Pakistani Sports Visitor and Fulbright Alumna Wins on and off the Field

Sana Mahmud is a champion, leader, scholar, and humanitarian. Over the past decade, she has served as the captain of Pakistan’s National Women’s Football Team and National Basketball Team, is an award-winning Fulbright participant, and continues to be a leader for the exchange alumni community in Pakistan. In addition to her full-time job as a program officer for a global sport-for-development organization, she promotes women’s empowerment for girls in her community, across Pakistan, and internationally.

Sana’s first State Department exchange was in 2009, when she visited Washington, DC, for a month through the Sports Diplomacy Visitor Program. During the visit, she gained a deeper understanding of how sports can be used to foster social change and community development. She decided to pursue that subject for her undergraduate studies back in Pakistan, writing her thesis on the “Impact of Sport on the Self-Esteem of Sports Women in Pakistan.” While completing her studies, Sana also led the National Women’s Football Team to the semi-finals at the first South Asian Football Championship in Bangladesh.

In 2013, Sana returned to the United States as a Fulbright Foreign Student to pursue her master’s degree at Ohio University. She combined her passion for sports with her academic interests, and she majored in Sport & Development Studies. During her program, she designed and implemented a two-week specialized soccer curriculum to raise awareness of Chagas Disease for children in rural Ecuador. Sana presented her research at the Ohio University Creative Activity Expo, where she won second place for her master’s capstone article. Furthermore, she participated in the Scripps Innovation Challenge, where her team won first place for an app they designed to combat sexual assault and harassment on U.S. college campuses. Sana credits Fulbright for giving her the opportunity to meet mentors and peers who propelled her to success.

Sana is still in touch with her U.S. professors and she continues to use what she learned in her daily work and volunteer activities in Pakistan. “I am a true believer of education abroad and cultural exchange programs,” she says.

When Sana returned to Pakistan in 2015, she was named captain of Pakistan’s first National Women’s Basketball team in 25 years. She also took on a new professional challenge as a program officer at Right to Play, an organization that uses the transformative power of sports to empower children and youth in 18 countries around the world. As part of her job, she manages programs in Pakistan that promote gender equality in society though sports. Sana also collaborates with national organizations to organize football and basketball tournaments as well as training camps for girls and underprivileged youth.

Sana has worked on various global and national initiatives. In 2017, she was selected as a UNICEF Menstrual Health Management Sport Champion and worked with schools in Pakistan to raise awareness and break taboos about menstruation. She is also a member of the UN Women’s Civil Society Advisory Group.

Sana is an active member of the Pakistan-U.S. Alumni Network (PUAN), a network of over 25,000 Pakistani alumni of U.S. exchange programs. She has served as a panelist, a guest speaker, and a workshop leader at PUAN conferences. In her presentations, Sana has covered issues including gender stereotypes, harassment, self-defense, and women’s empowerment. She uses her platform and voice to break down barriers for young women and girls in Pakistan.

“The U.S. State Department’s programs opened new doors for me, ones that I never even realized existed…I would have never pursued this kind of work if it hadn’t been for the opportunities in the United States,” says Sana. Drawing on her exchange experience, Sana serves as an inspirational role model and leader for girls across Pakistan.  The International Exchange Alumni community looks forward to seeing what Sana will do next, and congratulates her on being named the February 2018 Exchange Alumni Member of the Month!