One Goal unlocks shared value in linking nutrition to top-tier football.
Innovation is just really hard,” said Stefan Germann, sounding a bit tired and frustrated for the first time in our 90-minute conversation. He was visiting his native Switzerland for a meeting and was due to fly back home to Kuala Lampur later in the day. We’d just been discussing his latest enterprise and the demanding business of getting the right people at the table to tackle a big issue.
“In the start-up hero story you too often just hear the good side, but I feel like the last 18 months I have never had such a difficult time in my life,” he said.
The start-up in question is One Goal, a campaign to fight child malnutrition across Asia. Germann, who is executive director of the organization, has been building it through partnerships since early 2012. That’s when the Global NGO World Vision, for whom he still works, sent him to Malaysia with a mandate to make a significant difference in their strategic objectives by using entrepreneurial approaches. Germann’s innovation would be to create a shared value partnership with top-level football, leveraging the energy of the fastest growing fan base in Asia.
In November 2012, he met with the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), the governing body for the sport in Asia. He already knew they were looking for ways to evolve their corporate social responsibility efforts. “I basically challenged them saying, look, I think you have a problem and you are not fully aware of it, and that we could work together and create a win-win by addressing child under-nutrition.”
Germann appealed to AFC’s competitive interest pointing out that Asian players lag behind the global average in height and muscle density. “But it doesn’t have to be that way,” he argued. “People think that population height is genetics. It’s not. Japan has already seen increases through investments in nutrition and hygiene.”
AFC was interested, and asked Germann to assemble a collaborative partnership that would become One Goal Asia. Over the next year he inked agreements with the Asian Football Development Project, the global health and nutrition firm Royal DSM, Geneva-based Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, and World Vision stayed on as well. They based it on a franchise model, and One Goal began to mushroom throughout Asia—in Australia, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Mongolia, India, and Nepal.
“We are quite cutting edge in the thinking that has only recently emerged about strengthening major sport sponsorship through shared value engagement,” Germann said, likening One Goal to Manchester United’s most recent and visible sponsor Chevrolet. Chevrolet gained brand visibility in developing markets by partnering with the NGO One World Futbol to distribute durable balls and coaching. Likewise, One Goal’s nutrition programs will gain visibility and, likely, efficacy through its partnerships with football.
With the sport’s popularity growing rapidly in Asia there are more shared value engagement opportunities than ever. DSM, the world’s leading micro nutrient and vitamins business, developed a micronutrient powder called ‘mixme’ that addresses effectively hidden hunger. They are using base of the pyramid sales approaches to make the product accessible and affordable among vulnerable population groups in Asia and Africa. In the realm of football, the English Premiere League reckons it has about 40 times as many fans in Asia as it does in the UK. As far as broadcast rights and merchandising go, Asia is the future for the league and its clubs. Meanwhile, homegrown leagues, such as the I-League of the India Football Federation, are experiencing a boom in popularity. Germann thinks those kinds of partners are indispensable in social development work. “We have too many people in the non-profit space who somehow lost the reality of how value is actually created,” he said. “It requires innovation. It requires efficiency.” It also requires money and access.
Germann credits much of his business practicality and drive for innovation to Elmar Mock. Mock helped develop the Swatch at ETA S.A. Swiss Watch Manufacturer and, later, founded the multidisciplinary innovation consultancy Creaholic. He was also Germann’s plastic and materials professor at the Biel University of Applied Sciences. Germann first crossed paths with Mock in the early 1980s when he apprenticed as a fine-tool maker at ETA. When he formed Creaholic, Mock asked his former student to join the group, but Germann wanted to go to Africa instead.
At 23, he went to the Kalahari Dessert, along the border between Zimbabwe and Botswana, to manage a one hundred-bed hospital. It was his introduction to the HIV epidemic and the phenomenon of HIV orphans. He took it as a challenge. Germann brought in the Novartis Foundation, Terre des Hommes, and the governments of Sweden and Switzerland, to form REPSSI for the psychosocial support for the children who had lost their families.
“What I learned during that time is that to address major issues we need effective cross-sectorial partnerships. It was an early version of [Michael] Porter’s shared value.”
Before we finished talking, Germann described one more lesson that’s shaped his approaches. He learned it in Solothurn where the men in his family worked in the quarry. He clearly remembers a time when he was allowed to press the button to free the limestone from the mountain.
Reflecting on that moment when the mountain lifted up he said he understood that, “If you influence at the right level within the system, even if you are small, you can create a significant impact.”
Article by Peter Carson