How does one become an achiever? Eglantina Zingg knows a thing or two about it. An actress, model, popular Latin American TV/media personality, as well as peace agent (she founded non-profit Proyecto Paz), Eglantina knows the merits of discipline - something she believes can naturally be instilled through soccer. Goleadoras - which means 'winners' - evolved from Proyecto Paz, where Eglantina and her team have been making change happen all over Latin America by empowering the poorest neighborhoods with the magic of soccer for more than ten years. Their work with Unicef, the United Nations and many private-sector partners in Haiti, Venezuela and Mexico has transformed the lives of thousands of kids. We sat down with her to find out about what inspired the initiative, and why the popular sport can change a girl's life...
What was your ‘aha’ moment? When did the idea for Goleadoras come to you?
Like most projects, my ‘aha’ moment was not just one moment. It was a build up of different ideas and developments that came together to form what we now know as Goleadoras. One key moment was when we brought a team to participate in the Global Goals World Cup. Our team was spectacular. Over the course of the tournament, the team came together, exemplifying the best of the word “teamwork.” Strong leadership created flawless organization, which made each and every game better than the last. We didn’t win the tournament, but we came really close, and it was such an exhilarating fight that it didn’t even matter. That was one of the moments when I realized that this project was not only worth doing, it was really important. #GirlsWithBalls came as consequence of our work at Proyecto Paz. We are The Soccer Girls, we have the balls!
Explain in your own words the double-meaning behind the ‘Girls With Balls’ strapline.
Is there a double meaning? I mean, it does come from the idea that “balls” exemplify some kind of bravery and strength. I don’t understand why that has to be limited to men. For me #GirlsWithBalls are brave, strong, loyal, and confident girls that use soccer to empower themselves. Whether they’re playing out on a field with a soccer ball, or making their professional dreams a success, women can have balls, should have balls, and have always had balls.
If the program is successful with football, are you planning to incorporate other sports?
Fútbol is the glue that bonds people together, it’s the most popular sport in the world. We’re not really thinking about expanding to other sports. Playing soccer is relatively inexpensive, you just need a ball and a ton of energy. Everyone can play, get involved, and be part of a team. Our plan for the next five years is to get 100,000 girls in Mexico to join our team.
"Women can have balls, should have balls, and have always had balls."
You have such a diverse board and supporters – including Carmen, Ricky Martin and Waris Alhuwalia. What do you hope they’ll bring to the project?
For the past seven months, I have been working with extraordinary professionals including Carmen to develop a model that is sustainable, scalable and disruptive like no other. Each one of our supporters is key in making the Goleadoras movement possible. They are constantly involved and they believe in our goal. They spread the word, bring ideas to the table, gather volunteers and donors. Campaigning for Goleadoras is fun and effective, and thanks to Saatchi & Saatchi in New York our branding agency, and the School of Economics at Columbia University we aim to reach many more.
Have sports impacted your life personally?
I've always seen myself as a soccer player! I used to be the captain of the school soccer team back in Caracas. My grandmother once told me, "The only way to make your dream a reality, is through having a lot of discipline." Soccer gave me that discipline from an early age. It makes you strong, determined, goal-oriented, and a team player.
What do you think are some of the unique challenges experienced by girls in Latin America today?
Violence, femicide, teenage pregnancy, poverty, lack of opportunities. We plan to change that through our education programs.
How do you hope the programs will remedy some of these challenges?
When you teach kids values like leadership, teamwork, and perseverance you are creating the base for an adult equipped with the tools to succeed in life.
How do the Goleadoras sports programs differ to the standard fútbol opportunities available through neighborhood schools?
The idea behind Goleadoras is not to find the next Messi. We want to ensure that every girl in the program has the opportunity to be a champion. It's a particular approach to fostering and education; we create a sisterhood of role model trainers and girl players. We want each and every girl to believe in themselves. But structurally, we also differ in that we have developed point based incentives and a reward program for the participants that can be reached through challenges and training. This is intended to make girls realize that their training is building not only toward their physical fitness, but also toward our broader goals of empowerment, leadership and team building.
Watch: Eglantina Zingg and the Goleadores team at the 2017 Global Goals World Cup...