Lees-McRae College Alum Selected as an International Olympic Committee Young Leader

Published Friday, March 12, 2021 at 9:40 am

Layana de Souza ’14 is one of 25 individuals from around the world to be chosen as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Young Leader program for the Class of 2021.  

The IOC launched the Young Leaders program in 2016 to empower passionate individuals to “leverage the power of sport to make a positive difference in their communities,” according to their website. 

“All of us in the Olympic community share the mission to make the world a better place through sport. The IOC Young Leaders program is empowering young people from around the world to put this mission in their communities into action,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. 

De Souza started playing basketball with a local nonprofit project in her home country of Brazil, and her passion for the sport led to scholarships to attend Northwest College and Lees-McRae, an MPS in Sport Management from Georgetown University, and now a spot in the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Young Leaders program.  

“When I was a kid playing basketball, I never imagined I would work closely with IOC experts or get a scholarship to play basketball overseas,” de Souza said. “I was only able to achieve that because of other people. I want to help other kids like me.”  

The 2021 class marks a departure from previous years, which operated on an annual model. The 25 newly selected Young Leaders will spend the next four years working on their projects, with funding and guidance from the IOC.  

De Souza, who majored in Sport Administration (now Sport Management) at Lees-McRae, was one of more than 350 applicants to the program and had to complete a six-week sprint learning course before the committee made its final decision. Applicants were selected based on their performance in the learning course, which explored the foundations of social business and using sport to solve specific problems, and their passion for sport and community action.  

Over the next four years, de Souza and the other Young Leaders will receive 10,000 Swiss francs ($10,762) in seed-funding to sponsor their projects. They will also participate in regular learning modules and receive guidance from the IOC throughout the process.  

Each project must be dedicated to addressing one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations. De Souza plans to focus on good health and well-being, gender equality, and quality education goals with her project, which will focus on getting children involved in sports and helping them take advantage of the many opportunities sports offer.  

During February, the IOC Young Leaders had three virtual meetings where the participants engaged with IOC experts and program alumni. The first two meetings provided an overview of the program’s timeline and showed how to brand the projects to better ensure their success. The third meeting discussed the Olympic values and ideals, which center on using sport to promote education, health, and strong ethical principles.    

“All I have to say is that the first meetings were great,” de Souza said. “I am super excited to learn from the best and to be among an amazing group of people. I am happy that this journey will last for four years. I don’t want it to end anytime soon. Actually, I just can’t wait for us to start making things happen and impacting youth through sport.”   

Moving forward, monthly meetings will focus on specific topics that will help the Young Leaders achieve their individual project goals.  

Since 2016, the IOC Young Leaders Program has funded 116 sports-based projects. More than 30,000 people have benefitted from the program’s focus on work promoting education, sustainability, and social inclusion. The newest Young Leaders will continue to use social businesses to bring about positive change to communities worldwide.    

“There’s a whole world out there and the kids in my community need to know that” de Souza said. “You can have opportunities through sports. (Nelson) Mandela said sport can change the world. It did with mine.” 

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