Meet the Match

An Innovator Uses Soccer to Break Gender Barriers

When Paola Kuri describes her upbringing, it brings up the image of the large and lively family in the famous film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.”

“Growing up, if we traveled or went to a restaurant it would always be like an army of us,” Paola laughs. “When we walked in we’d ask, ‘Table for 30, please.’”

Born and raised in Mexico City, Paola began playing sports at 3 years old with mixed enthusiasm from her family. Although her father was a golfer, she says her mother and the other women in her family had little interest in sport. They encouraged Paola to try other activities in her free time.

“As a kid, I would go into my garden and take the fallen leaves and imagine they were soccer players and I’d have to get the ball and try to pass them,” Paola recalls. “I imagined I was in this huge stadium playing. Once I went with my friends to play in the park and there was this huge group of boys and I turned my cap backwards to seem a little tougher and get them to let me play. I always had to prove myself.”

Paola’s gravitation to sports reached its peak one holiday season when she was still young. She had dropped hints to her family about wanting new soccer equipment as a gift. Paola’s mother obliged. But she also used it as a chance to deliver a special message to her tomboyish daughter.

“I specifically asked Santa Claus for goalkeeper gloves, a soccer ball, and cleats,” Paola recalls. “I was afraid I was doing something wrong for wanting boys toys. When I walked over to the Christmas tree there they were – but they were pink!”

Paola continued her soccer career through college. In 2012, she earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Ibero-American University while playing for the university’s women’s soccer team. It was the first time in Paola’s life that she played on an all-female team. In addition to her passion for sport, Paola has always been drawn into art and culture. Channeling this passion, she completed a master’s degree in fine arts from Florence University of the Arts.

Although it has been her lifelong pursuit, Paola senses a general apathy in Mexican society when it comes to women’s sport. In comparison to sports programs for boys and men, few opportunities exist for girls and women. Paola sees sport as a tool that can positively touch the lives of underserved girls in marginalized areas—giving them hope and providing opportunities in professional and non-elite sports.

“Sport cures you in a lot ways. I’ve been to places where girls have been abused and they use soccer to help them forget and to move forward,” Paola says. “It is about playing the sport we love, but it’s also about creating better people. The soccer field is a magical place. I’d go out with just my ball and it would change everything. If girls can play, they can become great people and great leaders for our country.”

In 2015, Paola turned her passion into a career into when she launched #FutSinGénero (Soccer Without Gender), an initiative which provides equipment, life skills training, and soccer clinics for girls in communities that lack access to sport. The initiative has been so successful that Paola regularly receives invitations from men’s clubs to lead training. She is usually unable to accept these items, however, because a lack of funding and time. Her main source of income comes through Ethos Arte, an art exhibition that Paola runs with her brother in Mexico City.

“I am constantly inspired, but I lack structure and clear objectives,” Paola says. “With the GSMP, I can enrich my capabilities. Though I’m starting in Mexico, I want it to grow from here. I need someone to help me understand how to make it happen right.”

Supporting Paola to fulfill her mission for Mexican girls is Joan Coraggio, group director of sponsorship and experiential marketing for Saatchi & Saatchi Los Angeles. With more than two decades of experience in planning and executing event sponsorships and experiential marketing programs, Joan and her team have promoted events such as the Lollapalooza music festival, Supercross motorcycle racing, triathlons, and Oprah’s The Life You Want Tour. In 2014, her team managed over 300 events across 1,000 event days.

Joan’s experience in the marketing, promotions, and business worlds will be vital for Paola as she grows #FutSinGénero to impact the lives of more girls in Mexico. During her time with Joan, Paola will develop key skills to make her gender equality projects even more successful and far-reaching. Together, these two strong, creative will make a dynamic team.

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