Cover image of "KaBoom!" by Darell Hammond, a book about playgrounds

A little more than two years ago I found myself immersed up to my eyeballs in a new venture dedicated to fostering the spirit of play among disadvantaged children. And that, indirectly, is how I managed to read a book about playgrounds. But there’s a story behind it. That venture — a mission-driven, for-profit company — was the One World Futbol Project, just then founded by the husband and wife team of Tim Jahnigen and Lisa Tarver. Tim had invented an extraordinary new soccer ball that never goes flat, needs no pump or needle, and goes on playing even if it’s punctured. The Project opened for business shortly afterward during the 2010 World Cup in Johannesburg. Our goal was to distribute one million One World Futbols within three years to children and young people in refugee camps, war zones, impoverished villages, and low-income urban neighborhoods around the world.

What had drawn me to the One World Futbol Project when Tim and Lisa showed me a prototype ball late in 2009 was not the opportunity to give poor kids what would probably be their first ball to play with. For me, the Project wasn’t about play, or sports. I was drawn in by the way so many UN agencies, schools, and NGOs were using soccer as a teaching tool. They regarded games as way to help children acquire insights and skills in conflict resolution, self-confidence, teamwork, gender equity, and HIV/AIDs awareness.


KaBoom! How One Man Built a Movement to Save Play by Darell Hammond ★★★★★


In other words, as I saw it, the One World Futbol could speed community development efforts where poor people lived. That, to me, was a no-brainer, since I’ve been concerned throughout my life with the challenges of global poverty. (Now I’m even writing a book on that topic.) As the business began organizing in the spring of 2010, I became one of four partners. Both Tim and Lisa have continued ever since to emphasize the importance of play in child development, and I even attended a presentation by Dr. Stuart Brown, one of the world’s leading authorities on play. Still, I didn’t get it.

Then I read Darell Hammond‘s surprisingly powerful little book about playgrounds, KaBoom! I think I get it now: if kids are deprived of opportunities to play — not twiddling thumbs on video games but creating their own games and rough-housing out-of-doors — the ill effects are evident and provable in their later lives.

Less than 20 years ago, Darell co-founded KaBoom!, a nonprofit organization that builds playgrounds in disadvantaged neighborhoods in North American towns and cities. Darell himself grew up in difficult circumstances (though he didn’t see it that way), and he never finished college, but he proved himself to be a brilliant leader — enough so that he’s now Dr. Hammond, having received an honorary Doctorate from the college he briefly attended.

Building more than 2,000 playgrounds in North America

Since the mid-1990s, KaBoom! has built more than 2,000 playgrounds throughout North America, and it’s estimated that its training, advisory services, and online tools have enabled others to build 10 times that many over the same period. KaBoom! has become a model of social entrepreneurship and a superb example of how nonprofit leaders can equal the very best managers to be found in the private sector. These are all truly remarkable accomplishments.

KaBoom! (the book) is really three books in one. It’s Darell’s story, and the organization’s — an important story, told with charm and unflagging honesty. It’s an essay on the importance of play and the implications for public policy. And it’s a how-to manual for communities to build playgrounds themselves.

If you’re a social entrepreneur or just want to learn more about social entrepreneurship, you owe it to yourself to read at least the first half of this book.

Oh, and by the way: that goal of the One World Futbol Project to distribute one million balls in our first three years? With a generous boost from Chevrolet, we’re on track to meet it!

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