How are business leaders and footballers collaborating to help the most disadvantaged?

Ian Donaldson

Ian Donaldson is the CEO of the Atlanta Group.

He is responsible for driving the success of insurance brands including Autonet, Carole Nash and Swinton, but he recently joined forces with Liverpool FC and England star, Trent Alexander-Arnold, to launch Football for Change UK.

Ian spoke to Business Leader about the new initiative which is aiming to transform the lives of young people growing up in some of the most challenged communities in the country.

Can you give us an overview of Football for Change?

Football for Change is a unique collaboration between business leaders and football superstars who are combining their efforts to help young people facing disadvantage in some of the most challenged communities in the country. We are aiming to fund projects which support young school leavers, particularly those who are facing economic and social barriers to achieving their potential, into education, employment, or training.

We are also deploying business leaders and footballers as role models to help young people facing adversity onto a positive path in life. We want to change lives and improve social mobility.

Why is Football for Change so important to you personally?

Having personally experienced a tough upbringing in Stoke-on-Trent, the aims of Football for Change are particularly close to my heart. I hope my life story and the struggles that I overcome can inspire others.

Growing up as the middle child of 5 wasn’t always easy. Even as a kid, life is all about decisions and more importantly making the right ones.

Football has always been a big part of my life. Playing didn’t come naturally to me but I used it as a way to see my Dad. Coming from a split parent background, seeing Dad meant learning how to play football and then hoping he would come and watch me, as he did my older brothers.

As well as my Dad, I saw it is a way to meet new people and make new friends and then finally as a potential career. I played at a decent semi-pro level and also was involved in the Port Vale school of excellence under Mike Pejic for many years. Eventually money and getting a job became more realistic than making it into pro football – a tough but real decision I had to make at 18. This is when I first went into insurance as a career.

Football for Change for me is about showing people like me that there are many different routes to success. I want FFC and all the people involved in it to offer a varied range of inspiration to as many youngsters as we can – showing ways to success that they may never have thought about and certainly never imagined they could do.

Who are you aiming to help?

School leavers. Those not in education, employment, or training.

Young people are facing greater challenges than ever before and if you are growing up in poverty or in an area with low levels of education attainment or social problems like high unemployment, the challenges are even greater to overcome. Too many young people simply do not have the tools to reach their full potential and others sadly choose the wrong path with devastating consequences. It is these young people that we are aiming to help.

Trent Alexander-Arnold is a supporter of Football For Change

Where did the idea for the initiative come from?

The footballers and business leaders involved wanted to do something to support disadvantaged young people of school leaving age and so I was happy to help them pull the initiative together.

There are so many organisations and charitable projects that support children but few which specifically target resources on school leavers who find themselves at a crossroads. Trent Alexander-Arnold speaks passionately about this. He grew up in an area of Liverpool facing a real mix of social and economic problems.

Growing up he saw young people facing hardship and so was particularly keen to get this off the ground. He says Football for Change is needed now more than ever. I wholeheartedly agree with him.

Swinton Insurance is the headline sponsor, but can other businesses get involved?

I am proud that Swinton is headlining sponsoring Football for Change. It fits perfectly with our commitment to supporting communities around the UK.

There are several other businesses and business leaders involved who are supporting us as ‘Football for Change champions’.

We have big ambitions for the initiative so I would encourage anyone who wants to get involved to do so. More information is available at

What is your advice to young people who are aspiring to be successful in business?

For me, aspiring to be something is the first thing everyone needs – who knows what they want to be successful in when they are young? I want FFC to help people realise their potential and to be shown that anyone can become successful – people from disadvantaged areas can achieve just as much as those with more fortunate starts in life. It is our job as business leaders and sporting stars to instil this confidence into these youngsters.

One of my football coaches always told me and my pals: “Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard”. This is something that has lived with me since the day he said it.b I believe everyone has a talent, but without hard work it is very rare that talent is ever realised so if FFC can show how hard work can change your life – then it has done its job.

Do you think it is important for successful companies to invest in young people?

I think it is the responsibility of successful businesses and business leaders to give something back to society. That’s why I am so pleased that Swinton is backing Football for Change.

Colleagues from across all of our Atlanta brands are just as passionate as I am about supporting the communities where we live and work. And now more than ever it’s so important that we all give something back. Across the company we have been focussing on helping smaller local charities to recover after what has been an incredibly tough time for everyone since March.

For example. we are even sponsoring Max Lewis. Maz is a 6-year-old kart racing champion from Stoke-on-Trent and we are helping him to kick start his career. We’ve also recently provided van transport for two separate charities – Liverpool 6 Centre and Ruff & Ruby. enabling them to continue to distribute much needed food supplies to some of the most deprived areas in the North West. We also secured a £5000 grant from the Ardonagh Community Trust to help the HUBB Foundation in Stoke-on-Trent who provide vital support for vulnerable families.

Over the years, our Atlanta Community Fund has helped a number of charities. In January, I was delighted to donate £60k to the finalists of our 2019 Community Fund Awards. We were also proud to match our colleague fundraising and most recently supported the Pink Sisters Breast Cancer Charity. Our teams also organised a socially distanced charity cricket match to raise funds for Manchester Mind – not even lockdown can stop us doing our best to give back!

Finally, we also have our annual ‘day to make a difference’ when every colleague can use a paid day off to do voluntary work. We can’t wait to do this again.

You’ve got a huge remit at the Atlanta Group, what else are you focusing on at the moment?

One of our main areas of focus is to bring together like minded leading businesses and we have ambitious growth plans for our digital-focused retail businesses offering home, motor, van and a range of niche, personal line and SME tailored products. As part of this we need strong and successful leaders to secure the future success of Atlanta and we’ve made a significant long term investment in our new leadership development programmes which have launched this year. This identifies talented individuals and gives them a chance to develop and grow outside of their role and be the very best at what they do.

We’re also just about to launch our Atlanta wide Diversity and Inclusion strategy including 6 community network groups representing colleagues from different races, ethnicities, genders, ages, religions, disabilities and sexual orientations. Atlanta’s aim is to embrace Diversity & Inclusion by recognising and celebrating our differences.

I am the Executive sponsor for our LGBTQ+ community network, OurPride, and the rest of my Executive team are all heading up the other community networks with the help of our passionate and committed Diversity and Inclusion forum colleagues. This is an amazing opportunity to bring about positive change in our business and I am genuinely excited about the focus we’re placing on ensuring every colleague has a voice and is heard.