Mr. Flo and the football

By Cornelie Unger-Leistner, Celia Schönstedt, May 2017

Ex-Waldorf pupil Florian Zech has founded a non-profit social enterprise in South Africa.

Photo: © Mickey Wiswedel

Photo: © Mickey Wiswedel. Florian Zech (2. f.l.) at the opening of a Safe-Hub-Center, dedicated to the donator Oliver Kahn.

Photo: © Mickey Wiswedel. Footballfield Amandia in the middle of township Khayelitsha


Florian Zech (30) from Prien am Chiemsee was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for his socio-political activities by Federal President Joachim Gauck in 2015. As part of his alternative service in 2006, Zech, an alumnus of the Free Waldorf School in Prien, founded Amandla, an education project in the townships of Cape Town which has been endorsed by UN.

What is special about this project is that it combines football with sustainable education for the disadvantaged children and young people who live in the townships, and therefore opens the door to better opportunities in life for them. The word Amandla comes from the Zulu, or Xhosa, language and means “strength”. Top level German footballers such as Oliver Kahn and Philipp Lahm support the project as part of their own charitable foundations. In addition to this, Michelle Obama has been hosted by the organisation, as well as Nelson Mandela’s close companion, Bishop Desmond Tutu.

In the meantime more than 6,000 children and young people in South Africa benefit from the safe hub concept developed by Amandla which combines fair play football with the encouragement of social competence, support for the completion of homework, and, last but not least, recently with state-approved training and employment opportunities. As part of this, a new education centre was constructed, complete with an artificial grass pitch.

All of this started when Florian Zech, still a recent graduate from secondary school, decided to leave his Bavarian idyll on the Chiemsee and head off to South Africa. His aim was to perform his alternative to military service at an orphanage in Khayelitsha, the largest of Cape Town’s shanty towns. Zech, co-managing director of Amandla, which in the meantime has grown to employ around 75 people, recalls that, “this was a huge turning point in my life. I realised in just how privileged an environment I had grown up in Upper Bavaria. It was shocking to see that the children here were already exposed to such violent living conditions at such a young age. The young people in Khayelitsha simply didn’t have any opportunities, at 15 the boys were already members of a gang and were taking drugs, and the girls were pregnant. I thought: something has to be done about this.”

Above all, when they finished school there was almost nothing for them to do and this is where the problem had its root, according to Zech. “The idea started to grow in my mind when I saw how quickly a large cluster of children would form around every football lying around somewhere.” Together with the young people, Zech developed the fair play model which awards points for good conduct, even off of the football pitch. A pilot project started to be developed even while he was still performing his alternative service.

When Zech saw just how positively the young people were reacting to his model, he started to look for backers and Amandla was born. “This was only possible because I had a support network from the start, mentors in Germany and in South Africa who believed in my idea and in my enthusiasm, and who were willing to support me, for example entrepreneurs in Germany and a researcher in Cape Town.” 

It is the fairy-tale story of a start-up company which is not, however, a part of the New Economy, but rather which operates in the social sector and which is closely associated with a global vision; all children and young people should be offered the opportunity to develop their potential, even those who are growing up in the shanty towns of the newly formed megacities. If you were to ask Florian Zech, who is lovingly called “Mr. Flo” by the children, from where he got the boldness to see through the realisation of his project and to what extent his time spent at the Waldorf School had facilitated this, he would answer: “I haven’t really given it too much thought, I definitely had to be creative, and that could maybe have something to do with it. Apart from that, I find entrepreneurship to be great fun and with the project I was able to turn this into something substantial.”

The project also has a foothold in Germany as Zech, together with Jakob Schlichtig, co-managing director and also alumnus of a Waldorf School, has founded a German non-profit organisation with its headquarters in Munich. From there the fundraising projects and the administration are supported and the global implementation of the model used in Amandla is supervised. Meanwhile, the South African government has also financially backed Amandla’s work for the next ten years, and scientific evaluations have confirmed the effectiveness of the model when it comes to improving the performance of children in school, as well as in combating crime and drug abuse.

Over the course of the next couple of years, the aim is to create a further 100 safe hubs as part of a national youth development project. To this end, Amandla has developed a social franchising model which enables the implementation of safe hubs and the training of staff by other non-profit organisations and social entrepreneurs.

A second education centre has just been opened in Cape Town, as well as another in Johannesburg; a further five are currently in the middle of construction. In addition to this, there are an increasing number of enquiries about the safe hub and social franchise ideas; a large number of these come from other African countries, as well as from Latin America and Europe.

Likewise, a reimportation of the Amandla concept to its German homeland is just around the corner: a similar project is being developed in the Wedding district of Berlin. Here too it is being developed on the basis of leisure activities which are then linked with sustainable education. Amandla is an adjunct to the official education system by covering care in the afternoons when school has finished, as well as simultaneously promoting active participation and school attendance among young people. “We are something like an independent day care programme for older children,” emphasizes Florian Zech.


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