In­spired by the Women’s World Cup, UNICEF Canada re­cruits its own troop. BY CHRISTINA REYNOLDS

ELLE (Canada) - - World -

call them the phi­lan­thropy squad. While they won’t be play­ing on any of the 24 soc­cer teams com­pet­ing on the pitch in the FIFA Women’s World Cup hap­pen­ing across Canada this June, 26 Canadian women (and count­ing) have joined UNICEF Canada’s “25th Team” for a four-year jour­ney of learn­ing, ad­vo­cacy and giv­ing back.

With the world’s eyes on the largest women’s sport­ing event ever, UNICEF Canada am­bas­sador Ka­rina LeBlanc, who is train­ing hard to play goalie for Canada in what will be her fifth World Cup (if she is se­lected for the team), wants to make sure that our na­tion makes an im­pres­sion on off the field. “The le­gacy we, as a soc­cer team, want to leave is ob­vi­ously to the sport, to play the best soc­cer. But we also want to in­spire a na­tion, which is not ex­actly the eas­i­est goal, you know?” she says. “With the 25th Team, it’s about women ask­ing ‘What lega­cies do you want to leave?’ and us­ing the re­sources they have and do­ing more than is com­fort­able.”

UNICEF Canada wants to in­crease the 25th Team to a ros­ter of 60 Canadian women by the end of the year. It’s an ex­clu­sive club: Team mem­bers must com­mit to do­nat­ing $25,000 a year to UNICEF Canada for the next four years. The funds will be pooled to sup­port a global project fo­cused on child sur­vival and five projects in Cam­bo­dia, Ethiopia, In­done­sia, Namibia and Peru; each is fo­cused on a spe­cific ma­ter­nal-, in­fant- or child­health is­sue, such as birth reg­istries. UNICEF Canada is also work­ing with the Canadian gov­ern­ment to have the gov­ern­ment match the dona­tions. “If we can show that th­ese pi­lot pro­grams are suc­cess­ful, UNICEF will work with the lo­cal gov­ern­ments to ‘scale them up,’ which un­locks more funds,” says Sharon Avery, chief devel­op­ment of­fi­cer for UNICEF Canada.

One of the first women to join—along with her mother and sis­ter-in-law—was Jes­sica Hous­sian. “Sig­nif­i­cant so­cial change takes time, cap­i­tal and part­ner­ship,” says the New York-based Van­cou­ver na­tive who works with Women Mov­ing Mil­lions, a phil­an­thropic or­ga­ni­za­tion. She was at­tracted to the op­por­tu­nity to “see things work­ing,” as she did on a re­cent trip (at her own ex­pense) to ob­serve the project al­ready un­der way in Ethiopia. “I joined for the deep lis­ten­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and to take a four-year learn­ing jour­ney with a team,” she says.

The team ap­proach also ap­pealed to Mon­treal-based Bita Cat­te­lan. “I have lots of things I want to ask ques­tions about and share with other women,” she says. When she was grow­ing up, her fa­ther taught her the im­por­tance of giv­ing back, and as a young woman she wanted to work in phi­lan­thropy. “I even ap­plied for a job at UNICEF,” she says. But she ended up be­ing an en­gi­neer and, over the years, has also been in­volved with child-pro­tec­tion causes. “This team will help me learn about child health,” she says. “What I wanted to do at 25 I can start now at 47.”

LeBlanc cer­tainly knows the power of team­work. “You learn about com­pro­mise and sac­ri­fice,” she says. “You can strive ev­ery day to be the best ver­sion of your­self, but it’s not about you—that in­tent and mind­set are what helps the team.” Cat­te­lan is al­ready shar­ing her own ex­cite­ment about her new-found team with friends. “I want there to be a rip­ple ef­fect,” she says.

Ka­rina LeBlanc (left, in black) on a re­cent trip to Do­minica; with fel­low mem­bers of Canada’s na­tional soc­cer team (above, in green)

Jes­sica Hous­sian (sec­ond from right) with fel­low 25th Team mem­bers and lo­cal UNICEF staff in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia

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