The Wall Street Journal is following the journey of the graduating class of 2013. We are using social media to connect with a number of graduates, and will be sharing their stories of real world work throughout the year.
Lindsay Brown, 22, graduated from the Notre Dame with a degree in Political Science. In 2011, while she was still in school, she launched a non-profit organization called The SEGway Project (Soccer Empowering Girls Worldwide) which uses soccer as a tool to inspire young women in Nepal. This is her story.
Soccer was always a really big deal for me at college, and I attended on a full sports scholarship. It’s strange how much my plans changed. I always thought I would go into consulting, and had followed that route through college – interning at Goldman Sachs and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
In 2011 I applied for a Notre Dame “Experiencing the World” Fellowship. My plan was to work and live at a children’s home in Nepal, and help them set up a girl’s soccer team. It almost didn’t happen, as my fellowship fell through at the last minute (due to a State Department travel warning). My Grandma paid for me to go; she grew up in poverty in Puerto Rico and wanted to help me help others.
I’d never been to Asia before and it was a big culture shock. I was meant to stay five weeks, but extended it to eight weeks – during summer vacation – to fully acclimatize. Staying longer meant I had to give up my leadership role on the soccer team [at Notre Dame]; the conditions in Nepal made it too hard to stay in match condition. This meant losing school scholarship status, but I felt it was really important. Luckily I won the Seventeen Magazine Pretty Amazing Scholarship Cover Girl and that covered most of my expenses. Without this, I would have had to get a student loan. I have three siblings, all in college, and my parents don’t cover our fees.
When I arrived in Western Nepal, I was shocked that the average age that girls get married is 14 or 15. It’s a very different lifestyle. Girls are marginalized and treated really badly, and the idea that they could play soccer — or any sport — was unheard of. However, people were really welcoming, and I think they were more flexible with me than their own daughters. When they heard I wasn’t married, they would tell me, “It’s because you play soccer.”
This attitude is starting to change, and when boys see girls kicking the ball around they realize they’re equal — on a soccer field and in the classroom.
[The SEGway Project] is about the transformative way soccer can change the life of young women there. I was hesitant about it as a career choice, but my school was really helpful, and using their legal clinic I managed to get it set up. It took around 12 months to process, and last year it gained 501©(3) status.
I’m the only full-time employee, but two of my friends who graduated with me and were on my soccer team are really involved. They hold fulltime jobs at big companies, Ernst & Young and Accenture, and they deal with the accounting and secretarial work.
For the moment I’ve moved back in with my parents in California to save on costs. I’m not taking a salary, as I want all donations to go to Nepal. I’m focusing on applying to grant and fellowship programs to help fund the project. Some fellowships cover operational costs, and there’s one I’m hoping I’ll get; you apply now and then find out in January. My parents are really supportive, but I know they would have liked me to be independent by now.
It’s also hard as most of my friends have big corporate jobs and we have really different lifestyles. I just got back from another trip to Nepal and while I was there my friends — who have mostly moved to NYC and Chicago — were all signing leases on their first city apartment and I was sitting in a mud hut.
Long-term, I think I’d like to move there to really help keep it running. I want it to be a sustainable organization, and be able to include girls who don’t like soccer as well; refereeing, and things like that.
If we can create a team aspect among the girls there I really think it will help with a lot of everyday issues; people there don’t have the same health discussions that U.S. citizens tend to have with their mothers, so if the girls become each other’s networks they can work together to support each other on issues like child brides and youth suicides.
– as told to Zara Stone
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