Jürgen Griesbeck
Ashoka Fellow seit 2007   |   Germany

Jürgen Griesbeck

Streetfootballworld e.V.
Citizen organizations around the world use football (also know as soccer), as a way to reach out to young people. While these groups have various goals—safer streets, better schools, improved health,…
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This description of Jürgen Griesbeck's work was prepared when Jürgen Griesbeck was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2007.


Citizen organizations around the world use football (also know as soccer), as a way to reach out to young people. While these groups have various goals—safer streets, better schools, improved health, a cleaner environment—they have a powerful tool in common. Jürgen Griesbeck is building a worldwide network of citizen organizations that use football as a tool for social change, helping them to find new partners, and opening up the resources and recognition of the professional football industry and the broader public.

Die neue Idee

Jürgen’s global network brings dozens of organizations together using “football” with the football industry, governments, foundations, and other citizen organizations (COs), to leverage their work and enhance their ability to serve society. Its multi-purpose uses, availability, and strong emotional element make streetfootball a powerful unifier for all players in society and is a way to engage the business and social sectors.

By connecting carefully selected COs that use football as a tool for social change in a variety of fields, such as HIV prevention, environmental protection, integration of immigrants, peacebuilding, or gender equality, Jürgen enables them to exchange best practices and form a basis for collaboration on a global scale. More than a mere network, his organization, streetfootballworld, links its members with other COs in their fields and with local governments and foundations. He matches them with corporations, such as Nike, and the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA) and channels new financial and professional resources into the social sector while also increasing social awareness and changing the policy of the FIFA and the football industry. Jürgen facilitates events like the global streetfootball festival, which he founded to change the self-perception and identity of participants and that of the public. He also brings youth from all over the world involved in football for social change together, both online and offline, to form a global community.

As Jürgen adds more members to the global network, he builds a united movement around football as a powerful instrument to improve the efficiency of citizen organizations and increases their ability to reach and impact millions of children.

Das Problem

Although professional football is receiving massive public and economic attention, it is overlooked as a tool for social change. This lost opportunity is best understood by contrasting the billions of dollars invested in football only for mass entertainment or the development of the game, in opposition to the poor financial situation and the lack of recognition of COs using football for social change. Hundreds of organizations worldwide use football to work on violence prevention, health awareness, social integration, peacebuilding, environmental protection, and education. Football is not played according to the rules of professional football in clubs or even in the streets, but “special” rules, with a deeper social and educational purpose that helps youth to learn skills around such topics as gender equality or conflict-solving strategies.

However, these COs lack visibility and reputation, as well as funds, resources, and networks, and have little impact beyond their regions and across borders. Being fragmented and isolated over countries and continents, there is little exchange of ideas and best practices, cooperation, or mutual support to enable more efficiency in approach, outreach, and scale.

Football is not taken seriously as a means for change or recognized as a tool for development by governments or international players, and does not attract sufficient investments for broader impact. This is mainly due to a missing lobby to make the success of these organizations known and heard but also from a lack of adequate tools to measure effectiveness and impact. Even though this is a common problem in the entire citizen sector, it is an unfortunate and missed opportunity for organizations using football as a tool—due to the huge potential of existing communication platforms and potential investment in this field.

Die Strategie

Jürgen focuses on football because it is easy, highly emotional, cost efficient, and excites people almost all over the globe. He coined the term “streetfootball” to describe the use of football for social change making use of public space—it is different from traditional football and goes beyond just kicking in the streets. In streetfootball, democratic rules are set and committed to by the participating youngsters, and through the game, youth learn conflict-solving strategies (replacing referees by agreed decisions), gender equality (girls as a fundamental part of the teams and/or girl’s scoring the first goal), environmental protection (by collecting waste, goals are scored), mutual respect and fair play (the overall winner is not the one with the most goals, but who the players decide is the “fairest” team). Football acts as the trigger to attract and organize youth. They reach out to all youngsters, including those who otherwise can not be reached in formal structures, including schools and social service organizations. In 2002, Jürgen created the global network, “streetfootballworld” with currently 100 COs using football as a means for social change and reaching approximately a half-million children. He connects these organizations within the network and to outside partners to create a critical mass and a pan-regional identity. Football becomes a perfect link between the local and the global, between mass participation and transformation approaches; both fundamental elements for development. Under the umbrella of streetfootballworld whose center is based in Berlin, every organization regards itself as a driver of change, not only at the local and regional level, but as part of the global football movement for social change. During the five years of building the network, Jürgen made “streetfootball” the common global term for this method of social change.

The network leverages the impact and effectiveness of the streetfootball organizations and achieves the real power of the network through the day-to-day teamwork of its members. Jürgen has built exchange platforms to bring together members regularly, and provides an atmosphere for open source sharing, trust, and commitment in a multidisciplinary field. For example, organizations working on HIV/AIDS prevention can exchange ideas and methods with those working with the homeless, or those whose goal is environmental protection—the common denominator is football. The diversity of the topics is a powerful incentive for the members to work together and enhances the quality of the dialogue.

Jürgen organizes the network by regions and regional hubs. The elected representative of each hub serves as the main connector to the central coordination office in Berlin as well as to other regional strategic partners and becomes the spokesperson of the movement in every region. Each hub allows for continuous encounters, knowledge transfer, and sustainable outreach. For example, the organizations in the Latin America hub have weekly calls scheduled and meet once every three months to follow-up on agreed milestones. The multilingual website serves as a unifying reference point, anchors the movement and is a platform for exchanging ideas and best practices.

Jürgen also builds taskforces that enables a distribution of work. The taskforces deliberately involve the founders and directors, but also the respective key people in the organization; often the young participants. The movement is able to gain more strength built on the generations. Concrete examples of the power of these network synergies are task forces on topics such as measuring effectiveness or quality management, changing the political agenda through joint lobbying, youth exchange programs, or access to financial markets. Looking for new systematized funding tools for COs, he is in the process of partnering with other best practices in social entrepreneurship, e.g. social stock exchanges such as the Brazilian BOVESPA and the South African SASIX to create possibilities for leveraged investments for the whole streetfootball sector and providing role models for other COs.

He has also developed toolkits and instruments for impact measurement to prove the effect that football, as a trigger combined with educational purposes, has on youth. Scientific evaluation of the different pedagogical methodologies being an important pillar for this goal, Jürgen developed a global research team in 2003 that has become an integral part of streetfootballworld, composed of scientists, journalists, and researchers, working together to analyze and spread success components of “the other dimension of the game.” As a single organization, none of these citizen organizations would be able to delegate a workforce to such important topics, as many struggle with their daily operational challenges and fundraising pressure.

Jürgen also puts network member organizations in touch with international COs or corporations. He reaches far beyond football and initiates transformation processes beyond those who are playing the game. For example, his collaboration partner Avina was inspired by the leverage the regional hub of streetfootballworld offered, so altered their organizational structure to provide a regional counterpart to communicate with the streetfootballworld regional representative.

The streetfootballworld network is growing fast. Currently, there are 50 organizations in the pipeline applying for membership. The conditions for membership, apart from using football for social change, are not-for-profit status, political independence, and openness to all social, religious, and ethnic backgrounds. The ethical standards and criteria guiding the work of streetfootballworld are currently incorporated into a Constitution. In the application process, members in the respective region led by a regional representative interview and check the candidates according to these criteria, test the applying organization over a six-month approval phase and report back to the streetfootballworld core leadership team, consisting of two headquarter leaders and four continental representatives.

The leverage of the global network is manifold: It allows passing the threshold that small organizations face to systemically involve high-level supporters such as big corporations, football stars, or politicians and huge media support by speaking to them at eye level with the power of a critical mass of organizations. Having an approach not only bottom-up but also top-down, Jürgen attracts ambassadors and spokespersons for his movement. Famous representatives such as Jürgen Klinsmann, former head coach of the German National Team or Josef S. Blatter, President of FIFA, are convinced by Jürgen and the network and assist streetfootballworld in gaining public attention and building recognition in the field.

Jürgen’s most powerful example of matchmaking is streetfootballworld’s strategic alliance (Football for Hope) with the FIFA—the world’s football confederation which covers more than 200 national football associations with a global budget of nearly 1 billion Euro. While the FIFA has a tradition of donating to large humanitarian aid organizations, the strategic alliance with streetfootballworld changed their approach to one of responsibility and sustainable investment; the first and only alliance built in this form in the history of FIFA. Apart from this new integrated approach of corporate social responsibility (CSR), the FIFA now intends to invest 0.7 percent of their revenues on social endeavors and has revamped their logo to read: For the game, for the world.

The FIFA now invests more than US$1 million annually into local organizations using football as a tool. The streetfootballworld network serves as the basis for adequate assessment and quality insurance as their member organizations are carefully selected. All projects must commit to providing education to the whole network and continuously cooperate to ensure the transfer and spread of knowledge.

The alliance with FIFA leverages the work of the members of streetfootballworld. Able to reference their support with one of the world’s most powerful institutions, members are able to engage their governments on a more equal level. As one African network member put it, “Our own ministers for sports and education did not take us seriously until we joined streetfootballworld. Streetfootballworld’s alliance with the FIFA also helps to tackle political issues, such as corruption, given the international dimension and global platform of support.”

To seize the power of this connection, showcase the potential of streetfootball and create a platform that encourages bringing the relevant stakeholders around football in an organized way, Jürgen designed the streetfootballworld festival and managed to make it part of the official FIFA World Cup as of 2010. The festival brings 32 selected model organizations from more than forty countries and their delegations of up to ten youth to a tournament during the FIFA World Cup. During the recent World Cup in Germany, where it was integrated into the governmental legacy approach, the streetfootballworld festival received tremendous media attention (800 journalists, thousands of articles, and TV spots broadcast in fifty countries) gaining momentum and visibility. The festival is also an exchange platform for social change best practices and the cornerstone of his strategy for youth and organization empowerment.

Jürgen is now working for Football for Hope to have a strong focus on Africa in the next four years. (The next World Cup Games will be in South Africa in 2010.) FIFA and its corporate partners will invest a set amount of money to be multiplied by the number of goals scored during the qualifying matches to set a financial basis for the development of “20 Centres for 2010”, representing infrastructure for the development of 20 entrepreneurial nodes run by network member organizations throughout Africa. Beyond football, Jürgen wants his work with FIFA to set the standard for CSR strategies worldwide.

With “Peace Match” in July 2005, Jürgen coordinated a football match between Bayern Munich, the No. 1 German football club, and a streetfootballworld delegation of the Tel Aviv based Peres Center for Peace, which consists of both Palestinian and Israeli youth. They played together on one team for the inaugural match in the new Allianz Stadium in Munich in front of 50,000 fans. Further integration and publicity events like this were the occupation of Argentina’s most famous boulevard, 9 de Julio in Buenos Aires, which hosted a pan-Latin American streetfootball tournament in 2005. In connection with the event, an international conference on sports for social change was held. This event brought together member organizations with supportive local institutions to build further awareness, to encourage public discussion with politicians, football stars, and the young participants primarily from disadvantaged backgrounds, with the COs to leverage social change on the whole continent—enabling members to increase visibility, recognition, and cooperation opportunities regionally and globally.

Whenever Jürgen reaches out to the global public in the form of governments, corporations, or foundations or to strengthen COs, his ultimate goal is to serve his clients—the member organizations—so they can change the lives of youth. While global milestone events with participants from around the world are an important element of youth empowerment, Jürgen uses the Internet to provide ongoing exchange. Children and youth who participate in the framework of local member organizations will be able to open their own profile on the web and contact each other to exchange ideas, dig into their respective realities, and virtually play streetfootball with each other online. The idea is that a young player in Cameroon can follow the educational or environmental activities and successes of his peer in Brazil and vice versa, and as they are both players in the network’s organizations, they identify as part of the global streetfootball movement. Jürgen has partnered with international development associations and provides exchanges and training to the outstanding leaders of tomorrow, making them take a responsible role in one of the other network member organizations and applying and spreading their skills. He also plans to build an educational Master’s program, “Football and Management for Change” dedicated to CO-leaders.

Jürgen changes perceptions by making school children in Western countries become ambassadors for their peers in developing countries. For example, both before the World Cup in Germany in 2006 and the European Championship in 2008 in Switzerland and Austria, hundreds of school children in the respective host countries organized street football leagues while playing under the flag of one of the 204 FIFA countries or the 53 UEFA member countries respectively, include the topic across subjects and partner with their peers in that country. During school, pupils become experts and Ambassadors for the respective country they represent and build contacts and partnerships with their counterparts; fostering youth exchanges and an openness towards foreign cultures with football as the common language.

The topics Jürgen tackles are not only relevant for network member organizations but the entire citizen sector, and he will spread this knowledge once it has been proven effective. Football for social change will serve as a role model for international cooperation and impact on young people’s lives.

Die Person

Jürgen has been a sports enthusiast from a young age, and was always fascinated by the social effects of sports. Studying sports sciences in Cologne, Germany and social sciences in Medellín, Colombia, in 1994 he began research as the coordinator on “Sport and Local Development and Eradication of Poverty” at the universities of Cologne and Medellín and wrote his Masters thesis on the subject of “contemporary social problems.”

The same year his life was turned around when the Columbian national football player, Andrés Escobar was killed after scoring a goal at the 1994 FIFA World Cup which took Colombia out of the tournament in the U.S. Escobar was a friend of his wife’s family, and Jürgen knew him personally. Affected by the murder, Jürgen started to explore how he could use the positive strength of football and the power of children to change society for the better. Having built two COs using football for social change in Columbia (against violence) and Germany (against racism), he realized that only global visibility and recognition for the field as well as effective links between the organizations and supporting institutions would enable joint efforts to tackle common challenges and overcome the structural barriers of individual organizations.

Deeply shocked, he wondered: “How can football, a game based on team spirit and fairness, lead to a murder? Does football reflect the state of society? How can the power of football be used in a positive way?” Jürgen decided to show that football has an unlimited ability to bring people together and overcome problems, to unite instead of to separate. He started his first project, Football for Peace, in one of the most dangerous and violent cities at the time, Medellín. He believed if it worked there, it would work everywhere. In the midst of a spiral of violence that had gripped everyday life in Medellín he was successful against all odds in a short time. Five-hundred teams consisting of more than 10,000 boys and girls were now playing where gang conflicts had taken place. The youth accepted and committed to establishing innovative rules such as, no drugs, no violence, girls actively included, no referees, no weapons before entering the court, and so on. Soon after it began, even security measures were lifted.

After Football for Peace, Jürgen further developed his successful approach for a different context and framework in Germany. With Germany facing a new wave of xenophobic right-wing attacks ten years after reunification in 2000, he set up the Football for Tolerance project in Brandenburg. The initiative sought to integrate disadvantaged youth with those prone to violence and to use soccer to mitigate strong right-wing tendencies and actions, especially in the Eastern part of Germany. In spite of initial resistance, Jürgen made it a successful model and handed it over to local leadership. He decided to dedicate himself to overcoming the structural challenges he had witnessed during his two first endeavors: The lack of a globally integrated and recognized field of football for social change.