It didn't take long for Minnesotan Franz Gastler to grow tired of his desk job at the Confederation of Indian Industry. He was acting as a consultant to companies interested in corporate responsibility, but "after six months of wearing a suit and tie in 120-degree weather," he says of the Delhi climate, Gastler was ready to leave office life behind. In 2008, the Boston University graduate, now 29, took a job at Krishi Gram Vikas Kendra, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on the economic development of the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, which is considered to be a top source of human trafficking for forced labor and sexual exploitation.
After starting at KGVK, Gastler was living in a farmer's mud hut when a young girl told him she wanted to learn to play soccer. He agreed to teach her if she could gather enough girls. Teamwork, Gastler thought, could be a grass-roots way to forge gender equality, confidence, and opportunity. Soon he had a makeshift soccer league up and running. He saw so much enthusiasm that he persuaded KGVK to let him build the program and pay his salary. So in 2009, with $6,000 of his savings and his $2,000 monthly stipend, he launched Yuwa, the Hindi word for Youth. A friend matched his $6,000, allowing the team to buy uniforms and equipment and to travel for matches.
Gastler put the kids in charge from the beginning, asking them to set practice times and save for shoes and balls. The shoes cost $7.78, and Yuwa requires the players to contribute $2.22 toward the cost to teach them about saving. The girls save for the shoes as a team, with each player often able to contribute just 4 cents to 20 cents per week.
Yuwa is now an organization of 255 players among 18 teams. One of the program's former stars even earned a spot on India's national team. Meanwhile, Gastler has raised $92,000 from investors and recently received a $25,000 Nike-sponsored (NKE) grant for a new facility. And in March, Gastler signed a deal with Coca-Cola India to form the first statewide football league in Jharkhand. "Here, we've got a small amount of space and a huge amount of people," says Gastler. "But it's the only recreational activity where girls have a chance to have fun."