Mel Young: "Homeless World Cup: how football can change the world"

OECD/Julien Daniel

The President of the Homeless World Cup, Mel Young, is recognised as one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and is a Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum. He was named a Senior Fellow by the Ashoka Foundation in 2014.

Thank you. It is always a pleasure to come to an Organisation such as the OECD, meet the Secretary-General and then play football in the garden. Despite that fact that the world is innovative and very successful, there is still a huge number of people who are completely excluded and homeless. The United Nations have figures of one billion people who are homeless, I use a figure of 100 million. Whatever the number is, it is far too many, it is dangerous and it is in every country in the world. If you go the US, the richest country in the world, in every major city’s centre you will see people in the streets. This is a real problem and I do not see any reason why in this day and age, with our ingenuity and economic smartness, we should have homelessness at all, why we have created a system in the world where people end up in the streets is completely baffling to me.

So what can we do about this? How on earth can we act in the face of such a daunting figure? My mantra is that if we all do something – one thing – we can create change. So what we decided to do is to create the Homeless World Cup. We currently work with 74 countries around the world and we have one partner in each country. We initially focused on including men, as it was extremely hard to get them off the streets. Now however we also have a very successful women’s tournament as well.

The way we work is we go to the streets where homeless people are, and we ask them if they want to play football. The beauty of football is that it is really simple, anybody can play it and everyone understands it. So when we approach homeless people and ask them if they want to have a game, they usually say yes. Of course they are all at different levels, some can hardly stand up, but it doesn’t matter, we involve them in the game. Then we ask them to come back the next day at the same time; what we are trying to do – because they live in chaotic lives – is to give them some kind of structure through football. Homeless people’s self-esteem is rock bottom, so we never talk about their state or their situation, we only ask them to play and join a team and we build from that point onwards. We then find out what problems they are facing such as housing, employment, drug abuse, family issues and we start working with them, always using football as a mechanism to go forward.

Once a year we have the annual tournament giving people the chance to represent their own country, our partners also regularly organise neighbourhood and city tournaments. In total, we have over 100 thousand homeless people playing in these leagues every year – and we have worked with over 1 million since we started in 2003. To us, it is critical that this work is about impact. Whilst football is important, it is just an entrée; at the end of the day it is about using football to change people’s lives.

Get the full transcript here

OECD/Julien Daniel

Short biography

The President of the Homeless World Cup, Mel Young, is recognised as one of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs by the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and is a Schwab Fellow of the World Economic Forum. He was named a Senior Fellow by the Ashoka Foundation in 2014.

Mel previously worked as a journalist and co-founded The Big Issue in Scotland in 1993. He also co-founded Senscot (Social Entrepreneurs Network Scotland) and is the former President and Honorary President of INSP (International Network of Street Papers).

He also set up City Lynx magazine and New Consumer Magazine, and worked on a community newspaper in Wester Hailes in Edinburgh in the 1990s.

He is currently the President of the Homeless World Cup which he co-founded in 2003. He is also a non-executive director on the boards of Sportscotland and Glasgow Life, and a member of the World Economic Forum Sports Agenda Council.

He has been awarded three honorary degrees from Scottish universities. He is a lifelong supporter of Hibernian FC and the author of GOAL! The story of the Homeless World Cup.

Twitter: @homelesswrldcup


©OECD Observer July 2017

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