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Federer Foundation an example of how to give back

A Roger Federer fan eagerly awaits the Second Round match.
by Mark Hodgkinson in New York
Monday 26 August 2013

As Roger Federer prepares to compete in yet another major tournament, Wimbledon.com takes a look at his involvement in his charitable foundation...

A decade has passed since Roger Federer won his first Grand Slam title with victory at the 2003 Wimbledon Championships; it’s also ten years since the Swiss, then in his early twenties, started the Roger Federer Foundation. Janine Haendel, the Chief Executive of the Roger Federer Foundation, has disclosed that Federer is “very involved with the Foundation, not just with his time but also with his heart – it’s something that is part of his personality and part of his character. That is why it’s so credible what he’s doing because it’s not an image thing”. 

On the Friday morning before the start of the US Open, Handel spoke at the New York Tennis Debate, organised by Credit Suisse, to discuss the subject ‘What can tennis do to improve the lives of others?’ The panel also featured Stacey Allaster, the Chairman and the Chief Executive of the WTA, as well as Justin Gimelstob, a member of the ATP World Tour’s Board and a former Grand Slam mixed doubles champion, and businessman Lorne Abony, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Mood Media.
Haendel on what inspired Federer to start his Foundation: “There wasn’t a certain day in his life when he woke up and said, ‘oh, I need to give back’. It was a consequence of education, and of a childhood in an environment where family is sensitive to the needs of others. As a child he regularly spent his holidays in the country where his mother had been born - South Africa - where he saw poverty and realized that not everybody is raised with the same privileges that he had had. Without that family background, you don’t create that will to give back. He’s very involved, not just with his time but also with his heart. It’s so credible what he’s doing, because it’s not an image thing. It’s something that is part of his personality and part of his character.”
Haendel on Federer’s visits to Africa: “Visits on the ground are important not only to see if the money is being spent well but also to connect emotionally to what the Foundation is doing. It is all about the children in need and changing their lives into better. So the contact with these children is the motivation and engine for all the efforts and time Roger invests. And he just feels so at home and alive out there and is having a good time with the kids. The funny thing is that the kids don’t know Roger. They could never imagine that you could earn money by having a racket in your hands, and making some moves. He felt that he wanted to bring his kids to see those kids.”
Haendel on Federer attending the Foundation board meetings: “Roger is at all our board meetings three times a year, and they don’t last just one or two hours. No strategic decision is taken without him.”
Haendel on how having a foundation is a “long distance journey”: “It’s important to know that it’s a long distance journey. With Roger, it started small and developed step by step. But from the beginning it was important that it started on the right course, and that he was passionate about it. Just giving back because that’s part of your sports career, that will not be sustainable. The first step is to find something that you’re emotionally linked to, that you have a passion about. The second important thing is that if you become engaged in something, you have to do it right, and that can be complex. Young players need help and they need support, otherwise you might jump into bad initiatives and then you might have a reputational risk. It’s not just about raising money and spending money, it’s about having an impact with what you’re doing. At the Roger Federer Foundation, we’re learning every day, and we’re failing every day. We learn from our mistakes, and try to get better and to become experts. Journalists want to know how much money we raised and how much money we spent, but actually that’s not the point. What’s more important is what our impact on the children is, how we change their lives in a positive sustainable manner. How many children are now having better performances in the schools and kindergartens we’re supporting? How many children now have a better future?”
Haendel on the importance of Credit Suisse to the Roger Federer Foundation: “It’s very special. Credit Suisse, who are one of Roger’s sponsors, made a firm commitment to donate one million dollars a year every year for 10 years to the Foundation. This long-term commitment of money was used to start an early childhood development initiative in Malawi. It’s a win-win situation. If you become a sponsor of an individual sportsman, and not of a team, you’re not just sponsoring the sportsman, you’re financing the personality. In the case of Roger, it’s very obvious that he has more to give than just sports. So I think it’s logical for a sponsor to also support the private part, the charitable part of a player, and to combine that with its own corporate citizenship engagement. But it also requires the sports manager, when negotiating with potential sponsors, to bring in the idea of a combination of sponsoring the athlete and the charitable side.”

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