By guest blogger Justine Maisha Davis*
Samuel Eto’o is the most decorated African football player of all time, winning the African Player of the Year award four times. Born in Cameroon, to a middle class family, he was trained at the Kadji Sports Academy in Douala before beginning training at the Real Madrid youth academy in Spain. He started his career in Spain, playing there for 12 years, then moved to Italy, Russia, and finally the UK, playing for Chelsea and Everton. He was the youngest player in the 1998 World Cup when he played for Cameroon, and was one of the leading goal scorer in the African Cup of Nation’s competition history in 2008.
Mr. Eto’o knows that while he was growing up he had opportunities that others did not. He has been philanthropically engaged for years with a focus on giving a chance to each child; in 2005, he served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations organization UNICEF that supports children’s rights, survival, protection, and development, focusing on HIV/AIDS prevention for young people. In Spain, he has supported the Youth Friendly Center for Information, Education and Counseling (YFCIEC), which works to provide HIV/AIDS information to young people throughout the country. For three years he served as the “Godfather of Honor” for the Spanish foundation, Fundación Campaner, which works to end NOMA disease in Niger, which predominantly impacts children.
His foundation, Fundación Privada Samuel Eto’o, hopes to improve development in Cameroon by focusing on five main components: Health (particularly child survival and development), Education, Sports for Development, Cultural Activities support and Community Development. One important theme throughout the projects is social integration of children, those living on the street, orphans and those living in poverty. The foundation funds orphanages, legal assistance for children, school hygiene programs, and programs where football is used to develop social skills and educational opportunities. Since 2008, the Foundation gives 50 scholarships annually to help students attend the Université de Yaoundé. He has also privately donated two ambulances to Cameroon’s Ministry of Health.
Mr. Eto’o benefited from participating in the Cameroon football academy as a child, and so he has established Fundesport to train African youth in football technique while using football as a tool to increase social, economic and cultural integration for the young players. The foundation has built four training centers in Cameroon and one in Gabon. Mr. Eto’o’s aim is to give young people football skills that will provide them with a platform to be successful in life.
Based on the literature on international development and personal success, why has Samuel Eto’o (and his non-profit organizations) been so successful?
Some key characteristics come to mind:
Mr. Eto’o has OVERCOME RACISM to become both a successful footballer and philanthropist. In 2005, when he played in Zaragosa, Spain, spectators made monkey sounds whenever he had the ball. He said “like most Africans I had to work much harder and show much deeper belief than others. I started with nothing and reached the level I’m at today. All I had was football and God’s help.” His POSITIVE ATTITUDE, even in the light of blatant racism, can serve as an inspiration in the development community.
Mr. Eto’o’s work has involved short, medium, and long term solutions, depending on the situation and need. His foundation has completed shorter term, urgent infrastructure projects, such as construction of the Mawel road construction, while also completing longer term, skills job training programs for young people. The foundation RECOGNIZES THAT DEVELOPMENT PROBLEMS ARE MULTIFACETED and require a multi-prong approach to adequately resolve them.
*Justine Maisha Davis is a Ph.D. student in Political Science at the University of California-Berkeley in the USA. She earned her Master’s Degree in International Affairs, Conflict Resolution and Civil Society Development at the American University in Paris and her Bachelor’s Degree in International Studies (Africa Concentration) from Elon University in North Carolina in the USA. She has lived and worked in the USA and France on several Africa-focused initiatives and served as a Special Advisor in the Ministry of National Education in Côte d’Ivoire as a Fulbright-Clinton Fellow.