Jane Fernandez, COO of FIFA Women's World Cup 2023

For our Sustainable Matters series, we are spotlighting the people and companies leading the charge in creating a better world for future generations. In this feature, Jane Fernandez, Chief Operating Officer for FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023, shares how she approached sustainable leadership when it comes to organising a major sports event.

Q: How do you define sustainable leadership, especially in managing large-scale, international sporting events?

“Sustainable leadership is about harmonising economic, social, and environmental impacts in everything we do. It’s a mindset that recognises how these areas are deeply connected, and we can’t just focus on one while ignoring the others.

“This approach isn’t just about numbers on a spreadsheet; it’s driven by values and a broader vision of success. It’s about setting a culture that resonates with our team, drawing people who share our passion for not just playing the game but changing it for the better.

“It’s how we ensure that the events we manage leave a lasting, positive impact on the world.”

Related: 11 traits of highly effective leaders

Q: Can you share some challenges FIFA faces in implementing sustainable leadership practices and how you navigate through them?

“Organising the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 was quite the adventure, with Australia and New Zealand co-hosting. Imagine coordinating a symphony with multiple orchestras across different countries – that was our challenge! We navigated a maze of stakeholders, each with their own perspectives and regulations.

“Our North Star in this journey was our unwavering commitment to our fans, players, and partners. We wanted everyone to have a seamless and memorable experience, no matter where they were. So, whenever we hit a roadblock, we circle back to our core values – our purpose, vision, and mission.

“These helped us make decisions that stayed true to our goals and united everyone under a common banner. It was a complex task, but incredibly rewarding to see it all come together.”

Related: Leading Women: Sustainability starts with purpose and values

Q: What are some unique values, expertise and experience you look at when hiring leadership roles to execute your vision and purpose?

“When bringing our vision and purpose to life, our people are the real MVPs. Imagine assembling a dream team for the biggest match of the year – that’s how we approach hiring for leadership roles. Each major event is like a complex puzzle, requiring a diverse mix of skills and talents.

“It’s not just about what our leaders can do; it’s about who they are at their core. We look for individuals who don’t just talk the talk but walk the walk, embodying our values in everything they do.

“Experience is key, of course – we’re on the lookout for those who’ve shone in similar roles or have the potential to grow into them.

“Ultimately, it’s about finding those special people who can work together seamlessly, turning our ambitious goals into reality. It’s a challenge, but when we find the right fit, it’s like magic.”

Sustainable leadership is about harmonising economic, social, and environmental impacts in everything we do

Q: How do you measure your team’s efforts aligned with the organisation’s sustainable leadership goals?

“You know, setting the course for a project as grand as this, we began by charting clear KPIs – think of them as our roadmap to success.

“Take our attendance goal, for instance: we aimed high, setting our sights on 1.5 million attendees. And guess what? We didn’t just meet that target; we soared past it, with 1.98 million people joining us to celebrate the matches!

“But it wasn’t just about numbers for us. Keeping an eye on our sustainability priorities was equally vital. It was like keeping a pulse on our event’s heartbeat, ensuring we stayed true to our vision every step of the way.”

Related: How to create a great employee experience – in the office or at home

Q: Looking ahead, how do you envision the legacy of sustainable leadership within this Women’s World Cup and its impact on future tournaments?

“Looking forward to the future, I see the legacy of this FIFA Women’s World Cup as a vibrant tapestry of achievements. It’s more than just a tournament; it’s a catalyst for change.

“We’ve opened doors for aspiring female leaders, creating job opportunities and empowering thousands of volunteers with new skills. Imagine the spark of inspiration we’ve ignited in the hearts of the next generation, encouraging them to reach for the stars in whatever they dream of doing.

“Moreover, we’ve turned a spotlight on the critical role of sustainability in major events, shifting perspectives and setting new standards. But it’s not just about these tangible achievements.

“We’ve woven a cultural narrative, too, establishing a cultural panel for the first time, which celebrates and honours the rich and diverse stories of both Australia and New Zealand.

“This panel has been instrumental in ensuring that every aspect of the tournament pays homage to the unique heritage and values of these countries. This legacy, I believe, sets a new benchmark for future tournaments, where respect, inspiration, and sustainability go hand in hand.”

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