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The Business of Giving

Exploring philanthropy, non-profits and socially motivated business, from the Gates Foundation to your donation. A fresh look at the economy of good intentions.

August 4, 2009 at 10:01 AM

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Winning with a social conscience

Posted by Kristi Heim

Give up millions of dollars a year by declining a commercial logo on the chests of its celebrated players? It sounded like a bad idea to FC Barcelona's marketing department. Manchester United, which wore the AIG logo on its uniforms until January, made about $25 million a year from the deal.

But the decision to wear the Unicef logo instead, and pay Unicef almost $2 million a year for the privilege, was made by President Joan Laporta, and three years later, it has paid off well, says Marta Segu, executive director of the FC Barcelona Foundation.

"Now the marketing people have said this is one of the most important decisions we have taken," she said. The result is a unique global identity.

Barcelona on field.jpg

The team is promoting the fight against malaria on its jerseys (pictured at right) during its current U.S. tour. Tomorrow FC Barcelona visits Seattle to play against the Seattle Sounders FC.

"Before we had the same value as other clubs like Real Madrid or Chelsea. We have been winners, we make money," Segu said. "Now everybody knows that Barça has another value -- solidarity, social responsibility."

The club gives Unicef 1.5 million euros a year, and 0.7 percent of its revenue goes toward humanitarian causes. The budget of the club's charitable foundation, which was created in 1994 but basically languished for a decade without any real plan, tripled over the last six years to $6 million.

"In 2005 we started making new programs and projects," Segu said. "We decided not only will it be an increase of the brand, the brand will increase all over the world toward our humanitarian dimension."


FC Barcelona's humanitarian work includes a new partnership with United Against Malaria, a coalition supported by the Gates Foundation that I wrote about today (thanks to everyone for the Tweets!) That partnership includes Seattle-based global health non-profit PATH. For Seattle's global health community, so much is riding on success fighting malaria, from SBRI's research toward a vaccine to the Gates Foundation's grand ambitions to wipe out a disease that kills a million people a year.

In Los Angeles, the campaign picked up the support of Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber and the Galaxy's Landon Donovan, the best scoring American player (pictured with ball above).

FC Barcelona player Seydou Keita returned to his native Mali earlier this year to distribute bed nets to families there.

"To be able to travel back to Mali and to talk to my people about the importance of fighting malaria was a wonderful experience," he said.

"We're very lucky to have such dedicated fans--and one of the ways that we can thank them for that dedication is to help raise awareness. Since so much of the world pays attention to soccer, we have the opportunity to focus that attention on malaria as well."


After surviving two bouts of malaria, Sanna Nyassi helped raise funds and awareness about disease for Nothing But Nets.

FC Barcelona became the first team to support the UN Millennium Development Goals and now has three partnerships with the UN -- with Unicef to help vulnerable children, including those affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa, with UNESCO to fight racism in sports, and with the UNHCR to provide sports and health programs in refugee camps.

Throughout Africa and in Mexico and India, the foundation set up centers for children that offer hot meals, help with homework, health care and sports and promote gender equality.

For Seattle Sounders FC player Sanna Nyassi, his most recent case of malaria back home in his native Gambia was so serious that he and his mother both worried he might not survive. But he got treated and pulled through, and ended up playing professional soccer for the Sounders the next year. Nyassi said he was a fan of FC Barcelona before, but after hearing about the club's work to help fight the disease, "I liked them more," he said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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