It is nearly five years since Juan Mata launched the movement he hoped would “help to change the world, even if only in some small way.”
More than 200 soccer players, coaches, clubs and brands have since joined Common Goal, a social impact movement for the sport, and pledged 1% of their salaries to charitable causes.
Common Goal has generated and distributed €4 million ($4.1m) to various organisations and collective projects across the world. This includes projects focused on anti-racism, menstrual hygiene management and inclusive sports programs for the LGBTIQ+ community.
“I always had the feeling that something like this was needed from professional football to society. And so I have always believed that many fellow teammates and players will join,” Mata, the Manchester United player and World Cup winner, tells me in an exclusive interview.
“Sometimes I’m asked if I’m missing some players, if I think that some other players should have joined. But I prefer to look at it from a different perspective, which is I am very happy with the ones that are in.
“One of the pillars and the values of Common Goal is trying to change the narrative of what football has been up until now. We will see no real change until professional football really takes a different approach and embeds purpose into the heart of the industry.”
Mata and Pippa Grange, the former England men’s national team psychologist and culture coach and now chief culture officer at Right to Dream, have revealed a new “impact partnership” between Common Goal and Right to Dream.
Right to Dream is a global network of sports academies and schools that includes a renowned academy in Ghana and a top-division Danish club, FC Nordsjaelland.
Founded by Tom Vernon, a former Manchester United scout who moved to Ghana aged 19, Right to Dream’s academies and club attach equal importance to developing the person as they do to developing the player. There is a character development program and a focus on social responsibility.
The academies offer two graduate pathways – a professional soccer career or a sporting scholarship at an educational institution. Since its foundation in 1999, 151 graduates have become professional players and 119 students have received student-athlete scholarships at top high schools and universities in the UK and US, with a combined value of more than $25 million.
In January, 2021, the Egyptian Mansour Group announced a $120 million investment in Right to Dream. Man Sports has majority control over the organization and is funding a Right to Dream academy in Egypt and initiatives like the Common Goal partnership.
With an ambition to drive change in soccer and empower future leaders, the four-year partnership will launch several initiatives focused on social impact. They include a social entrepreneurship “Purpose Project Platform” that will provide two-year grants of £20,000 ($24,000) to athletes and other individuals in soccer to develop and launch purpose-driven projects.
The partnership will also launch “Football Leaders Connect”, an annual gathering of soccer executives, club owners, athletes and other leading figures committed to embedding positive social and environmental impact at the core of the industry.
And a “Football Purpose Report” will be published each year to highlight social innovation and share best practice.
While FC Nordsjaelland was already a member of Common Goal, employees from across the Right to Dream Group will now join the 1% salary pledge. All contracts, including group leaders, academy administration and staff, will contain the 1% commitment with an “opt-out” option.
Grange, who was credited with helping transform the mentality of England’s men’s team for the 2018 World Cup, says Right to Dream has experience trying to make “purposeful football really practical and accessible”.
“What we’re doing inside the club is helping people really activate their own sense of purpose and trusting in the cascade effect of that having social impact,” she tells me.
“Being purposeful, and having a good impact on other people and planet, doesn’t have to be a satellite thing that’s done after the football is done. We’re trying to make it at the heart of the business.
“We’d really like other clubs and football institutions, maybe even sport beyond football, to learn from our successes and failures. This partnership can act as an open invitation for other like-minded individuals and brands to connect in, join the collective and play a part in the positive transformation of not only football, but global communities too.”
Andy Gowland, group head of partnerships at Right to Dream, says the agreement with Common Goal will allow the two “sport for good” organizations to share experiences and knowledge.
“You sometimes can feel like you’re alone and you’re trailblazing. And so it’s really important for us to recognize that this is a partnership that will help both organizations continue to be the best version of themselves, whilst also contributing towards the good of the game and how to support the development of football,” he says.
“That really elevates our principles and our values as two organizations as well.”
For Thomas Preiss, a social entrepreneur and, like Mata, a co-founder of Common Goal, the partnership represents an “evolution from the individual commitment to the institutional commitment”.
“We have, I think, done a decent job in getting this movement started and having these individual players and coaches joining. But now we need to look at what’s the plan to really scale across the industry. And I think clubs and academies have a very important role to play in this,” he says.
“This movement ultimately will succeed if institutions, like individuals, take ownership over this idea of really connecting purpose deeply to the business of football and making social contribution much more systemic.”
The partnership comes as a growing number of sports brands, and businesses outside sport, recognize the value in making social benefit part of their strategy.
The Purpose Project Platform, Grange says, is about giving members of Right to Dream and Common Goal an opportunity to make purpose “central and practical”. Entrepreneurs will have access to tools and mentoring to pursue their idea.
Speaking from Right to Dream’s academy in Ghana, Grange mentions Daniel, a boat driver for the academy, which sits on the banks of the Volta River. Daniel has applied for the program and wants to start an aquaculture fish farm, which, he says, will produce a bigger yield than current operations, be more environmentally sustainable and provide job opportunities.
“We had given him the opportunity to create and to show his own sense of purpose and passion. That’s just what we haven’t done yet as an industry – make it really doable,” Grange says.
It is a story that resonates with Mata. Even as more money than ever before enters elite soccer, he believes there is a desire from many within the industry to make positive change.
“I think football is doing a lot of great things. But we are also realizing that we could be more efficient. This is not about willing, it’s about trying to make (a difference) in the best way to create the most impact in the world,” Mata says.
“When we created Common Goal, I had the same will as the boat driver, which is I wanted to help but I didn’t know how. Common Goal helped me and every single member who has joined to make it practical and to make it easy and to make it effective. And I think that was missing.
“Professional football is an incredible industry in terms of the money that it creates. And so I really believe that it can be – and it is – a game changer in terms of trying to make society on a global scale a bit more equal.”