PUBLIC Chats: Football For Good Interview

We sat down with one of the original Publicans, Adrian Bradbury, who’s now living full-time in East Africa as the founder, CEO and Academy Director of Football for Good – Uganda’s top full-time football academy and scholarship program.

Find out more about FFG here.

1. How did you come up with the idea for Football for Good?

It was a long time in the making, I’d say. I had already been in and out of Northern Uganda for almost a decade before I came up with the idea to run the academy. I saw how pervasive and important football was there, but there weren’t many opportunities for young people. The types of programs in places like Northern Uganda are often programs for all, like clean water projects, which are very important, but there weren’t any programs that helped kids who are good at something become great at it. I wanted a real, bigger investment in individual kids who I believe are going to break the cycle of poverty in a place like Northern Uganda. I founded Football for Good on the idea of the connection of profit and purpose and not looking at what we’re doing as just charity. Football is a massive global business, a multi-billion dollar business, and there’s an interesting opportunity for a place like Uganda to participate in that. If we do it well, and the kids go off into professional football, the money we generate would not only benefit our program and help us sustain it, but it would allow us to invest in other projects in the region.

2. Have you started investing in other projects in the region? Or is that a future goal?

It definitely is a future goal but we do run some grassroots projects. We have partnered with other programs and have began to test ideas. We’ve run an “agri-football” project: an agriculture project in a rural community where we engage young people in agriculture as a business. It’s a very difficult thing to do right now, since agriculture isn’t “sexy”, it’s not interesting, and everybody wants to move to the “big city.”

We organized a football league where the only way to participate as a team was to work on a demonstration plot, and the standings tied in not only how they did in football, but how they did in agriculture. After the three month engagement, the young participants saw how much cash they could make on a small plot. This is a pilot we’re trying to expand, and the kind of thing we are trying to do more of as we get the capacity to do it.

3. What is the best/most rewarding part of your job?

In a place like Northern Uganda, the education system is still very 1950s to 1960s, very “row-style, sit in a desk, repeat-after-me, multiple choice testing,” so it’s a very hierarchal, limiting system. The younger generations are very deferential to elders and to that hierarchy, and can’t express themselves.

What’s most exciting for me is that we do a lot of work to give kids the tools to be brave, to be bold, and to speak up for themselves. If they’re going to take an opportunity globally, whether it’s football or academics, they need to be able to be brave, bold, and have personality.

To see kids who wouldn’t look you in the eye when they shook your hand or wouldn’t speak up in training sessions or in the classroom, beginning to lead the other kids, is incredible. I know what’s inside them and to see that come out, for them to be the ones starting to push us and be loud and even sometimes go a little too far with their energy and excitement, has been really great. We continue to have little wins like that, not just in helping them grow out of their shells, but in where they are academically and how they’ve grown football-wise.

My two sons are also in the academy. It’s been amazing to see their experiences shape who they are today and see how they and their views of the world have changed. As a parent it’s great to have my 50 boys in Uganda and then my own two boys too. It’s a lot of fun.

4. What is the culture and atmosphere like at the FFG Youth Academy?

The culture and atmosphere is very different from everywhere else in the community and the region. It’s something that we’ve worked really hard, especially in the last 12 months, to get right. I’m a big believer in that when you’re looking at elite talent like football, music, or any other artistic endeavor, that the culture you create needs to be driven by the kids if you want to truly develop elite athletes or elite students.

If it is me, my coaching staff, or my teaching staff that has to hold them accountable, the kids will never achieve what they want to be at a world class level, so we’ve changed our dialogue in the academy a lot. We had a lot of rules to start, and it was necessary because FFG was so different and so new and we needed to make sure we were getting it right to the expectation we wanted.

But we really shifted away from the idea of rules to the idea of standards. Now, since some of our boys have travelled internationally and are starting to see the opportunity, the kids are fully aware of what they need to do on a daily basis to achieve something that no one has ever done before where they’re from. Now it’s about putting those standards out to the boys and having them hold each other accountable to them.

It’s far from perfect, but that’s what we try to do. Everybody has a job in the academy: we have a whole list of standards on how we speak, the language we use, how we train, how we spend free time, how we study, how we do laundry, how often we bathe (especially when it comes to the younger guys.) I’ll have a 14-year-old confront a 17-year-old because he hasn’t upheld a standard, which is great.

It’s actually fascinating, since I’ve travelled worldwide, and realize that this is not a Uganda or East Africa problem. It’s a global problem. I would say it’s even harder to uphold standards here because there are parents and outside influences, and the kids are pampered and given a lot. To ask them to hold up standards, get dirty, push each other, hold each other accountable is very difficult. But if you never do that you’ll never produce elite kids in whatever you’re doing.

5. Is there anyone who inspired you to found Football for Good, or anyone who inspires you everyday to continue working hard to grow it?

What inspired it initially was just what we saw in the kids, being cast aside, wasted. We  saw so much potential in the kids, who inspired the idea. When we did our first identification and started to work with some boys in late 2013, we had 100 kids and none of them had ever put on boots before. It was as raw as raw can be, but we knew that there was something there.

Later on we were very lucky since we work very closely with an academy in Ghana called Right to Dream. They’ve been at this for 15 years, with global partnerships, as many as 40 boys playing professional football in Europe, and 25+ kids in prep schools and NCAA schools in the U.S on full scholarships. Tom Vernon and his group have continued to be an inspiration and incredible resource for us, and they have been very open about what’s worked for them and what hasn’t. At the end of the day, if we can be as successful as they have been in West Africa but in East Africa, then we would accomplish something special for sure.

6. What are your plans for the future of Football for Good?

Two big things are happening in the short term. In 2018 we want to have our own site for our academy. In the first few years we were partnering with local schools and boys were residential on local schools. We really want to get off and be on our own site, since, going back to the question on culture, the more we’re in control and in our own environment, the more good we can do on improving that culture.

The second bit is looking for scholarship avenues for the boys. We’re starting to talk to institutions in Canada and the US so that once our boys are academically ready in 2018, there will be scholarship opportunities for not only our best players but also our brightest, who will continue to play the game and evolve in the game but also have a life-changing academic experience, whether that means they stay in Canada/US to do great things, or take that home and do something special there.

Long term, we’re very close with potential football club partners globally. We’re looking for that one right partner so we can provide our boys with a pathway to the professional game. We need a partner that understands us and our values and will be patient and nurturing with our kids. Football is still a business so we want the partner where our kids will have a pathway to success.

7. What’s next for you outside of Football For Good? Are there any other initiatives that you hope to work on in the future?

If I had time, you know, maybe. FFG is beyond a full time endeavor for us. It’s a very unique one, but it’s still a small family business in many ways. I’m on the field coaching, I’m in our academy and partnership development, I’m in the classroom in the evenings teaching character classes or doing drama with the kids, and I’m on a plane to Europe to meet with clubs. Those are things we’d love to have an individual, separate person doing.

If I ever did have more time it would just be for focusing on certain areas of FFG and hiring more staff who specialize in those areas that can take us to another level. So, outside endeavours, not a whole lot right now. With that being said, I haven’t had this much fun working EVER, since we are doing a variety of things. You see so much progress in the kids and on the ground. I don’t have any yearnings or desires to be in other things; we’re getting lots out of what we’re doing day to day.

Written by Meisa Chen.

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