Layana de Souza ’14 is Changing the Score for young girls and boys in her Brazilian hometown

Since early 2021 when she was chosen to become a fellow for the 2021−2024 cohort of International Olympic Committee (IOC) Young Leaders, Layana de Souza ’14 has been focusing all her efforts on making a difference in her community.

The four-year program provides participants with the guidance, support, and funds needed to execute a sport-based project that instills three or more of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals (SDG) in their community. Now, two years into the program, de Souza feels the goals and vision she has for her project, Changing the Score, are finally becoming a reality.

De Souza said that sport has always been an incredibly important part of her life and an outlet that has given her a world of opportunities beyond what she could have dreamed as a child growing up in the Rocinha neighborhood of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She grew up playing basketball and eventually attended Lees-McRae with a basketball scholarship and earned her degree in Sport Administration. After graduation, she went on to earn a masters degree in Sports Management from Georgetown University. Her educational experience helped de Souza develop an immense appreciation for the life lessons, relationships, and personal skills that basketball has taught her along the way.

“I was born and raised in one of the largest slums in Rio De Janiero, Rocinha, and it was through sport that I have had a ton of opportunities in my life,” de Souza said. “When I saw the IOC Young Leaders programs and the objectives that they had, that was something that I always wanted to do. It’s a way of paying it forward and giving back. It’s my way of providing other kids in my community where I was born and raised, similar opportunities to what I had.”

De Souza’s project focuses on three main SDGs from the United Nations list: good health and well-being, quality education, and gender equality. These three values have been built into each aspect of the project, and they are the social issues she hopes to address.

With Changing the Score, de Souza offers co-ed basketball lessons to children aged 6 to 14 on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays each week. She hosts morning and afternoon classes to accommodate the half-day academic schedule in Brazil and holds a class for both 6 to 10 year-olds, and 11 to 14 year-olds in each block, for a total of four classes per day.

Changing the Score addresses “good health and well-being” by focusing on exercise and play, giving the children an opportunity to enrich both their physical and emotional health. “Quality education” is addressed two-fold. De Souza said that children who participate in the basketball courses receive a social education, and learn lessons about community, respect, and friendship. In the coming years she also hopes to place a greater emphasis on traditional education by requiring students to maintain good academic standing in order to continue participating in the basketball program.

While the courses are co-ed, de Souza said that “gender equality” has been a big motivating factor behind how she designed the program. She said that teaching boys and girls alike to listen to each other, support each other’s successes, and respect each other’s boundaries is a great way to uplift young girls while still providing resources to young boys.

“Our first tournament we played last year was a three-on-three tournament just for girls. We had the guys come in and watch the girls play, and at the end some of the girls got medals, and some of the boys actually went up to the podium to put the medals on the girls and I was like, ‘This is it,’” de Souza said. “That’s how we’re going to get to gender equality; by providing opportunities to girls and empowering them through sports but developing support for boys too. They need to be on our side, not against us.”

De Souza said that at first she was nervous about bringing this initiative to Rocinha. With such a prolific soccer culture in Brazil she feared that children would not be as interested in learning to play basketball, but over the last two years Changing the Score has become a greater success than de Souza even hoped, with more than 70 students enrolled across all four classes.

“We don’t have space anymore, and we’re at capacity with almost every single class. Three of our four classes actually have a waiting list,” she said. “I have achieved way more than I expected at the beginning of this.

And Changing the Score will only continue to grow.

IOC Young Leaders have goals for each year of the four-year program. According to de Souza, 2021 was a time to focus on planning and organizing. The Young Leaders designed their projects but did not focus much of their efforts on the ground until the second year. In 2022, Changing the Score was officially launched and basketball classes were in session. Now looking into 2023 and beyond, de Souza has goals to formalize her new organization, register it as a business with the Brazilian government, offer additional classes in the evenings, and expand class offerings to serve 15 to 17 year-olds.

Although 2024 will be the last official year of her project, de Souza said she plans to continue growing and developing Changing the Score for years to come. This is a goal she shares with the IOC Young Leaders program, and a motivating factor behind their monthly expert sessions on fundraising, accounting, marketing, branding, and more.

“I’m trying to build something sustainable that’s going to last for years. When I look into the future, I want this to be my job,” de Souza said. “We don’t want it to be dependent on donations only, and that’s a piece of the IOC Young Leaders program that is so important. The goal is for us to build what they call a ‘social business.’ You have to have the mentality of a business, because a business is not dependent on donations, and ‘social’ because we are actually targeting a social issue.”

While she spends a lot of her time looking into the future and focusing on what’s next for Changing the Score, de Souza also knows the importance of reflecting on the past and giving herself credit for all that she has accomplished so far. She is extremely proud of the project she has built, not only as a demonstration of her own hard work and dedication, but also as an opportunity to give back to the community that shaped her. Through Changing the Score, de Souza is living her dream of being able to influence the next generation of young leaders to dream big, strive for their goals, and embody the Olympic values of excellence, respect, and friendship each day.

“I’m learning about myself, and I’m definitely braver than I thought,” she said. “Someone provided an opportunity for me in the past, and now it’s my turn. That was the main reason why I decided to apply for the program.”

Meet the IOC Young Leaders 2021-2024 – Layana de Souza from Brazil
By Maya JarrellJanuary 11, 2023