Mother's World Cup Commitment

Agency Team Heads to South Africa to Play -- and Changes Lives Instead

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It started with Mother's soccer team going to South Africa to play three matches and give away some free kit, trophies and medical equipment to keep up an agency tradition of commemorating every World Cup.

By the end of the five-day trip, Mother had committed to building a permanent football pitch, a community center and a day-care center, as well as funding school meals and setting up a program with Dell to provide computers for schools.

In late May, a squad of 22 players, made up of the best talent from Mother's London, New York and Buenos Aires offices, traveled to the East London area of South Africa -- the only part of the country that isn't hosting any of the official World Cup matches -- to play against local township people.

"The hotel was one of the nicest we'd every stayed in, yet one in four people in the township have HIV, there is no running water or electricity, and 85% unemployment," says Dylan Williams, strategy partner at Mother. "There has been no rain for five years, and 90% of all taxes go on salaries for government officials. It's a microcosm summarizing all the issues in South Africa."

On the first morning, they visited the pitch where the match was scheduled for that evening and found a dust bowl. The rest of the day was spent building a pitch and putting up floodlights--the first in the area.

By the time they were ready for kick-off, 2,500 supporters had arrived, creating a carnival atmosphere and bringing together a rare mix of black and white, old and young, women and men. Other people walked for two days so that they could make it in time for the final match.

One of the floodlights gave out half way through, and there was a lull in the match every time the ball was kicked off the pitch and rolled to the bottom of the hill, but the Mother team found themselves welcomed by the whole community.

The local footballers sang to them under the moonlight, others put on a dance show and a tribal elder told them how she can forgive the evils of apartheid but never forget how it killed her son.

Says Williams, "The [FIFA] World Cup isn't changing lives at all. Local traders aren't allowed within a mile of the stadiums, so fans have to eat KFC and McDonald's. We wanted to do more than just give them the opportunity to beat a bunch of fat white guys -- we thought very hard about finding a legacy that would fit in with their value system."

They decided on creating a grass pitch that the community would look after and maintain together and a community center that would host sports, events and health initiatives, which Mother is committed to funding for the next 10 years.

Mother employees are all giving £1 a day for a month to pay for local pupils to receive school meals for a year, and efforts are under way to put together a different sort of entertainment for next year's trip -- the agency is in talks with Sony, EMI and Universal to provide international acts to play with local artists in a concert in East London.

The agency is also paying for a star South African player to fly to the U.K. for a professional football trial with a Premiere League team.

"More happened than we'd initially envisaged," Williams says. "We learned so much. We thought we were doing the giving, but in return they gave us their values and awakened in us a spirit of collectivism -- in contrast to the cold individualism and emphasis on profit that we've grown up with in the mature Western world."