influenced it. I felt I had many stories to tell, from what I’ve learnt about the worldwide street projects I was involved in. The purpose of the book is to showcase football’s power to combat social issues. It features 11 individuals from those global projects. Some themes include tackling gang crime, deprivation of education in Cambodia and refugees in Australia. It carried a message that maybe football for development can be something that moves to the industry’s heart rather than it being on the side. However, the last ten years have seen some authentic progress, but what’s the harm in continuing to push for more!
Q7) Focusing on football for development on a global scale, what further support do you feel is still needed to allow the game to make life-changing impacts?
Since we’ve been around, street football has been an essential part of football’s strategic framework. This made us feel like we’re apart of something bigger than ourselves. There’s another fantastic project called Common Goal, set up by Manchester United’s, Juan Mata. The purpose is essential, but getting players involved in the charitable side will take these projects into the football industry’s heart. Plus, football must continue to promote equality, diversity and inclusion in every aspect of the game.
Q8) What have been the biggest lessons you’ve learnt as a co-founder, board member and author throughout your sports career?
I’ve been a board member for a gymnastics club and an organisation called Street Football World. Being a board member allowed me to explore opportunities through a diverse mindset that has helped me this day.
The essential skills that have helped me along the way have been written communication; it makes sense as I’ve lost count on the number of funding proposals and documents I’ve produced! On the flip side, verbal communication comes less naturally to me; it’s a continuous learning curve.
Q9) Steve, reflecting on this discussion and your career, what is your killer piece of advice for someone wanting to work in sport for development?
The theme of identity is essential to establish amongst your team and potential new team members. Learn to communicate effectively and stand out from the crowd where possible. Sport for development is a fast-growing sector which is fantastic. However, it’s become more imperative to become identifiable.
Incredible, what a great interview. Steve has struck me as one of the most resilient assets in the sports industry for sure. Despite the pandemic creating multiple concerns, he’s still eager as ever to plough through and continues making an impact to communities that need it. It’s fantastic to hear from an authentic voice about how sport for development is beginning to grow closer to the heart of the industry, and I’m sure that gap will continue to bridge closer with Kick4Life’s fantastic work!