Franco Silva was born in Mexico. His family relocated to Houston when he was at the impressionable age of eight. “When I was younger – when I was going through middle school and high school and all that – like most kids, I went through some very tough times,” Silva told us in an interview earlier this week. “Especially moving to the United States from Mexico, I went through difficult things, such as bullying.”
This is how Silva’s incredible journey to social entrepreneurship, one that envisions a world where business leaders are the first to care for and protect the people and the planet, began. “From a really young age – going through bullying and then at times helping those who were getting bullied – I started to feel this very strong calling to help others. I saw this tremendous reward in helping somebody climb out of a difficult situation. So that’s where it was rooted…I made up my mind that I would be a positive force in the world.”
A self-described “total science nerd” with a strong calling to help others, Silva first visualized these ambitions taking the form of a career in medicine. He completed his pre-med requirements at Tufts University, where he majored in Psychology, minored in Entrepreneurship and Philosophy, and played four years of college soccer. But one month before his graduation date, a pickup soccer game with friends changed everything.
“I made up my mind that I would be a positive force in the world.”
“That April, the month before graduating while playing with some friends, I had a terrible knee injury. And when I say terrible, the doctors – four doctors – all told me it was the worst knee injury they had [ever] seen.”
For Silva, this was a major turning point in his life, with massive implications in the long run.
“When people are young, we tend to tie our identities – who we are – to what we do, to what we’re good at. We define ourselves with external things. So me, I went to a small school where nobody played soccer. So I was the soccer player. That was me, right? I was the guy that played soccer. That was just my identity.”
When the soccer guy breaks his knee, who is he?
“I was essentially forced into self-reflecting and asking myself, ‘Okay, what am I actually doing? Who am I? What am I meant to do?’ This idea of You the Soccer Player and all that was external. It’s not real.”
That’s when the idea of Kizazi was born. Through an intricate process of researching humanitarian and business leaders, Silva realized that he wanted a job that wasn’t a job but rather “a mission.” He wanted something where he could wake up everyday and feel like he had a greater calling. In order to feel like he had a calling, he didn’t want limits. So he created a social entrepreneurship endeavor with great ambitions.
Its goal is to mobilize one of the world’s largest communities – a game with 3.5 billion fans – to fight one of the world’s largest crises: world poverty.
“It’s a huge, ambitious mission, right? And do I really think that 3.5 million fans, every single one of them, is going to move in the same direction? Hopefully, but probably not. But in my mind the only way to pursue this is to have no fear, because if you’re doubting it, you’ll have fear.”
The reason behind Silva’s shoot-for-the-stars ambition? He knows the soccer community. He knows it well. “They are very conscious, very good people. If they hear the story, they will respond,” he believes. Poverty and soccer, interestingly enough, go hand in hand. Where there is poverty, there is soccer,” he stated.
Kizazi sees poverty as systemic rather than temporary, which is what makes its model for using sport for positive change so unique.
As Silva sees it, soccer is the beautiful game played around the world. “We love the same game, and with very small input from each of us as a community, we can have a massive effect. That’s what Kizazi was.”
Kizazi fights poverty at its root through micro loans. “People in extreme poverty, they know what problems their community has. So they know the solutions to them. Maybe their community doesn’t have enough clothes. They know that if they make the clothes, the community will be better off and they can make a living. But they literally do not have the money to start that business. They don’t even have $200 to buy the sewing machine. Hence the micro loans. They can’t go to normal banks…[so] they need access to small loans. And that’s what we do.”
As Kizazi soccer balls are purchased, 30 percent of the profits go towards fighting poverty worldwide through these micro loans. Once the loans are paid back, the Kizazi Fund (as Silva calls it), is recycled. So rather than being depleted, it simply continues to grow. Bigger, and bigger, and (hopefully) bigger. “It’s a model designed so that in 20 years, that fund could have $100 million. Meaning that $100 million would cycle in and out of impoverished communities every nine months in micro loans, helping hundreds of millions of people.”
#TBT to December 2014: Kizazi donated 10 balls to the Marsh Children’s Home in Acapulco, Mexico as part of the first Give One-Keep One campaign. #AwakentheGame #Kizazi #Mexico For the rest of the photos from the trip, visit our Facebook page: Facebook.com/kizaziball
A photo posted by Kizazi (@kizaziball) on
The brand’s success stories – truly playing soccer for something bigger – are ultimately what will keep it going and growing. In the initial stages of startup life, it has already experienced pretty mind-blowing success. Seven micro loans have already been sent out. A loan sent to a 39-year-old Filipino farmer hoping to buy two pigs, grow his farm, and increase his sales has been fully repaid after only eight months, with the first loan installment made in July and the last in December.
Kizazi is an opportunity for every fan of the game to play for something bigger.
Micro loans have reached Latin American shores as well (Kizazi chooses how much money goes where, to whom, the industry, etc). The first landed in El Salvador, where a 32-year-old woman forced to leave school after the fifth grade to farm corn is working to provide her two daughters with a longer and more fruitful education. Her micro loan is being used to buy a calf to tend to a small plot of land passed down by her grandfather. A micro loan sent to Bolivia is providing support to a group of eight women, each with their own enterprise. It will allow for the purchase of materials in bulk, reducing expenses incurred while producing and selling blankets, thus increasing their profits. One particular woman is single with seven children.
Hearing these early success stories and reflecting on Silva’s impactful approach to using soccer for social change shows that the Mexican-American entrepreneur is really onto something. After all, we are the soccer fanbase that he’s speaking of. We can play soccer all we want, but sometimes the beautiful game can be made that much more special when we play for something bigger than ourselves. Kizazi is “an opportunity for every fan of the game to play for something bigger, love the game for something bigger.”