VENTURES AFRICA – For many young kids in Africa, playing football is a childhood dream. Scoring the winning goal of a big game in a major competition; testing their skills alongside the finest players in the world and rubbing shoulders with other football icons but for many others, football is simply an escape route from some of Africa’s more impoverished economies. In such pragmatic cases, it is not rare to see such footballers returning to their roots and contributing to economic growth via poverty alleviation schemes, supporting charitable causes or simply investing in pro-people business enterprises.
In no particular order, here is a list of Africa’s top ten philanthropic football stars
The Ivorian skipper and talisman has enjoyed a stellar career but it admirable that his work off the field almost overshadows his work on it. The striker has spearheaded several humanitarian causes in his native Ivory Coast including the construction of a $3 million hospital in Abidjan. Through his Didier Drogba Foundation, Drogba is involved in a string of healthcare initiatives. Most admirably, Drogba donates all of his commercial endorsement income from world-class brands such as Nike and Pepsi to the Didier Drogba Foundation for distribution among all healthcare initiatives and charity projects. In the aftermath of leading Ivory Coast to qualification for a maiden appearance at the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Drogba rallied his countrymen and played a major role in ending five years of civil war.
Samuel Eto’o is famous for his astronomical wages and high profile status in football but beyond the image of a prima donna, Samuel Eto’o is leading the humanitarian charge all through West Africa . The Samuel Eto’o Foundation works with children in Western Africa with a three pronged approach that is inclusive of healthcare services, education and the promotion of social inclusion through sporting activities.
Salomon and Bonaventure Kalou
Many brothers dream of playing alongside each other but only a few are lucky enough to do. The Kalou brothers have played together for Ivory Coast and are also working hand in hand to run the Foundation Kalou which was established in 2009. The brothers have reportedly donated in excess of $600,000 to the foundation. Amongst other things, the foundation has masterminded the construction of a kidney dialysis centre in Boakye, Ivory Coast.
The Galatasaray defender is another Ivorian with a big heart. The Ivorian right-back is popular in his country for supporting educational charities and more importantly raising funds to build schools, pay tuition and establish trust-funds to provide pupils with shoes, uniforms and books. Reports estimate that Eboue has raised about $200,000 to support education of young children in Ivory Coast.
Ghana’s midfield man may have retired from international football to the dismay of many Ghanaians but his work in Ghana, especially his hometown Awutu Breku where The Michael Essien Foundation continues to provide and stimulate basic infrastructure development. The foundation has constructed multiple boreholes to provide residents with clean water and is also involved in healthcare projects especially in hygiene with the building of public toilets. The foundation also encourages education and aims to improve literacy levels with libraries provided for young and old people who cannot afford education. In honour of his mother, Essien also ensures that the Foundation teaches basic empowerment skills to women across Ghana.
Egypt and Al-Ahly striker has enjoyed a splendid career without playing in any of Europe’s big-money leagues but nonetheless, the forward has been part of multiple charitable causes and events In 2005, he played in a ‘Match Against Poverty’ with 40 other international stars to raise funds as part of a UNDP Goodwill Ambassadors programme. He remains a WSP Ambassador for Hunger and participate in various Public Service Announcement initiatives that draw attention to the problem hunger poses not just in Egypt but also in Africa.
One of Africa’s most decorated players, Kanu Nwankwo’s fairytale story could easily have been different after Italian doctors diagnosed him with a heart defect while at Inter Milan. In the aftermath of his surgery and impressive recovery, the striker set up the Kanu Heart Foundation to provide Nigerian children with heart defects and problems with corrective surgery. Since its establishment in 2000, Kanu Heart Foundation has carried out a staggering 452 open heart surgeries with surgeries held in Israel, England and India. Not one to rest on his oars despite the spectacular success of the foundation, Kanu plans to raise $35 million dollars to build a 40 bed Cardiac Specialist Hospital in Nigeria.
The former Ghana skipper has had a torrid time with injury which has limited the progress of his undoubted talent but Stephen’s humanitarian projects in Ghana continue to blossom. The midfielder launched an apparel business, proceeds of which go his StepApp foundation in Ghana. Stephen’s foundation focuses on providing health insurance and medical facilities from citizens who ordinarily find it unaffordable. Also with an interest in education, Stephen works with UNICEF to promote education in Africa.
Yobo has represented Nigeria studiously at various levels since 1999 but more importantly, the Fenerbache defender has contributed massively to educational development in Southern Nigeria. His Joseph Yobo Charity Foundation has handed out over 300 educational scholarships to students from primary to tertiary levels and has also established a football academy that he hopes will, one day, produce the next Joseph Yobo.