COSAFA and Sports Equity+ International have partnered to launch a Women's Leadership Programme in Southern Africa that will see 35 participants gain knowledge and expertise in a life-changing course that can help to alter the face of female participation in sports administration.
The launch was headlined by Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, who co-founded the Motsepe Foundation with her husband Dr Patrice Motsepe in 1999, and remains a powerful force in business, philanthropy and as an advocate for the upliftment of women in society.
"This programme is a pathway to growth because it utilises football to inspire women in many spheres. You can use your voice to empower a new generation of leaders," Dr Moloi-Motsepe said. "We have a responsibility to inspire excellence and purpose into those we lead. We must nurture an inclusive, equal and prosperous future."
The endorsement of Dr Moloi-Motsepe shows the potential impact of the programme in changing the course of the careers of women from across the region who aspire to follow in her footsteps and serve in positions of leadership.
The five-month programme will empower women already involved in sport and seek to redress the imbalance in what is still a male dominated industry across much of the region, providing them with a 'seat at the table'.
Leading experts in the fields of corporate leadership, project management, governance, marketing and communications, finance and the digital landscape will share their experience in a four-module course that will be broken down into 16 sessions and run to mid-August.
These will include Mayi Cruz Blanco, who spent 10 years as head of women's development at FIFA, newly elected Confederation of African Football vice-president Kanizat Ibrahim, former FIFA development officer for Southern Africa Ashford Mamelodi and former FIFA sports lawyer Sanjiv Arora, among many others.
The launch was conducted digitally with participants from 23 different countries on a new platform that, while it presented significant technical challenges, reflected the creativity of COSAFA in difficult COVID-19 conditions.
COSAFA President Dr Phillip Chiyangwa says the programme is another step forward for an organisation that has long sought to provide a more inclusive environment for women in leadership roles.
"COSAFA has, for many years now, been paying special attention to the nurturing, education and creation of growth opportunities for our women, both on and off the field of play. The COSAFA Women's Leadership Programme serves as a new arrow in our quiver," Dr Chiyangwa said.
"Our newly appointed CAF President Dr Patrice Motsepe has highlighted his support of fast-tracking women's football during his tenure. This initiative will go a long way to underpinning the President's intentions.
"I would like to thank our partners in this project from Sports Equity+ International for approaching COSAFA to collaborate on this important work and we look forward to moving forward with them on this ground-breaking initiative."
It is estimated that fewer than 20 per cent of chief executive positions in sports are filled by women globally. At chairperson or president level, this number falls well under 10 per cent. The COSAFA Women's Leadership Programme is a tangible example of trying to change that.
COSAFA General Secretary Sue Destombes is excited by the potential of the programme to bring through a new generation of leaders in the region. "At COSAFA we have seen first-hand the growing influence of women in football on and off the pitch in the last few years," Destombes says. "The aim of this COSAFA Women's Leadership Programme is to give that another boost and take it to the next level.
"On the field we have introduced competitions for women in the Under-17 and Under-20 age group in recent years and are planning to launch our new COSAFA Women's Champions League for clubs in 2021. So, our development pathway is strong and resolute.
"But off the pitch we have been hard at work too, providing coaching, referee, administration and media courses to women across the region. Wherever we host a tournament we leave a legacy of skills development.
"But we wanted to do even more and the COSAFA Women's Leadership Programme is an exciting next step in that development. We thank Sports Equity+ International and THNK, the school of creative leadership, for partnering with us on the initiative and hope it is the genesis of a framework that we can take to the rest of the African continent too."
Mayi Cruz Blanco, who is the co-founder and chairperson of the Sports Equity+ International, says the issue of inclusivity for women in sports is a global problem that needs addressing.
"Although the opportunity for women to participate in sports has grown over the past few decades, there is still a disproportionate underrepresentation of women at senior leadership positions in global sports," she says. "Diversity and inclusion are a crucial challenge for the sports industry to tackle, with gender equality being one of them.
"The potential of football on the African continent is immense. I have personally witnessed this after working closely with many associations and the contribution of women can be paramount to bring new perspectives across football leadership."
Blanco believes there is much work that can be done, and it is through partnerships like the one with COSAFA that we will start to see real, tangible change in sport.
"It has been a true team effort to work with COSAFA and its Women's Task Force to design a programme that addresses the needs of women in the Southern Region of Africa."