FIFA: Promoting development through football

“People often just think of FIFA in terms of its World Cups, or the professional football, but it goes much beyond that”, says Géraldine Heinen, Development Project Manager at FIFA. According to her, the International Day for Sport for Development Peace, celebrated annually on April 6th, is a good day to mark the inspiring projects that not just FIFA, but many other organisations and individuals worldwide are currently developing. It also recognizes the role of sport as a powerful tool and a fundamental right.

In her case, that means celebrating initiatives such as the one FIFA is leading in Benin, as part of the agenda of the country’s National Sport and Education Ministry. In partnership with the government and the national football federation, FIFA is assisting the development of school competitions. In addition to the event itself, they plan to train members of the local community in various football-related positions with the objective of harnessing the power of football to inspire, engage and educate young people ​. “We also want to provide an enriching experience and multicultural exchange for them​ and give them the tools to become future leaders”, she says​.

Another example is FIFA’s partnership with Agence Française de Développement (AFD), a development agency supported by the French Government. Together with AFD and Plan International, FIFA is helping in a 3-year project investing in empowering girls and education of children through football. With AFD they have the conviction that sport can and must be a vector of sustainable development, social cohesion and equality.

These projects are extremely dear to Geraldine, who has led the way in forging these partnerships. However, “there are many challenges that come with these”, she says. For instance, the complexity of partnering with different organisations while keeping the purpose clear and alive. However, there is no one solution to such problems, given the differences in culture and politics across different contexts. On the contrary, Géraldine’s learning is that projects should focus on a host of things, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). But most importantly, everyone involved should be aligned and have – as a priority – the kids having fun in playing football in a safe and secure environment. This should be at the heart of all the initiatives.

Originally from Belgium, Geraldine has always had an interest in sport and working with children. She first aspired to be a physical education teacher, and got the qualifications for it, but life had a slightly different path for her. Now working at FIFA, Geraldine guides the partnerships which form the basis for many of the organisation’s development-based projects.

“My interest in this field never ceased to grow through my different career paths” she says. A journey that began first with the Paralympic movement and volunteering that took her to various international sports events such as the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Vancouver 2010 and London 2012, brought her to Lausanne to study sports management. She always had an interest using sport as tool for development, something which she pursued when she started working with the International Hockey Federation (FIH) as an Events Coordinator.

Talking about her time there, she says, “we always wanted to capitalise on any event’s legacy, and how it can benefit the local community in every way.” But with limited resources, that was not always possible. This is when she decided to try to “find something related to development projects, and work at an organisation like FIFA.”

In 2017, the doors opened up and she followed through. Starting out as a Project Coordinator for Africa and The Caribbean, she is now in her present position, overseeing partnerships with governments, national federations and other large organisations. In projects like this, she echoes the idea that partnerships are important. It makes it possible to respond to FIFA’s mission, which is to constantly improve football and promote it at the global level in the light of its unifying, educational, cultural and humanitarian values. FIFA has a positive impact on society. Every day, football demonstrates its extraordinary power all over the world. We believe it can change the lives of generations of children and bring people together. FIFA wants to harness this power for social progress through its partnerships and tackle the major global challenges of our time, to make a concrete contribution to the UN’s SDGs.

At Sportworks, we believe that leaders like Géraldine keep alive the transformational role that sports can have. We are proud to feature her on our platform and as part of our campaign for the International Day of Sport for Development and Peace.

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