Exeleon Magazine

Ben Sadler: Empowering Communities Worldwide through Football

Ben Sadler_Exeleon Magazine

What according to you makes one a dynamic leader? How do you integrate the same thought into your leadership? 

Dynamic leadership stems from being mission led. With that mission at the forefront of their mind, a dynamic leader will then create an environment for both themselves and their team to thrive without the threat of mission drift. 

To create that mission-based environment myself, I aim to secure buy in and ownership across the team. Every team member should be clear on why they are here, what responsibilities they have, and what impact they can make. That creates the foundation for growth and enables us all to identify challenges, seek solutions to those challenges, and seize opportunities.  

Talk to us about your growing up years and what prompted your interest in football. 

I grew up in Newcastle in the Northeast of England, just a stone’s throw from St James Park, the home of Newcastle’s football team. That made it pretty much impossible not to get into football. While at University, studying a non-related degree, l played and began to gain my qualifications in football coaching. After University I was then very fortunate to be able to use those coaching qualifications to travel, working for sports programs across North and Central America. 

Although I started my career with the intention of moving into professional football coaching, the longer I was in it, the more I began to realize that football and sport could go way beyond the field of play. 

With that in mind, I joined a new Charity that was using football as a tool to deliver sexual reproductive health education. I lived in Zambia and Kenya for four years and travelled between East and Southern African countries building capacity in sports organizations. This for me was a pivotal moment, where I was able to see first-hand, the impact that sport and football in particular could make as a development tool. 

What led to the formation of Alive and Kicking? What was the idea behind the name of the company? 

Alive and Kicking was created first and foremost to enable communities to play the beautiful game. What were kind ball donations from afar, sadly didn’t always last very long on the tough football pitches of Nairobi and Lusaka – within weeks they would be sitting on the scrap heap. To ensure high quality balls were available to all, AK set about manufacturing FIFA quality footballs that could last longer, play longer, and make a positive social impact.  

The name Alive and Kicking came about thanks to why the organization was set up. Everyone around the world, regardless of their background, has the right to play and enjoy sport and simply kicking a ball can give us that opportunity to feel alive.

Also Read: In Conversation with COO of Active Faith Sports – Kirbi Smith

 What is the mission of the organization? Brief us about the impact of the platform thus far. 

Alive and Kicking exist to create happier, healthier, more empowered communities. As the world’s only not-for-profit sports ball manufacturer, we aim to positively impact the lives and livelihoods of people facing disadvantage, by producing a sports ball like no other – creating better access to ethical jobs, play and vital health education. We summarize this as Make. Play. Live. 

Make – Through the production of over 1 million high quality sports balls, we have created 1,097 ethical jobs for adults from vulnerable job groups. 95% of our staff have never had a formal job before and over 46% are living with a disability. Our operations across sub-Saharan Africa have contributed £5,227,858 to the local economy. 

Play – Through our community partnerships, we give young people facing disadvantage regular access to sport, play and exercise. Since opening we have donated 185,320 locally made AK balls to community sport projects across the globe, with millions of children having kicked and caught a donated AK ball. 

Live – Through our innovative award-winning health education programs, we give young people, facing disadvantage, access to health education and services, delivered directly through sport. We have upskilled 1,405 youth leaders and teachers to deliver programming to 103,762 young people. 

Being the CEO, what role do you play in the day-to-day proceedings of the company? 

Linking in with what makes a dynamic leader, my role is to create an environment in which the entire Alive and Kicking team can work together effectively toward our mission. This can involve seeking new opportunities to grow, building relationships with organizations and individuals that connect with our goals, identifying challenges and their solutions on the road to impact and to learn as much as possible, whether that be from within the team or the sector more widely. 

What has the journey been like for Ben Sadler over the years? Looking back, what would you have done different when starting out? 

The journey, like most, has had its ups and downs but I think it’s important to celebrate that as a learning curve. One thing I would certainly have done differently is not to put pressure on my young self to know exactly what I wanted to do as I got older. At 18 I thought I had it all figured out and felt that I had to follow a very specific path. 

As I experienced new things, understandably my interests began to change but it took a lot of time to realize that it was okay to veer off that original plan, be it temporarily or eventually permanently. 

I have been incredibly lucky to have met lots of different people across my career and it is they I must thank for helping to shape exactly what I wanted to do and where I thought I could add value. 

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning? 

I think my biggest roadblock has ultimately been the feeling of guilt asking for help. We can often feel bad reaching out because we don’t want to disturb someone or waste their time. As a result, I think I missed out on a lot of support earlier in my career. I am very thankful to one of my mentors who made me realize that lots of people out there do want to help and if they can’t, they will let you know. I hope I can provide the same support to others that they have to me. 

With learning, one key outcome has been the importance of ensuring added value rather that replacement value. Within the international development field, I think it can be very easy to set something up with the best intentions but ultimately it is replacing existing value already in place.  

As an example, there might be two organizations in the same location, delivering very similar programs, essentially in competition with each other. In those cases, it may have been better to have taken a more collaborative approach in the beginning, putting less of a strain on resources and maximizing impact. 

Whenever you are setting something up, it is important to consult with key stakeholders, collaboratively identify the need and the intervention and then most importantly, add value.

Also Read: How Kavita Channe Turned Her Passion for Wine into a Leading Brand

Moving forward, what does the future look like for you and Alive and Kicking? 

For Alive and Kicking, long term our aim is to scale up our impact, providing more opportunities for employment, play and access to health support. To do that we need to see more Alive and Kicking balls at the hands and feet of people around the globe. 

Along the way, we would also love to influence the rest of the sports manufacturing sector – showing them that it is possible to produce sports equipment sustainably while making a positive impact on the communities in which they work. And who knows, World Cup 2026, maybe we’ll see an Alive and Kicking ball in the final! 

For myself, I feel I still have so much more to learn, and I hope that I can continue to support those around me to collaboratively reach our goals. 

Visit the 100 Dynamic Leaders of the Year page.

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Contact Ben Sadler on LinkedIn.

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