Growing up poor in Brazil prompted Ronaldo to become a UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in 2000 to help move the world against poverty in the new millennium.
"When I was a child I vowed that one day I would become rich so that I could help my family," he recalls. He began playing soccer barefoot in the streets of the poor Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood of Bento Ribeiro, where he was born in 1976, and signed up with his first club when he was 14 years old.
"In football I learned that with motivation and determination I could achieve my dreams – even if they seemed impossible at times. If the whole world unites against poverty and hunger, we can beat it and become champions," he says.
Ronaldo has personally committed to developing new partnerships to sensitize people to bring about real and tangible change in the struggle against poverty.
"No one should be doomed to a life of poverty, whether by birth or as a consequence of war," he declares.
In the years since his appointment, Ronaldo has shone the light of his soccer superstardom on what needs to be done.
"I am particularly concerned that everyone should be able to have an education to be equipped for life," he says. "The goal of ending poverty is within reach and everyone can contribute to it by getting involved or supporting organizations that are already working to give the poor a better life."
Despite his optimism, Ronaldo insists on the immensity of the task.
"There are many challenges ahead of us," he points out. "Today millions of people still go to bed hungry every night, a woman dies of pregnancy or childbirth every minute, HIV/AIDS continues to spread and destroy families and communities, and a child dies every three seconds from preventable diseases."
A highlight of his career as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador is his yearly appearance along with fellow Goodwill Ambassador Zinédine Zidane in the Match Against Poverty. The Match Against Poverty has been held each year since 2003 at the initiative of both players to raise awareness of the challenges of poverty and to advocate for concerted action to support sustainable development. The annual Match conveys one strong message: “Let’s all team up to end poverty.”
When the call came from UNDP, Ronaldo recalls, "I could not think of a better way to start the season than in a single event that brings together two great motivations — football, which is my passion, and my responsibilities as UNDP Goodwill Ambassador, in the service of the fight against poverty."
Ronaldo also contributed to the Rio+20 Summit by participating in the Rio+Social event online dialogue with UNDP's Administrator.
Ronaldo has played for Brazil in 98 international matches, scoring 62 goals. He was part of the Brazilian squad that won the 1994 and 2002 World Cups. Since 2006, Ronaldo is the highest goal scorer in the history of the World Cup. He is the only player to have won the World Cup Golden Ball and Golden Boot in separate tournaments. Having suffered a string of serious injuries throughout his career, Ronaldo retired on 14 February 2011. In 2013 he joined the Organizing Committees for the Brazil-based 2014 World Cup, ensuring that he would remain an influential figure in Brazilian sports and international affairs for years to come.