Monday, November 5, 2012

Reliving the past, but with much more substance this time around

I remember that during my last trip to India in 2008 about 11 months before moving here, I had the opportunity to travel to multiple locations around the country to donate footballs for a book my friend was writing on the power of sport.  I showed up in Delhi, Vizag (Andhra Pradesh), Baroda and Ahmedabad with the same agenda: travel around the city, check out the places were football is being played, speak with some of the influencers in the area, donate the footballs and take some pictures for the book. It was an extraordinary experience, especially seeing the love for football in the most surprising of locations, but I always remember feeling more like a rock star than a philanthropist meaning that I would just pop in and pop out rather than leave any lasting impact on the places I visited.

I had a similar feeling these past few days while in a Madhya Pradesh village.  One of our newest clients is interested in setting up a football academy in this town and we have been requested to visit for a few days and do a feasibility report on the potential for this type of project. To me it is a dream project as it allows me to do something I know I’m good at in an "exotic" location I’ve never experienced before. I’ve always been fascinated by central India.  It’s an area that is rarely traveled to and rarely discussed. I felt fortunate to have the opportunity to go into the heart of central India for the purposes of supporting the growth of the sport I love.  

As the title of the post states, it was a similar itinerary from 2008 only in the fact that while in the village I spent most of my time roaming from football ground, to school, to administrator office discussing the sport and discussing what’s lacking in the town’s football industry.  The only difference this time was that I stayed in the town for a few days and really got to know the people and the football opportunity beyond just my typical drive by conversation. I had the opportunity to show up to their central grounds at 6am to watch the local kids play a match before school just to see them playing on the same grounds later that evening.  I had the opportunity to spend the afternoon meeting not just the football administrators but also top administrators representing other sports which helped us round out our research. And, most importantly, I got to spend time with the head of a major corporate in the area and understand his organization’s interest in supporting sport in the village.

Not only did I get the true village experience full of beautiful, simple people, spicy, oily local dishes, no sense of urgency and animals everywhere, but I also got to gain a deeper understanding of why football hasn’t  flourished in this town in spite of so much hunger for the sport. And, more importantly, what type of strategic thinking, efforts and partnerships are necessary to help put the town on the footballing map. The latter being something that I didn’t have the luxury of doing during my whirlwind football donation tour of India in 2008.

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