Mentorship experience has been an eye-opener

Over the past month, 18 emerging leaders from throughout the world participated in the inaugural group of the U.S. Department of State/espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program. One of this year's mentees, Aparna Popat, shares her experiences from the program.

The inaugural espnW/Global Sports Mentoring Program has been a complete adventure, and the learnings and experiences have been extraordinary.

After being exposed to varied activities over the past few weeks, the ideas and knowledge gained during this program has been brilliant. What I found really fascinating was the importance and impact of Title IX, which caused such a significant difference in the lives of millions of girls.

As part of the program, I was paired with Saatchi & Saatchi LA, a prestigious global advertising agency, and communications director Samantha Johnson was my mentor. I was also fortunate to work with fellow mentee and emerging leader, Grace Kiraguri from Kenya, who was also being mentored at the same agency by Joan Coraggio, senior director of Saatchi & Saatchi LA's Brand Integration Group. So we all eventually worked as a team.

My experience here has been an eye-opener. The schedule planned by the Saatchi & Saatchi LA team was very comprehensive and consisted of various ways sports could be used effectively. So I was exposed to the strategy of marketing and branding sports, the importance of communication through many social media channels and the sponsorship aspect across various sports platforms. Not only did they provide exposure to the work ethics and corporate life in America, but also American culture in general. I saw it all, from brainstorming meetings to understanding college athletic programs to attending a taping of "The Ellen Show" to learning about bass fishing and tailgating (I watched an American football match at the Rose Bowl!).

Being that this was my first mentorship program, I figured it is all about reciprocal learning and imparting knowledge so I, the mentee, can reach my potential. As they say, a mentor can open the door for you, but you have to walk through it yourself. The mentors were immensely patient and provided the right guidance, setting the wheels in my head to spin with ideas.

The big takeaway for me so far: the willingness to exchange ideas here is very different from back home. Not only did I get to learn from my mentors and crew at Saatchi & Saatchi LA, but I also learned from the team at University of Tennessee (an implementing partner of this program) and the 17 emerging leaders from all over the world. It was then I realized that sometimes we think of the problems we face in our country as unique; but when you share, you realize those issues are sometimes similar to other countries, and if we put our minds together, we can come up with some innovative solutions.

In the past few weeks, I have come across so many people who are selflessly doing their best to give back to the community by empowering women and girls. This program has infused me with the energy and inspiration to make a difference in this world. Being a two-time Olympian and having experienced the benefits of sports, I have no doubt sport will help address the challenges Indian women face through inequality in education, health and opportunities to excel.

With the insights and networks gained during the program, I am excited to return to India and effect change in the lives of disadvantaged women and girls there through mentorship programs and workshops. Even if I start small, I will eventually get there. After all, the meaning of the phrase "Strong Women, Better World" runs deep.

So a big thank you to the U.S. Department of State, espnW, University of Tennessee, Saatchi & Saatchi LA, the American Consulate in Mumbai, my employers at Indian Oil Corporation Ltd. and my new friends in 17 emerging leaders from all over the world for making this experience possible.

It is one I will cherish forever.

Click here for more information on the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program.