Sports mentoring empowers women

By Evan Ryan, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs October 28, 2015

From the Philippines to Pakistan, the international women of the U.S. Department of State’s espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) are making a significant impact in their home communities. Whether helping communities that have faced natural disasters recover through sports initiatives or encouraging families to support girls soccer teams, GSMP alumnae complete their month-long mentorships with action plans that engage, inspire, and empower.

After working side-by-side with American female executive mentors in the U.S. sports sector, 16 international participants joined the ranks this month of 50 other GSMP alumnae maintaining the momentum of this successful public-private partnership. As the cornerstone of the U.S. Department of State’s Empowering Women and Girls through Sports Initiative, the GSMP supports the U.S. government’s goal of improving the status, liberty, and well-being of women, girls, and marginalized people around the world.

I had the pleasure of meeting these young women at the start and conclusion of their program this fall. The participant line-up ranged from the manager of a girls boxing organization in Kenya to an Olympian championing disability rights in Egypt to twin sisters from India who have hiked the world’s highest summits. Each one radiated determination to make change. I was inspired by their commitment to ensuring that girls around the world experience the benefits that come from participating in sports: increased confidence, improved health, and enhanced academic and professional success.

In order for the GSMP to have a lasting impact, each emerging leader crafts a strategic plan to put into action upon her return home. Working with their mentors and our cooperative partners at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace, and Society, they develop unique action plans with the common objective of creating sports opportunities for underserved women and youth.

I was able to learn about the action plans in depth and hear what motivates the international participants when I met with them last week. For example, Cecilia Vales, executive director of a soccer and education program for girls in Mexico, described her inspiration: “I know education empowers, but I believe that nothing empowers a girl like the combination of sports and education. It has to be the sum of both, because sports give you something that education doesn’t — something that goes beyond the classroom.”

And while the United States offers lessons and resources to the international community, the American mentor participants gain valuable perspectives from the global women.  Susan Cohig, longtime mentor at the National Hockey League, describing mentees Nungshi and Tashi Malik, said, “I may never be a mountain climber, but the same lessons they’ve learned on the physical mountains apply to my own life…Nungshi and Tashi have brought so much to this organization with their enthusiasm, commitment, and spirit.”

Whether they are moving mountains, blazing trails or breaking ice, the change agents of the Global Sports Mentoring Program are creating a lasting legacy of empowering women in every corner of the world.

For more information:

Read more about the 2015 alumnae of the espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program.

View additional photos of the GSMP participants on Flickr as well as video and podcasts of their experiences on Youtube.

Follow Assistant Secretary Ryan @ECA_AS and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs @ECAatState on Twitter.

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