GSMP: New Year, Same Goal

By Jane McManus, espnW October 02, 2013

Aisha Nassanga spent Tuesday at CNN. She sat in on meetings, met female executives at the top of the decision-making chain and got to see how different it was from the station she works for as a sports broadcaster in her home nation of Uganda. Everything, from sets to screens to production, was just much bigger.

“I’m still overwhelmed,” she said by phone earlier this week.

Nassanga’s aspirations aren’t any different from those of American girls, but her path is much more difficult. In Uganda, where she grew up with a father who played on the national soccer team, women aren’t expected to play or cover sports. There, Billie Jean King hasn’t beaten Bobby Riggs; and, in 2013, Nassanga still is a pioneer in her field.

But she doesn’t have to forge a career path on her own anymore.

The U.S. Department of State, in conjunction with espnW and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace and Society, has created the Global Sports Mentoring Program to develop the skills of women like Nassanga. The program, which is in its second year, enables women from other countries to gain knowledge from women in the United States and “create positive change through sports,” a positive change that can empower women and girls throughout the world.

The ultimate goal is to educate countries on the benefits of girls playing sports, with research showing that girls who play sports are more likely to forge new paths to success as they grow up.

“This connects women to each other. They now have a network of women just like themselves all over the world, but it also connects them to a mentor,” said Laura Gentile, vice president and founder of espnW.

This year, 16 women from around the world will spend three weeks in the U.S. with mentors from different corporations and sports organizations, including ESPN. The mentees have been chosen based on efforts they’ve already made in their communities, as coaches, athletes and professionals. Allyson Park at Coca-Cola, who is working with Nassanga, has opened up her contact list to expose Nassanga to different events and companies — like CNN — that will enrich her experience.

The Global Sports Mentorship Program tries to find the right experience for each woman. For example, Jenneta Hallyyeva, a former national tennis champion in Turkmenistan, has been paired with the WTA’s general counsel, Diana Myers. Hallyyeva hopes to return home and strengthen the country’s tennis program for girls. Yu-Hsien Tseng works in the athletic department at National Taiwan University, and the GSMP has installed her at the NCAA to learn how women’s sports have been implemented at the university level.

The women will then develop plans to implement what they’ve learned once they return home.

For Nassanga, it is to facilitate the ability for women to work in sports. She wants to expand a soccer program in her country to include girls, which should be made easier by the fact that the prestigious youth program has always been financed by and is named for Coca-Cola.

“For my plan to be successful,” Nassanga said, “the program has got to be viable.”

But the mentees’ plans evolve and take firmer shape as they meet people who want to help.

“You need a group of people who believe in your dream,” Nassanga said.

The program concludes Oct. 7 with a luncheon at the State Department, where last year the mentees met then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. It will be the end of an intense period, but when women like Nassanga return home, that is when the real work begins.

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