Strong Women, Better World: How the State Department Supports Gender Equity through Sports Innovation

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The 2017 Global Sports Mentoring Program participants meet with ECA Senior Bureau Official Alyson Grunder at the State Department. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State Photo in cooperation with University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society.
The 2017 Global Sports Mentoring Program participants meet with ECA Senior Bureau Official Alyson Grunder at the State Department. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State Photo in cooperation with University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society.

Strong Women, Better World: How the State Department Supports Gender Equity through Sports Innovation

Last month, the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) kicked off its sixth year as 17 young female leaders from across the world began a month-long program in the United States focused on creating positive social change through sports innovation, entrepreneurship, and philanthropy.

Over the course of the exchange program, female executives from U.S. sports organizations work with the international mentees, providing valuable insight and guidance about business concepts in a sporting environment. Throughout the program, the international participants further develop management skills, networking tactics, and leadership strategies, all culminating in the development of a strategic plan for creating sports opportunities for underserved populations in their home communities.

Upon the completion of the program, the participants return home to put their plans in action. Many past participants have made a positive difference in their communities by fostering innovation learned from their time in U.S. organizations.

After participating in the 2015 GSMP, Cecilia Vales launched a soccer academy for young women in Mexico. Photo credit: U.S. Department of State in cooperation with University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society. Photographer: Jaron Johns

Cecilia Vales, a GSMP 2015 participant, credits the program with changing her life. “It taught me about confidence... I recognized power in myself and the belief that we as women can actually change the world for the better.”

When she returned home, Cecilia launched her own non-profit organization, “She Wins Mexico” to support female soccer players. She uses soccer to teach life skills and leadership development to young girls in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her work with “She Wins Mexico” has already impacted more than 100 children.

Along with its impact overseas, the GSMP has equally impacted the lives of U.S.  mentors and their communities. Julie Eddleman of Google, a longstanding mentor who is teamed up with Aline Silva of Brazil and Megha Vora of India this year, said: “I learned about Brazil and India, and about the challenges that women in those areas face in striving for equality. These discoveries help the American women – and many men – of Google think about their own challenges in different ways, promoting diversity and inclusion.”

U.S.  mentors who participate in the program say it has helped their companies in many different  ways as well, from rethinking their business challenges on a more global scale to taking advantage of new opportunities learned from their mentees. “It’s helped make us better as an organization,” said Susan Cohig, the Senior Vice President of Marketing at the National Hockey League (NHL).

Julie Eddleman of Google (right) pictured with her 2016 GSMP mentee, Maíra Liguori (left). Photo credit: U.S. Department of State in cooperation with University of Tennessee Center for Sport, Peace, & Society. Photographer: Jaron Johns

By supporting innovative programs like the GSMP, U.S. businesses can reinforce their connections with international markets and hone their competitive edge. GSMP demonstrates that when we support women, we all win.

As the 2017 GSMP participants embark on their program, you can follow their journey on the GSMP blog, and you can also meet the athletes and mentors. The Global Sports Mentoring Program is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State, espnW, The University of Tennessee, and the host mentor organizations.

About the Author: Carlos Rodriguez-Cruz y Celis is an intern in the Public Affairs and Strategic Communications Office of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.