Ashoka Fellow
United Kingdom,
Fellow Since 2014


This profile was prepared when Mel Young was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2014.
The New Idea
Mel Young pioneered the Homeless World Cup to transform the impact football could have on the lives of homeless people around the globe. When the Homeless World Cup first launched in 2003, seventeen countries participated with any homeless football team they could source. Now in its tenth year, the world-class tournament has initiated, supported, and catalysed a wave of professionalised homeless leagues around the world, with finalists selected to represent their countries. Mel works with National Partners in 70 countries every year, touching some 250,000 homeless football players along the way. These National Partners provide access to the professional services needed to ensure the transformative impact football can have on individuals’ lives takes root – be it educational, employment, health or legal advice.
Having dedicated his adult life to working with homeless people, Mel knows that the root cause of homelessness is not finding housing, but changing a mentality developed over years of marginalisation from society. He realised football was a particularly powerful tool because of its very nature of inclusivity: a football game in your local area is easy entry-level engagement for homeless people, particularly the most hard-to-reach young men in their teens and twenties. Mel’s initiative puts homeless people at the centre of the solution, teaching them skills and empowering them to improve their own situation. Playing sports fosters life skills: working as a team, regaining a healthy attitude towards physical and mental well-being, self-esteem, confidence, and most importantly a deep feeling of inclusion. After the tournament, players who have been involved at any level go on to find homes, return to their families, and become mentors and ambassadors for homelessness in their respective countries.
When Mel developed his idea in 2001, sport for social change was already being delivered to children on a small scale in a number of countries. However, Mel’s ambitious replication of The World Cup format from professional football is now giving all street football activities a deeper meaning. For the homeless players, football is no longer considered a service provision – a hand-out – but is a link to a higher purpose and a genuine commitment. Mel also uses the Homeless World Cup to create a powerful environment where homeless people experience genuine respect and inclusion with the rest of society. Therefore, Mel holds the tournament’s operations to the highest standards, accepting no less than professional sponsorship, football kit, coaching, referees, and media coverage. The effect is two-fold. Homeless players are honoured, respected, and applauded for the first time. Additionally, the public are allowed to discover, without pity or fanfare, that the homeless have the same human qualities as professional football players or any of us. The Homeless World Cup has brought sport for social good into the mainstream, bridging to the professional world of football, influential global brands, and the public.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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