KICK4LIFE – the world’s first football club exclusively dedicated to social change – are conducting health education and life skills sessions focused on HIV prevention and stemming stigma in schools around the country. The campaign was launched on 26 September this year.
Kick4Life Marketing Director, Kathleen McCarthy, speaks with Lesotho Times (LT) reporter, Lekhetho Ntsukunyane, about the establishment of the organisation, its mission and related issues in this wide ranging interview.
LT: Most people think of Kick4Life as merely a football club. Tell us exactly what the organisation is and when it was established in Lesotho?
McCarthy: Kick4Life was launched in 2005 and grew from a simple idea of using football to change lives. We have grown to become a well-established award-winning charity social enterprise and football club. Our mission is to transform the lives of Basotho by giving them an opportunity to achieve their potential and contribute to the development of their communities. We are actually the world’s first football club exclusively dedicated to social change.
Essentially, Kick4life Football Club is the main bar. Under it, we have two operational spheres – one is the Kick4Life Academy and the second is our Social Enterprises. These two are intertwined to ensure we have maximum synergies. is focused on supporting youth towards long-term education, training and employment, including international university scholarships, as well as wider community support including HIV/AIDS testing, football coaching, mentoring and education and employment support. Over 50 percent of our academy participants are women and girls. We offer various programmes, which include health education and HIV/AIDS testing, financial literacy, football coaching and education as well as employment support. All of these create sustainable future opportunities for participants, who can then go on to become trainees and or permanent employees in our social enterprises, or find full-time external employment.
LT: What are your social enterprises?
McCarthy: Our social enterprises are No.7 Restaurant, Kick4Life Hotel and Conference Centre. No.7 Restaurant has actually been voted the number one restaurant in Maseru on the Global Travel Platform Trip Advisor. All the profits we generate from the hotel, the conference centre and the restaurant are reinvested into programmes on our academy side. We are non-profit making organisation. Every time you dine with us, you should know that all the money you spent is essentially reinvested back to the HIV testing that we do in the communities. We have tested over 125 000 young people in Lesotho. We have referred over 600 Basotho for medical treatment. We have created over 100 local jobs here at Kick4Life. This is not only done through international and local donors, sponsors and corporates, but also individuals who come here and support the restaurant.
LT: Who exactly are the initiators of Kick4Life?
McCarthy: The entire Kick4Life concept was initiated by two British brothers, Pete and Steve Fleming. They are passionate about football. They fundraised by going across Africa, starting from Malawi, and dribbling footballs together. After this experience, they were convinced football had the power to change and improve people’s lives. And that’s how Kick4Life started in Lesotho. We grew from that small idea of using football to achieve social change into what you see now.
LT: Is this initiative only operational in Lesotho?
McCarthy: We are also a registered charity in the United Kingdom and the United States of America. But they don’t have the same facilities we have here. They are essentially working to help us here in Lesotho. Practically, this is the only Kick4Life in the world; there is no other Kick4Life in any other country.
LT: Give us details about your academy.
McCarthy: We have a few programmes under our academy at the moment. We do “Test Your Team” events where we mobilise communities in rural parts of Lesotho, at schools, to do (HIV) testing. We do financial literacy for women and girls. HIV testing has really been a big part of what we are contributing; we want to keep contributing and remain committed to tackling HIV/AIDS in Lesotho by providing health education and HIV testing and counselling. Next year, we are going to include even more programmes in our academy. Actually, we are going to officially launch our new flagship; the student athlete development programme. This is an academic character development and advanced football initiative for Basotho children.
So we will be offering 15 boys an opportunity to undergo this programme. And the following year it will be girls. We will keep alternating them as we go on. These will be Basotho children aged between 11 and 13 years. We will also give them five-year secondary and high school scholarships to attend top-performing secondary institutions in Maseru. We are actually going to scout throughout the country for these 15 boys so we get the best of the best academically and in football. The ultimate objective of the project is develop talented Basotho youths into capable students who will be well positioned to be offered academic and sporting scholarships at international universities, primarily in the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
The empowerment of all of our academy participants through education, skills training and football helps individuals fulfil their ambitions and give back to their communities. However, a great deal of our growth as an organisation is testament to the fact that when women thrive, the whole of society benefits. Lesotho is a male-dominated society, and at Kick4Life, we are working to break down stigma and discrimination about the role of women and to empower them with the knowledge and life skills to play an active role in the country’s development.
LT: What is the long-term vision for Kick4Life?
McCarthy: The vision of Kick4Life is to grow our social enterprises; grow No.7 Restaurant; grow our guests and local market base. We want more and more people coming to the restaurant, holding their conferences here and staying in the hotel. Our unique selling point is that there is no other restaurant, conference centre or hotel that can say they are completely not in business for profit. It’s not for the elite only. Everything that you buy here you know the money goes to the development of young Basotho. That is the powerful message we want to keep trying to get out there.
LT: How do you reach out to the nation so Basotho understand your organisation?
McCarthy: The organisation has been growing for a long time and finally creating a marketing department which I am heading. Our marketing department is going to help us get our word out there. We are going to host different events and go through all avenues to market ourselves. We are using the media as a powerful tool. We are essentially a charity and that means we have to think very hard about how to advertise.
LT: From what you said, Kick4Life is a unique initiative in Lesotho. Are there any other factors contributing to the uniqueness of this project?
McCarthy: The network Kick4Life has been able to build over the years shows we were able to build a global network, not only in the US and UK, but also in Africa. We have a lot of global interest in the model we are using. Some people are interested in coming up with a replica of what we are doing and using this social enterprising model in other places. People appreciate how we have come up with a lot of good things in the past 11 years of our existence. We are going to be partnering with organisations in Ghana in our new flagship programme for next year. At Kick4Life, we feel like we are family because we are trying to do something that has essentially never been done in Lesotho before.
LT: What other charitable programmes are you engaged in?
McCarthy: Like I said, we have been running a programme called “Test Your Team” for quite a while. We are undertaking the programme in partnership with other international organisations. This is where we mobilise communities. For instance, we take about 60 kids and break them into small groups of about 15 people each group where they do various activities just for them to loosen up, dealing with some life skills. If they like, they can then test for HIV, because obviously we cannot force them to test. We can provide a platform by engaging the youth in the correct way where they feel comfortable enough. “Test Your Team” has been quite a success story.
LT: What are the basic requirements for youths to qualify for your programmes?
McCarthy: It depends on the programme. But in a lot of our programmes, we go out scouting throughout Lesotho for young people talented in football. Our football coaches are there to identify such talents, just like it’s done everywhere else in the world. It’s a very rigorous process to get down to the required 15 children every year.