In the midst of Olympic fever – when Brazil advanced in the quarterfinals – soccer phenom Neymar posted updates on Facebook and Twitter.
He paused to promote his treasured Insituto Neymar Jr., which provides free education and health services for children in his impoverished hometown.
“One of my greatest achievements in life, to have the joy of creating the Instituto Neymar Jr. and see those smiles,” Neymar wrote on his personal Facebook page. “Thank you God for making me able to give joy to the lives of these children and their families!”
As one of the world’s best athletes and a Spanish FC Barcelona player, Neymar has earned comparisons to former Brazil and Santos forward Pele. He’s racked up four consecutive Player of the Year awards, the 2011 FIFA Goal of the Year and league titles for Barcelona and Santos. In July, Neymar inked a 5-year contract extension with Barcelona, with an annual $16.9 million salary.
On the flip side, Neymar has also gained notoriety for partying with celebrities and repaying $51.7 million in fines and back taxes for tax fraud related to endorsement deals. His temper has led to multiple penalties; and critics have questioned his conduct and sportsmanship. Following Brazil’s first gold medal win in Rio, Neymar famously resigned as Brazil’s team captain. However, the national team has not yet ruled out his return.
Neymar is a gifted athlete with an impressive online presence: more than 58.7 million Facebook likes; 57 million Instagram followers; and 24 million Twitter followers. Earlier this year, ESPN dubbed him the world’s fourth most famous athlete, and Neymar topped U.K. media analysis firm SportsPro’s list as the most marketable athlete in 2012 and 2013.
What’s interesting is how Neymar leverages his fame and global platform to draw attention to the causes he cares about.
Neymar has targeted his philanthropy efforts toward impoverished communities in Brazil with a focus on clean water and sanitation, as well as education and health services for children.
The fiery and energetic Neymar has regularly partnered with Waves for Water to bring clean water ccto impoverished areas in Brazil. In 2011, only 48% of rural Brazilian residents had adequate sanitation and 87% had access to improved water, according to our data on WASHFunders.org. Additionally, 3.53 deaths per 100,000 Brazilians were attributed to diarrheal disease.
In 2014, Neymar leveraged his celebrity to new heights in a partnership with PayPal and Waves for Water through a global campaign tied to the 2014 World Cup held in Brazil.
Since more than 3.2 billion people watched at least one live minute of the 2010 tournament in South Africa, this global water campaign banked on the World Cup’s popularity and PayPal’s global platform.
The strategic campaign cleverly allowed fans to buy water filters for Brazilian cities with the bonus of an homage to the donors’ home countries. For example, donations from the United States were used to buy water filters for Sao Paulo, where the U.S. soccer team stayed during the tournament. And PayPal partner eBay auctioned off autographed Neymar memorabilia to boost the campaign proceeds.
However, Neymar’s heart remains with his hometown. In December 2014, Neymar launched the Instituto Neymar Jr. in Praia Grande, a coastal city outside of Sao Paulo.
The facility, which provides education and health services for children, is just a few blocks from where Neymar grew up on B Street in an impoverished community plagued with crime, drugs and unemployment. It was in this neighborhood that Neymar played street games and futsol, an indoor version of soccer.
The soccer star values the opportunity to give back to his community, and he said it spurs him to excel professionally. “It makes me really happy to do something for these kids and their families,” Neymar said in an in an ESPN story.
Neymar donated $6 million to the facility and also attracted additional sponsorship contributions to support the effort. About 2,400 children, ages 7 to 14, attend the facility for two hours before or after school. The children have free access to computers, dental and medical services, and can study English, Spanish and Portuguese. Additionally, adults attend vocational classes in the evenings.
The institute is a family affair. Neymar’s mother serves as the chief executive of the institute, and Neymar and his father spend time with the children.
“I could not come to Brazil and not visit (the institute),” Neymar said. “It’s my family’s dream, and I am always happy every time I visit. It makes me want to keep growing this and doing this the right way.”
With Neymar’s huge success and talent in sports, marketing, social media, endorsements and philanthropy at age 24, Neymar knows no limits.
The next few years will be an exciting time for Neymar and soccer fans. He will no doubt seamlessly continue to navigate player contracts and lucrative endorsement deals – $23 million in 2016 – with global brands like Nike, Red Bull, Gillette and Panasonic.
With his tremendous fan appeal, social media and online presence, one can only imagine the awareness and improvements Neymar can bring to social justice issues in Brazil as well as the impact and influence he can wield in the philanthropic sector, from local to global levels. All that to say… More, please.