Introducing, Stephen Gabauer, Founder of Underdogs United. Stephen is originally from Pittsburgh, PA and has lived and worked abroad in Germany, Scotland, and Kenya for 6 of the last 8 years. We partnered Goal Five Athletes Lauren Barnes, Gina Lewandowski, and Jasmyne Spencer with Stephen and Underdogs United for their Global Jersey Exchange.
Why did you start Underdogs United?
Underdogs United was founded on the belief that sports can unite global communities to solve global challenges. Through our Global Jersey Exchange, we’ve partnered with over 100 athletes from 15 countries and 20 leagues to prove just that.
In my my previous work with Komaza, a sustainable forestry company in Kenya, I became fascinated with impact investing and social business. I also became aware of the safe drinking water crisis and the fact that over 90% of schools in Kenya do not have access to safe drinking water. I wanted to play an active role to help. Blending various elements from my background in the international sports industry, global health, and sustainable business, Underdogs United was born.
Where did the idea for the Global Jersey Exchange come from?
We wanted to leverage the popularity of the jersey exchange tradition with pro athletes to address one of our most critical global issues - safe drinking water. So we designed our Global Jersey Exchange as a win-win-win transaction. The athlete gets a unique, handcrafted and personalized jersey. The highest bidder gets a piece of memorabilia and donates to our safe water initiative. A group of six tailors in Kenya are hired to produce the jerseys and rural schools in the area receive life-changing technology: filtration systems for their water supply. We’re grateful that so many athletes jumped on board with the vision of the initiative. It’s been amazing to see it all come to fruition in the past months.
What has it achieved?
So far, we’ve raised funds to support 7 schools’ new water purification systems, impacting over 9,000 children. We started with the initial goal to reach over 5,000 students. Now we have our goals set much higher because we have many auctions left, and with each purchase from our Underdogs United apparel collection, we support one or more students with safe drinking water. Additionally, we employ a small community of Kenyan artisans and a local designer at an above-market wage. The athletes involved have been incredibly supportive on social media, so it has made an impression on sports fans around the world.
What is one moment that has really moved you during this initiative?
I’ve visited a couple of the schools benefiting from the water purification systems, and it’s so humbling. The kids are full of positive energy and joy, and we’re so happy to know they’re staying healthy. After school, the kids showed me one of their favorite pickup sports on the playground. You had to sprint to grab a piece of cloth sitting in the middle of the field, and then juke out your opponent and get to the opponent’s end without being tagged. It was kind of like touch American football, and we had a blast. That was one of the best experiences of my life.
The headteacher Catherine at one of our partner schools, Unity Primary, is such a wonderful, inspiring woman. You can hear her speak about the importance of safe drinking water and our partnership here.
Can you share a story about the involvement of Goal Five Athletes?
Having the Goal Five athletes involved has been incredible! One of our objectives from the start was to have a gender-balanced initiative, and I’m so grateful we connected with Goal Five. Seeing Gina and Rafinha pose with their jerseys in front of the iconic FC-Bayern logo has definitely been one of the highlights.
Josephine, Mercy, and Devon are the tailors that worked on the Goal Five athletes’ custom jerseys. They are sisters that all share a workspace together. We explained the mission of Goal Five, and they loved it! It felt fitting to our partnership to exchange international girl-power vibes between the three Goal Five athletes and the three female tailors.
What goals do you have moving forward?
Our partner community in Kenya is inspired to keep the ball rolling with this initiative, so we started an apparel collection that also gives back to the safe drinking water projects - similar to Goal Five’s 5% social impact model. The apparel collection is handcrafted, and the designs are inspired by our custom jerseys for the participating athletes. We would like to continue growing this collection and collaborate with other brands on special edition jerseys.
How can Goal Five continue to support those goals?
We’d love to work on another project with the Goal Five athletes and collaborate with your team on a special edition jersey. Additionally, we’d be happy to support any upcoming work with Moving the Goalposts. We’re eager to do our part to support Goal Five’s mission as well.
Are you ready for World Cup 2019 in France?
Yes! I’ll be rooting for USA. Shoutout to Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe for participating in the Global Jersey Exchange! I was living in Germany when Die Mannschaft won the 2014 World Cup, and watching every match leading up to the Finals was so exciting. So I have a soft spot for Germany, and if the US gets eliminated, I’ll find myself rooting for Germany. I also love to see the underdogs do well. So I’ll be rooting for some upsets too. I’m hoping to see Thailand, Nigeria, and Scotland advance into the tournament.
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