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Luís Figo Foundation on the cover of Human magazine - August of 2011

To give happiness a boost

To give children and youngsters in need the strength and ability to move people that is inherent to football. That is what Luís Figo wanted and it was with that purpose in mind that he created a foundation - the Luís Figo Foundation - that wishes to "boost the happiness" of those who are our future, by helping them have better life conditions, so that they can enjoy them to their fullest.

Created in March of 2003, the LFF is a private institution, with financial autonomy and non-profit, created by the football player that is known worldwide, and that is Luís Figo. Luís Figo is, himself, the president, and Sara Souto is in charge of the board of directors; she claims that the foundation «has been gathering its efforts, energy and resources towards projects and activities for children and youngsters in need, that have serious illnesses or that at risk of social exclusion, by acting in the sense of creating new opportunities that may allow them to be active and valuable members of society, which no one can deny them. It supports people in every way, whether socially or financially, having as a priority, the improvement of these children and youngsters' lives, even though, sometimes, and unfortunately, it is a matter of pure and simply keeping them alive», she adds.
The LFF is centered upon four axis: health, education, sports and hope. «When it comes to health - Sara Souto explains - we perform alongside other entities, supporting the Red Nose Action, which brings joy to bed-ridden children, which visits about 30 thousand children each year. We first did it by adopting one of their clown doctors, and, more recently, we assured that all the children at the Amadora Sintra Hospital would be visited by these professionals.
«They are also helping with the «Ready for school» project, developed by Entrajuda, which consists of performing eye, ear and dental exams for children in pre-school, in solidarity institutions around the Great Lisbon area. Still during this year, they will also create opportunities for children with motor and sensory difficulties, so that they can get the help they need, with the help from the team of professionals at the Equipa Móvel de Desenvolvimento Infantil e Intervenção Precoce, who ensures all the required therapy for these kids, whether at home, or at school. Since 2007, they have been a part of the partner network that is Stop TB Partnership, in which they fight against TB. Luís Figo himself was invited by the WHO (World Health Organization) to be their "Embassador in the Fight Against TB". They also play an important role in awareness campaigns for the Associação Portuguese de Leucemia. As for education, Sara Souto underlines the importance of the project they have been developing alongside the Board of Education. «Its goal is to support the [Educational Fields of Priority Intervention] 'TEIP Programme' and comes from the need to promote success, prevent school abandonment and improve its environment, for children and youngsters at risk of school or social exclusion. The foundation itself implemented its own pilot-project at the Escola da Bela Vista, in Setúbal, with a great impact in terms of results; thus being, we hope to broaden our project to other schools», Sara Souto adds.
The LFF has also joined forces with the Commissariat of Health, in order to support the Associação para a Promoção da Segurança Infantil (AP SI - Association for the Promotion of Child Safety) in their campaign to prevent child drowning, «by actively contributing to an awareness that is so necessary», she stated. «We did it because, this year, and for the very first time, this campaign includes children with special needs, alerting to a dire need to double our attention in such cases.»
As for sports, last June we had our eighth edition of the All-Star's game. It took place in Viena, after an invitation by FK Austria, a team that celebrates their 100th birthday and that wished, along with LFF, to gather football stars, current and retired, in this solidarity game. Sara Souto underlined «the growing relevance that this game has had along its several editions, because revenue has been put into helping all sorts of projects.» With the funds we've gathered - she explains -, «we've been able to help Unicef, the Laureus Foundation and the Ronald McDonald House, we've helped building the House of Colors (Casa das Cores), a foster home for children in need from the Movimento ao Serviço da Vida, and we are currently contributing for the construction of the first Temporary Refuge Center for refugee children, a project from the Portuguese Refugee Council.»

To give hope

It is also worth mentioning, in the axis of hope, that it includes plenty of projects, mainly the National Christmas Give Away Campaign, which the LFF holds annualy, since its inception, on Christmas and on Children's Day. The project predicts that it will hand out about five thousand toys through hospitals, institutions and schools in poor areas, throughout the entire nation. «We are trying to turn these special occasions into something magical, by inviting children from several institutions to spend a day with Luís Figo», says Sara Souto. «We've done this at the Zoo in Lisbon, at KidZania, at Zoomarine and at the Christmas circus we've been organizing on a yearly basis. It is very gratifying to see the happiness on the face of a child, moments that are sometimes the only times of happiness they have seen, but that are essential and make their future a better place; they make that specific moment in their lives better, which is obviously good, but it's not enough», she adds. «But we want those days to be different and filled with joy.»
Also in this field, the foundation will, for its second year in a row, to promote vacation camps alongside the Banco de Informação de Pais para Pais (BIPP), supporting children with special needs, either handicapped or in need, by allowing them to join at zero cost. The goal is to develop activities that will promote including all these children in everyday contexts.
Another initiative is the «Projecto para Uma Vida Melhor (Project for a Better Life)», meant to provide individual support and to improve the life conditions of children and young people who, due to illness or other limitations, cannot live their lives to the fullest. They have given away, for instance, an electric bed to a 10 year old boy with spina bifida and a wheelchair to a paraplegic teenage girl who lives in a difficult socio-economic context.
Sara Souto also underlines sponsoring three orphaned children, in a mission for the Um Pequeno Gesto society. «We will guarantee that they will have food, and education, food, and health and hygiene, and also a roof, because we are building them a home that has everything they need to live with dignity, in Mozambique», she shared. «It is very exciting to receive so many letters, pictures and even the visit of the priest who watches over them.»
Although she underlines that is essential to work in every area equally, Sara Souto states, without hesitation, that the areas that are most in need are health and education. «It is essential and basic to be able to guarantee minimal life conditions so that these children may live their lives with dignity. Then, they must be provided with all the tools they need to guarantee their survival in the future.
I've always heard my parents say they it is more important to teach someone how to fish, and not just give them fish, and that is what I try to do in this foundation», she said.

A reference to young people

For all of this to be possible, it is obvious that money is a necessity. Sara Souto reminds us that, at the inception of LFF, sponsoring was crucial, but that they could count on Coca-Cola, BPN and Galp. Nowadays, they don't have any permanent sponsors anymore. «For each project and initiative, the foundation searches for adequate sponsors», she says, revealing that the All-Star's game is the most profitable initiative, on a yearly basis. «The powerful force that is solidarity football adds great emphasis to its power to mobilize, provide awareness and communicate, and because of its relevance in today's world, especially due to how it works within the media and the impact offered by football idols scoring goals for charity.»
She also adds that Luís Figo contributes, not only personally, but also financially.
On the other hand, «we all acknowledge and appreciate Luís' winning spirit, his character and his charisma», she adds. «That dimension, together with the notoriety and fame that the world of football provides, allow his presence to be a reference itself for young people who are fighting to strive and move forward, which is what Luís himself has done throughout his life. Sara acknowledges that the fact the foundation has the name of a great figure may open a lot of doors, but she also underlines the fact that it gives Luís Figo a greater sense of responsibility.
«What Luís wanted to do when he created this foundation was to have a way to boost the happiness of plenty of children and youngers who, sometimes, just need a little support and a helping hand», Sara Souto added.
«As a public figure who is able to help, it's obvious that he can't be indifferent to some of the injustices he feels should be fought, and tries, in his own way, to give something back.
His notoriety and credibility as a Portuguese icon helps young people look at him and lend him his ears, making it easier to pass our message on.»
Still, Sara Souto confesses that the current financial situation Portugal is going through translates into the foundation receiving less sponsorship. «The financial crisis doesn't allow for companies to support social awareness activities the same way they did in the past, because sometimes, it's the financial sustainability that must be assured. We are lying in wait. On the other hand -- she adds --, the consequences of this crisis on the lives of so many families tend to touch CEOs, and in turn makes them more aware of their reality, because those in need, when crisis hits, suffer even more, and, in some situations, help cannot be denied. We try to raise funds so that we can forward them to those who need it the most.
And, sometimes, with just a little, you can do plenty for those who have nothing at all.»
The Luís Figo Foundation, in Sara Souto's words, «is big in terms of action and very small in terms of those who act in its name», meaning, its organizational structure. «We try our best to be not only efficient but also successful in planning, organizing, and controlling the projects we develop or are yet to develop», she adds. «We search for sponsors who will aid us in developing and implementing these projects, and we manage our human and financial resources, both internal and external, by supporting projects in our homeland and also abroad.»

A community of objectives

In terms of structure, LFF has a Board of Directors, presided by Luís Figo, and it comprises of Madalena Torres, Alberto da Ponte, Carlos Queiroz, and Pedro Tavares. There is also an Audit Committee, but the entire daily operational management is assured by a Board where only two people work. «Nevertheless, in some initiatives, we have been able to rely on the help of young volunteers, who have been fundamental to make it all the logistics possible, for instance, on Children's Day and with the Christmas circus, in order to welcome children and institutions, and to give them little souvenirs.»
Sara Souto is part of the LFF 's Board of Administrators at the request of one of its current administrators.
«I identify myself with the foundation's mission and its goals, because I like doing things for others, which is a heritage I have received from my parents, and the fact that I have enough availability to do so, and because I believe it is possible to help those in need», she shares. «Bringing all these objectives together, and the way we see life, are, without a doubt, two things that bind all of us that work at LFF. It was the right challenge at the right time.» With a degree in «Corporate Management» and a master's degree in «Strategic Marketing», Sara began her career in marketing. But because she felt her children needed a mother that was more 'present', she dedicated herself to taking care of them, in advertising, communications, and marketing.
Throughout these years, she never stopped collaborating in corporate projects in the field of management, marketing and communications, up until she accepted the challenge posed by the Luís Figo Foundation, in May of 2008. And it is to this project that she is now fully committed to, moved by a desire to help children and youngsters in need.

For the right to a better future 

How did you get the idea of creating the Luís Figo Foundation, and what were your goals?

The idea came to me eight years ago, in a time where I was still playing football professionally, with all the media exposure it brought me. It was then that I decided to make the best of all that media attention to contribute to the improvement of children and youngsters' lives, also making the best out of the fact that I was a professional football player was seen as an example to so many people.
The genesis of my foundation, in March of 2003, was the product of making all that awareness and social responsibility a palpable and real thing, bringing to life this project that has the goal to support children and youngsters with special and particular needs.

What led you to choose children to be the main incentive for your mission?

Our choice was made due to the fact that children and young people are our future. No matter how many are at risk of social exclusion or are deprived of their full right to life, due to serious illnesses or unfavorable socio-economic situations, it is to them that our actions speak louder. It is because we wish to help them live better lives, to be integrated in society and to have better foundations to be able to be men and women who are stronger and happier that we do what we do.

What changed from the time you were a child to the children of today?

Society has changed a lot in these last few years, and technology changed the habits of younger people. During my childhood, we would play football outside a lot; today, the reality is different. A lot of times, games are played in front of a computer screen, but that doesn't mean they don't have the same passion and interest for football and sports in general. But we all know that the current economic situation is not easy, and so, if by one hand a whole new world was created, with new things and opportunities, there are also more difficulties and obstacles. To educate, train and guide today's children and young people is not an easy task, and it is up to us, those who are big names in today's society, due to our media exposure, to work together and help others, so that all of us, particularly those in need, can have a better future. 

What is your take on your own role among these young people?

Professional athletes are often regarded as an example for many young people, and football is, without a doubt, a worldwide mobilizer of masses. Therefore, and in my particular case, creating this foundation was an attempt to acting upon my own words and to put our stronger social awareness to practice, thus looking to contribute for an improvement in the life style of those who need us the most.

Because you are not living in Portugal, I take it that you cannot follow LFL's activities as close as you wished you were able to. How do manage your foundation's work?

Although I am physically distant, because I live in Madrid, today's technologies allow me to keep an eye on everything from up close. Thus being, and although I'm not there physically, I am available and aware of everything that is going on. As for the daily and operational management, 'in loco', is made by a team I can fully trust.


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