Meet Class 12: Mayi Cruz Blanco

Madlen Popignatova 18
August 8th, 2017
Article by: Laurel Dault
Meet Class 12: Mayi Cruz Blanco

Mayi Cruz Blanco has been an athlete her entire life. Early on, she was a runner and archer. Today she is an avid skier, enduro-downhill biker, and most recently began kite surfing.

 

Cuban by birth, Mayi currently lives in Zürich where she worked until recently at FIFA as Global Head of Women’s Football Development for almost ten years. Given her former role, you might be surprised to learn that football does not number among Mayi’s many athletic activities.

 

“I’ve been an athlete since I was a young girl, but I’ve never played football.”

Mayi’s Greatest Leadership Challenge

When Mayi joined FIFA back in 2008, she didn’t have much of a background in football. Encountering resistance in her new role, she soon discovered just how protective people could be over the sport. Despite her budgetary limitations, Mayi took on the daunting task of developing programmes for over 200 countries. “It’s very difficult to enter that world and to be recognised and respected. So, for me, as an outsider, it was a big challenge.”

Step-by-step, Mayi made progress. She gathered a team of experts to brainstorm the global needs of the associations leading to the creation of nine programs covering everything from developing players to creating leagues to supporting administrators, leaders, and coaches. On the back of her runaway success, Mayi secured more funding, increasing her budget from half a million dollars to $22 million in just under a decade. “Today, I’m proud because I was able to gain the respect and support of the people who were against me when I started. [This] has been one of the biggest leadership challenges I’ve faced, but, I loved it. It was a great journey and we did great things together.”

Mayi Cruz Blanco

Mayi Cruz Blanco is an avid athlete and powerhouse executive.

How Mayi Came to THNK

Mayi first discovered THNK when she collaborated with THNK Partners Rajiv Ball and Natasha Bonnevalle to design and deliver the FIFA Female Leadership Development Program for women in football – the first of its kind at the organization. The program is designed to ensure that there are strong female role models at the highest levels of decision-making at FIFA, while training younger women to take on the mantle of leadership in years to come.

Early on, Mayi came up against people who doubted the value of a leadership program designed specifically for female leaders. Rather than feel disheartened, Mayi took steps to generate buy-in and proved the importance of her programs. Since 2015, 70 women have participated and, as a result, expanded their knowledge bases and networks. “When I saw the development of the women that went through the FIFA Leadership Program under the guidance of THNK, it was really remarkable. We saw so many great results.”

Mayi tells the story of one woman who was ignored by colleagues within her local football association. Following her participation in the Female Leadership Development Program, she became the Secretary-General of the association, and has since been elected as a member of the International Olympic Committee. “This is just one example. I can tell you 70 success stories of women that have achieved so much. And now, the program participants are like a sisterhood. We support and help each other.”

Mayi Cruz Blanco

70 women from Football Associations around the world have graduated from FIFA’s Female Leadership Development Program delivered by THNK. The aim is for these women to reach for the top in football and inspire the next generation of women.

What Mayi Will Tackle at THNK

After observing the remarkable success of the leadership program for women in football, Mayi began to envision making an even bigger impact. During the THNK Executive Leadership Program, Mayi’s Endeavor project will go beyond football to explore how she can support diversity in sports organizations across the globe. “Why not look at a wider range of projects and think about how we can support sports organizations globally to develop better leaders?” Targeted at both men and women, Mayi dreams of fostering more integrated diversity within sports organizations.

Mayi Cruz Blanco
Mayi Cruz Blanco
THNK School of Creative Leadership
"THNK is the right place for new entrepreneurs to get together, but also to learn. What I love about the THNK philosophy is that it’s not the traditional learning way. It’s more like: by doing, you learn to be a better leader."

Although her Endeavor will focus on sport, Mayi looks forward to connecting with leaders from different sectors and backgrounds during her time at THNK. “The THNK Executive Leadership Program is very compelling because it brings together people from different nationalities that are from all sorts of different backgrounds. I can learn a lot, but I can bring the insight of sports into the program for others.”

“THNK is the right place for new entrepreneurs to get together, but also to learn. What I love about the THNK philosophy is that it’s not the traditional learning way. It’s more like: by doing, you learn to be a better leader.”

An archetypal athlete, Mayi’s not afraid to take on a big challenge. “I know that sometimes you say, ‘Oh my God! This is such a big mountain to climb!’ But, it’s like a sport. Day-by-day you train, day-by-day you climb a little bit more –– and it’s always possible.”

Mayi is one of the many inspiring leaders participating in the upcoming Creative Leadership Program starting at THNK Amsterdam in September 2017.

To join Mayi in Class 12 and climb your own mountain, download the program brochure or apply here.

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