Meet the Match

A Social Entrepreneur Using Soccer for Social Good

Cecilia Vales approaches every day of her life with a clear mission: “Save the world and get every girl in our academy into college.”

Cecilia, the executive director for Gonzo Soccer Latin America, an organization that provides underserved girls in Mexico and Colombia with elite soccer and life-skills training, has been on this mission since 2009. A former college soccer player at Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations, Cecilia has more than a decade of experience in non-profit organizations whose mission is to improve the quality of life for girls and families affected by poverty and violence.

“There’s a lot of violence in my community and throughout the country,” Cecilia says. “Women suffer from many forms of abuse. There are especially abuses in the maquilas (foreign-owned factories) in Mexico. Through soccer, we try to show girls there are other possibilities in life and there are different roads to get where they want.”

As a former collegiate athlete, Cecilia knows the potential sport has to validate and empower young girls. She is working hard to combat the machismo culture prevalent in her community and continuously advocates for the power of sport to transform lives.

“Sport has a silent power, but the people in Mexico don’t give importance to it,” Cecilia says. “If you want to be an athlete, you’re on your own. And, for us, it’s sometimes hard because there are psychological issues and abuses. But we know sport is the answer. It can be a safe place for them.”

On top of life skills training and mentorship, Gonzo provides nutrition classes and English-language instruction to girls, in hopes it will increase their opportunities and end the cycle of poverty so prevalent in these communities.

“We all know soccer doesn’t last forever, so our main objective is for the girls to go to college and get a degree,” Cecilia says.

In her role at Gonzo, Cecilia oversees the opening of new academies, monitors soccer coaches and management staff, devises business strategies, develops strategic alliances, leads fundraising efforts, and supervises the digital marketing strategy of the organization.

In 2014, Cecilia attended the espnW Women and Sports Summit in 2015 with Monica Gonzalez, Gonzo Soccer co-founder and former Mexico women’s national team soccer player. Through the Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP), which concludes with attendance at the summit, Cecilia wants to take further advantage of the opportunity to network with strong female leaders, familiarize herself with new leadership and funding strategies, and learn more about U.S. legislation like Title IX that has served to empower American girls and women in their pursuit of sports opportunities.

We believe Karen Morrison, Chief Diversity Officer, and Tiffany Sayhaydak, Head Women’s Soccer Coach, at the University of Central Florida (UCF), are the incredible duo to help Cecilia address these issues. Being on campus at UCF will give Cecilia first-hand insight into the ways soccer and education support and enhance the student-athlete experience. Karen’s background and expertise in Title IX and Tiffany’s role as an Olympian, and now head coach, will provide Cecilia with the resources she needs to push for legislative change in Mexico, while also advancing her goals to create a supportive and safe space for the girls in her academy. Collectively, we are excited to watch these three create new pathways for women and girls in Mexico to achieve their dreams of education through sports and to end the current cycles of poverty and violence that exist.

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