In 2004, then 17-year-old Abeer Essawy represented Egypt as a Taekwondo fighter in the Athens Olympic Games. She continued her athletic success in the years after and won five consecutive titles in the African Championship from 2003 to 2007. Now that she has finished with her competitive career in martial arts, Abeer has transitioned to fighting for gender rights in her country by creating easier access to sport programs in her country.
Abeer serves as a member of the Athlete’s Commission for the Egyptian Olympic Committee (EOC). In her role, she interacts with national sports federations and represented Egypt at the Second World Olympians Forum in 2019
Abeer also leverages her experience and network in sports to educate and empower a new generation of Egyptian women, focusing on increasing the percentage of women involved in leadership levels of the Olympic Committee. Though previously a woman has served, Abeer dreams of seeing another female on the EOC’s board of directors or executive board, as all 54 federation presidents are currently males.
Outside of her work with the Olympic Committee, Abeer is also the co-founder of the Egyptian Sports Network (ESN), the first non-football sports network in the country. The network focuses on generating interest in Olympic sports and developing stronger and larger sport-based communities. Abeer hopes this platform can lead to more sport-based career opportunities for women.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Abeer will be mentored by Val Ackerman, Commissioner of the Big East Conference, and her team in New York City.
As founder and CEO of the FAME Foundation, which stands for Female Advocacy, Mentoring, and Empowerment, Aderonke Bello focuses on uniting Nigerian women and girls through sports participation and works to provide them access to quality education.
For example, for International Women’s Day in 2019, FAME hosted a football match that included more than 3,000 community members who watched the game, participated in free health and sex education classes, and received tests for sexually-transmitted infections. Proceeds from the event provided full scholarships for eight rural girls in her programs. She has an ongoing project in Nigeria called #LetGirlsPlay an initiative that uses sports to address and advocate for issues bordering on women and girls development like GBV, Inequality, Lack of Access to Gender Equality and others.
For her work with FAME, Aderonke won the African Girl-Child Advocate award and the Girl-Child Education Champion award from the former President of Malawi, Joyce Banda. However, Aderonke knows more work is needed to break long-standing traditions that leave women behind and to address the severe levels of gender inequality present in her country. According to UNICEF, in Nigeria 44% of girls are married before the age of 18, and 18% are married before the age of 15.
Through her GSMP experience, Aderonke seeks to develop skills needed to expand the FAME Foundation, including new ways to gain public support, best practices for curriculum delivery and methodology, and ways to include technology into her programs using sports for women and girls empowerment.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Aderonke will be mentored by Emi FitzGerald, Director of Earned Media at Saatchi & Saatchi, and her team in Dallas, Texas.
As a child growing up in Lithuania, Asta Zukaite was exposed to all types of sports, from figure skating to track and field. Her love of sports and unmatched work ethic led her to become the lead on-air sports anchor for LNK TV, one of the two largest television channels in Lithuania.
As a reporter for LNK, Asta has traveled the globe reporting on Lithuania’s biggest sporting events, including the Euroleague Championships and ISU European Figure Skating Championships. Despite being one of the few female sports journalists in the country—women hold only 14% of decision-making roles in sports organizations in Lithuania—her segment is considered one of the most popular in the country.
However, over the past six years, Asta has become increasingly overwhelmed by the lack of respect for women’s competence and professionalism. For example, women are often not permitted on team buses and few female journalists are invited onto the field after games. Asta seeks to create a more streamlined path for women in media, specifically by establishing a mentorship program for aspiring female journalists.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Asta will be mentored by Maria Soares, Senior Coordinating Producer at ESPN, and her team in Bristol, Connecticut.
Denisa Bishqemi has worked with the Albanian Basketball Federation for the past 10 years and currently serves as communications and projects director. In her role, she has seen the positive impact of sport-based programming on the empowerment of women and girls, including the International Basketball Federation’s “Her World, Her Rules” initiative that seeks to attract primary and secondary school-aged girls into basketball throughout Europe.
Denisa sees the impact of these types of programs and knows of their importance, especially given that “End Violence Against Women” reports 59% of women in Albania have experienced some form of domestic violence. Using basketball as her platform, she seeks to develop new opportunities for women and girls to challenge traditional gender roles, to create more inclusive communities throughout Albania, and increase the scale and impact of her programs.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Denisa will be mentored by Jennifer Ridgeway, Vice President of Social Responsibility at the Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx, and her team in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
With a master’s degree in sports management as her foundation, Ildikó Mihók has gained extensive experience in the world of sports. Over the past 10 years, she served as marketing and communications leader for multinational corporations and the Hungarian Olympic Committee. There she oversaw the development of their marketing, communication and sponsorship strategy, and facilitated the largest Hungarian sports communication campaign in history for the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
To make an even bigger impact on women in sport, Ildikó operates as a freelance consultant with a focus on marketing, communications, and sport sponsorships for individual clients and organizations. She is currently coordinating Sport Hungary, one of the biggest sports conferences in her country.
Through her GSMP experience, Ildikó hopes to learn the skills needed to implement cost-efficient and creative solutions in sport business, to leverage her platform to advance gender equality in the field and throughout her country, and to support women in their professional careers through networking and mentorship.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Ildikó will be mentored by Carol Stiff, Vice President of Women’s Sports Programming at ESPN, and her team in Bristol, Connecticut.
For the past 20 years, Karen Chammas has won Lebanon’s national judo championship. In 2012, she became her country’s first female judoka—an expert in judo—to compete in the Olympic Games. In addition to setting these records, Karen just won the West Asian Championship with the National Basketball team. (22-26 Aug 2019)
Professionally, Karen serves as athletic coordinator for the Lebanese American University in Jbeil, Lebanon. There she manages their sport facilities and organizes all sporting events for the college, including their Jr. NBA League programs. Karen hopes to use her role and platform to strengthen the size and impact of these programs and other female sport leagues across Lebanon. She also aspires to one day serve on the board of the Lebanese Judo Federation, especially given the International Finance Corporation reporting that women represent just 4.4% of all Lebanese board members.
Furthermore, through her GSMP experiences, Karen seeks to develop skills that will help her increase the representation of women on the Olympic stage and create new sport-based opportunities for women and girls.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Karen will be mentored by Dr. Laura Burton, Professor of Sport Management at the University of Connecticut, and her team in Storrs, Connecticut.
As a girl in Brazil, Kika Branco’s love of soccer was considered a rarity among her peers. This passion for sport, combined with her knack for the Portuguese language, led to her pursuit of a career in journalism.
Kika currently works as a reporter for TV Galo and Club Atlético Mineiro, where she also has the opportunity to develop new projects and initiatives for the organization. Through her work, Kika sees the lack of funding for women’s sports and strain of societal prejudices on their experiences, including some athletes who work multiple jobs to support their families, which often forces them to quit playing.
Kika hopes to address these challenges through an initiative she launched called, “Lance de Ouro,” which means “The Golden Bid,” and aims to provide financial support to the club through the sale of equipment and signed memorabilia at auctions. She previously created the initiative called, “Goals for Good,” where Club Atlético Mineiro’s team auctioned similar sports items, once including a goal net from a game with Germany that sold for more than $200,000 USD, which Kika and her colleagues then donated to four institutions in Brazil. With her new initiative, Kika is confident she can keep the dreams alive for aspiring Brazilian athletes while also inspiring others to fight for their own in the future.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Kika will be mentored by Julie Eddleman, Global Client Partner for Google, and her team in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Growing up in Chuquisaca, Bolivia, Maira Coll played all types of sports. She started with tennis and then switched to volleyball where she played indoor and beach formats for the national team. She continued her passion in sports after her playing career and served as Sports Manager – Head of Marketing Division with the Bolivia Olympic Committee and Ministry of Sports.
Now, she uses that experience to provide opportunities for Bolivian women and youth to participate in sports, she knows that more work is needed. In 2016, seven out of every 10 women in Bolivia experienced intimate partner violence, and this year, the country declared femicide a national priority. Global Citizen reports the 73 femicides Bolivia reached in July 2019 was the highest total since 2013 during that period.
Through her work, Maira hopes to improve women’s representation in leadership and executive positions nationwide, to challenge traditional gender roles and create positive role models for young women, and to create a national support system that facilitates women’s access to sports.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Maira will be mentored by Emi FitzGerald, Director of Earned Media at Saatchi & Saatchi, and her team in Dallas, Texas.
Growing up in San Salvador, El Salvador, Mercedes Navarrete showed an interest in sports from a young age. However, when she joined the scout movement, at age 15, she fully realized the positive impact sports can have on human development. Mercedes now volunteers with the organization more than 10 years after joining herself. Mercedes knows that sports and activity-based programs like these can serve as a catalysts to improve girls’ confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth, just like they did for her.
Professionally, Mercedes serves as communications coordinator for Glasswing International, a non-profit organization in El Salvador that addresses poverty and violence through education and health-based programming. Rooted in her passion for strengthening communities, Mercedes hopes to expand the reach of the organization’s programs and to learn unique methods for reaching underserved populations. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 67% of women and girls in El Salvador have experienced some type of violence but only 6% of crimes are reported to police.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Mercedes will be mentored by Beverly J. Smith, Vice President for Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), and her team in New York City.
During her experiences at the University of Belgrade where she specialized in political science and media, Nina Kolundzija solidified her passion to make a difference through journalism. Since then, Nina has become one of Serbia’s premier sports journalists and serves as a reporter and host for B92, one of the country’s largest news and media organizations.
In her role, Nina has covered multiple Olympic Games, tennis Masters, basketball World and European Championships, and created a documentary on the career of tennis legend, Novak Djokovic. However, Nina is B92’s first female anchor—only men had served in the role previously—and she feels the effects of Serbia’s male-dominated media industry, which primarily plays out as women not being perceived as capable in comparison to their male counterparts. Nina seeks to change this culture by leveraging media as a tool to increase the popularity and visibility of women’s sports and women journalists who cover their events.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Nina will be paired with the NHL mentoring team led by Susan Cohig, Executive Senior Vice President, Club of Business Affairs and Integrated Marketing (Lead mentor) and supported by Nicole Allison, Sarah Beeson, Beth Conroy, Emily Favre, Paul LaCaruba, and Aliya Meaney.
As one of only a few female CrossFit Certified Trainer (CFL3) in the Middle East and Jordan, Noor Dajani knows how to blaze her own path. In addition to empowering her athletes and participants during weekly classes, Noor is also leading a book project on empowering women through healthy living, coordinating monthly seminars on nutrition and wellness, and developing a dual exercise and mental health program, “Mepower,” she founded in 2017.
“Mepower” was born out of her own physical and psychological journey in CrossFit and inverts the letters “e” and “m” in the traditional spelling of “empower” to symbolize that every person holds inherent power, and that through mindful and challenging activities, can more fully develop their resilience, independence, and confidence.
Through her GSMP experience, Noor hopes to learn the skills needed to develop effective marketing and outreach strategies, to scale her program to other gyms in her country, to evaluate and re-imagine her curriculum, and to help more women and girls reach their fitness and wellness goals.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Noor will be mentored by Romina Bongiovanni, Head of Global Communications at New Balance, and her team in Boston, Massachusetts.
Because growing up as a girl in Nigeria was often a struggle, Oluwaseun Nariwoh is determined to use her life to help other Nigerian women succeed. While earning a PhD degree with specialization in sports administration and management, master’s degrees in sports administration and management and in international affairs at the University of Lagos, she also competed in table tennis. Over the course of 10 years, she played on four teams—Lagos State, Plateau State, Edo State, and the University of Lagos—and won top honors at national and international events.
Applying her education and passion, Oluwaseun now serves as senior sports officer at the Lagos State Sports Commission where she works to increase women’s participation in sports, and as a result, address Nigeria’s low participation rates of women in sport, the exclusion of women with disabilities from sport, and lack of effective crossover programs that include sport and education. Oluwaseun seeks to develop skills needed to revitalize women’s roles in sports and sport-based careers in Nigeria, while also making progress toward gender equality.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Oluwaseun will be mentored by Jean Merrill, Director of Inclusion at the NCAA and Shay Wallach, Assistant Director of Inclusion at the NCAA, and their team in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Even at an early age, Philippa Te Hira-Matatia knew and appreciated the inherent power of sport to challenge social norms. With this as her guiding force, she attended the University of Auckland while also representing New Zealand in basketball and netball and Samoa in touch rugby.
After earning a graduate diploma in business and administration from Massey University, Philippa began her career in sports management in 2016 when she co-founded the Samoa Institute of Sport. As a director, Philippa focuses on creating viable pathways into sport for Samoan athletes and has completed organizing the XVI Pacific Games as head of the marketing and communications team. Philippa seeks to develop knowledge and networks that will help her implement programs that combine sport and education for female athletes, while also preparing them to serve as mentors for future female scholar-athletes.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Philippa will be mentored by Laura Dixon, Head of External Relations; Meredith Collier, Corporate Communications Manager; and Veronica Oviedo, Associate Marketing Manager for Spurs Sports and Entertainment, and their team in San Antonio, Texas.
Growing up in Kuwait, Raba’a Al Hajeri played every sport she could throughout grade school and went on to be a collegiate triathlete and soccer player. She now continues her passion for physical activity as mountaineer and plans to summit Mount Everest in April. And, she carries this passion for outdoor adventure into her professional career.
Raba’a helped co-found “3 Triathlon Club,” an organization that aims to get more women into sport, physical activity, and triathlons. She now works as a managing partner at “Eighty Percent,” a socially driven sports management company that aims to improve sport and event management in Kuwait. Raba’a’s work is especially important given that women in her country have only been permitted to vote for the past 14 years.
To create new opportunities, Raba’a seeks to develop the skills needed to address inadequate facilities and funding for women’s sports throughout Kuwait and to increase participation rates for women and girls in sports.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Raba’a will be mentored by Liz Gray, Head of Cultural and Consumer Insights at Creative Artists Agency, and her team in New York City.
Since she was a teenager in Brazil, Thaís Olivetti knew she wanted to dedicate her life to making a difference in the lives of others. In her pursuit, she earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Pontifícia Universidade Católica de São Paulo before earning a master’s in social development.
While following her passion to help others, Thaís also co-founded an organization called, “Empodera—Transformação Social Pelo Esporte,” which means “Empowerment as Social Transformation through Sport.” As executive director, she oversees all components of the organization, which primarily includes advocacy work toward the prevention of key challenges facing women in Brazilian culture, including sexual harassment, violence, and gender stereotypes that make sports socially inappropriate for women. Thaís is also determined to use her platform to address gender inequities in Brazilian sports organizations and seeks to develop the skills needed to expand and grow her organization.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Thaís will be mentored by Julie Eddleman, Global Client Partner for Google, and her team in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Vania Woflgramm is a New Zealand born Samoan, whose parents hail from the villages of Safotu and Lauli’i in Sāmoa.
A former Black Fern, Vania has continued her rugby career off the field in the position of Womens Rugby Development Manager (Blues Region) for NZ Rugby. A fierce advocate for women’s sport, Vania has been instrumental in the remarkable participation results in female rugby and has been a key driver in creating a space for Pacific and Māori female rugby athletes by way of the Pacific Aotearoa Cup (PAC) Tournament.
The PAC Tournament has a focus on equal playing opportunities for Māori and Pacific Islander girls and women, a Tight Five section was included to enable every player to be involved, and this brought with another dynamic to the tournament, with the entertainment value being second to none. Vania seeks to empower the next generation of rugby players by providing avenues where cultural intelligence and skill development are part of the tournament experience.
For GSMP: Empowering Women through Sports 2019, Vania will be mentored by Stacey Allaster, Chief Executive of Professional Tennis, and Cindy Lupkey, Meeting Manager, for USTA and their team in New York City.
The U.S. Department of State believes that sport is a vehicle to advance the status, liberty, and well-being of women, girls, and marginalized people at home and abroad. Through its partnership with espnW and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Sport, Peace & Society to implement the GSMP: Empower Women through Sports program, the Department of State aims to expand the footprint of Title IX and its message of equality and opportunity for women into every corner of the world. This sports diplomacy effort allows new generations of girls to experience the many benefits of sports participation: increased confidence, improved health, greater employment opportunities, and enhanced academic success.
The U.S. Department of State and espnW partnered to create GSMP: Empower Women through Sports, whose initiative is based on the growing evidence that women and girls who play sports are increasingly likely to excel both on the playing field and in life. According to research, women and girls’ participation in sports is an important social and economic empowerment tool: 1) Women and girls acquire new professional networks, develop a sense of identity and access new opportunities to become more engaged in school and community life; 2) Sports serve as a vehicle to improve women’s and girls’ leadership roles and participation in decision-making; 3) Sports convene people across borders, cultures and belief systems, and can promote greater tolerance and understanding among individuals and communities; 4) Girls’ participation in sports can challenge gender stereotypes and discriminatory attitudes; and 5) Studies show a direct correlation between girls’ participation in sports and higher education and employment.