Diane Pereira Sousa
Ashoka Fellow since 2018   |   Brazil

Diane Pereira Sousa

Instituto Formação – Incubadora de Esporte e Cidadania
Diane Sousa is changing the demand of children and young people for the human right to play and to practice different sports in a safe and inclusive way in marginalized rural and urban areas by the…
Read more
This description of Diane Pereira Sousa's work was prepared when Diane Pereira Sousa was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2018.


Diane Sousa is changing the demand of children and young people for the human right to play and to practice different sports in a safe and inclusive way in marginalized rural and urban areas by the resignification of community spaces (squares and schools). With innovative methodologies, she wants to form a generation of changemakers who take ownership of their rights and thereby participate in local decision-making.

The New Idea

Diane Sousa has the right to play and practice sports in safe and inclusive environments as a guide principle to her innovation. She created the Sports and Citizenship Incubator at Instituto Formação to design, execute, manage, disseminate and monitor different methodologies that use sport and leisure as a tool for social change. Although the concept is not new, Diane's distinction is the model she created to resignify community spaces (squares and schools) in both rural and urban areas, based on ethnography, use of local raw materials, and participatory negotiation in decision-making, always having sports as a conductor.

Although Brazilian law guarantees the right to practice sports and to play, the increase of violence and the lack of infrastructure and equipment in public schools have limited the exercise of this right by children and young people. The flexibility, the low cost and the simplicity of the methodologies created by Diane make them adaptable and absorbable by different population profiles and able to reach where the public power is not there. Through her work, she is qualifying the demand of children and young people for the right to play and practice different sports (besides soccer). She seeks to form a generation of changemakers who take ownership of their rights and thereby participate in local decision-making.
Diane works with other nongovernmental organizations in Brazil and abroad and with the government to ensure the scalability of her innovation. Her methodologies are always systematized and free to use. The innovative approach has ensured their use in different continents.

The Problem

Although it is a right guaranteed by law, stated in the Convention on the Rights of the Children (1989), the Federal Constitution of Brazil (1988) and the Statute of the Child and Adolescent (1990), being part of some public policies, access to play sports in safe and inclusive environments for children and adolescents is not yet a reality in Brazil. A study published by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) in 2017 reveals inequalities in the practice of sporting activities, ranging from adverse availability of infrastructure to various social related issues, such as gender or race.

According to the School Census (2015), there are more than 38 million students in state and municipal public schools in the country. While 96% of public schools in the south of Brazil have sports courts, only 50% have such infrastructure in the northeast of the country. On average, only 51% of public schools have physical education teachers. The difference, in terms of percentage of physical education teachers in the educational institutions surveyed, is even more dissimilar when compared to rural schools (31%) and urban schools (71%). Men do more physical activity than women, and black women practice less than white women, for example.
In Brazil, especially in poorer and more unequal areas, as in the Northeast of the country, most public schools do not have the appropriate structure for practicing sports and playing, even though Physical Education being part of the compulsory school curriculum. Due to the shortage of professionals in this field, in many cases, classes are conducted by teachers from other disciplines, who do not know different sports, besides soccer, restricting access to new possibilities for play and development provided by other sports. Often, due to the lack of adequate space or qualified professionals, the sports and play activities so important for the social and cognitive development of the students are reduced to activities in the classroom, where the sport is treated as theory and not practice.

At the same time, the increase in violence and drug use has forced children and adolescents who previously had the street as a collective space, to be restricted to the interior of their homes. In some cases, when there are safe community spaces for sports and leisure, children, especially girls, and women are not prioritized in the use of these areas, since they do not participate in community decision-making, a fact that is even more noticeable in some traditional communities.

The Strategy

The resignification of community spaces - squares and schools - for the use of sport is key to Diane's strategy to increase the demand of children and adolescents for sports and play in a safe and inclusive way and to empower youth citizens to social change. In creating the Sports and Citizenship Incubator at Instituto Formação in 2011, Diane was able to strengthen efforts to develop of new educational sports methodologies that could be adapted in a simple way and with little cost, according to the different realities of her home state, Maranhão, in northeastern Brazil, and replicated in other regions of the country and the world.

She realized from the beginning that the appropriation of spaces by children and adolescents for the purpose of sports and play was a fundamental element to address other deeper issues of communities, such as the increase in violence - which limits free access to the streets, the lack of voice and representativeness of children and adolescents, lack of diversity and knowledge of other sports besides soccer, and gender inequality in access to sports practice.

Diane also identified that in a scenario of poverty and absence of the state it would not be smart to think about sophisticated methodologies or the construction of permanent infrastructure. Simplicity has always been the hallmark of her work, as well as the formation of networks with different sectors. While the private initiative supports financially the implementation of the methodologies that Diane produces, she counts on the partnership of the municipal and state education secretariats of Maranhão to ensure the dissemination and sustainability of her work in public schools in the region. Diane also works with national and international networks and makes available all the methodologies developed for reproduction under creative commons license. She is a UNICEF partner on a global level, which has already made her methodologies reach Azerbaijan.

To ensure safe and inclusive access to sport and play for children and adolescents, Diane works on four main fronts: 1) at primary education schools she trains teachers to reinvent spaces within schools for guided play; 2) in high schools, she identifies leading adolescents who mobilize other students to identify areas in schools that can be used for sport and create new sports and activities with material available in their communities; 3) in quilombola communities (descendants of Afro-Brazilian slaves who escaped from slave plantations that existed in Brazil until abolition in 1888), she works with young people to research local traditions and recreate traditional sports and to introduce new practices, besides negotiating the use of community spaces by them; 4) in forums and in national and global networks, Diane participates as a panelist and debater guiding setting the right to safe and inclusive sport into different agendas.
Over the years, Diane has developed several methodologies, which can be used according to each context. Bolação, for example, consists of a mobile court designed by Diane, whose modules adapt to the existing physical space. The Bolação court can be easily transported from one place to another and is made of recycled material and decorated with drawings produced by children. Its methodology was thought from the process of assembly of the court, which always starts at the goal bars, which attracts the attention of the community and attracts people.

Another methodology created by Diane is the Community Centers for Sports and Leisure, which are implemented in partnership with the public power in schools. These centers are made up of kits with sports materials, many of them produced by children and young people themselves, such as golf mini-courts – a sport not common in Brazil. The implementation of the centres goes through processes of participatory decision-making involving adolescents and young people who will have access to them. During this process the youth discusses other critical issues such as equal use of the centres and the protagonism and leadership of students in decisions of the school as a whole. These centres are also being implemented in Quilombola communities. In these cases, the methodology created by Diane proposes the study of the history of each community and the rescue of traditional games and sports.

Currently Diane's work impacts more than eight thousand children, adolescents and young people directly in Maranhão and more than two thousand teachers. She is articulating with the education department of Maranhão the insertion of the Community Sport and Leisure Centers into public education policies and plans to expand its activities to Mozambique and other countries in the global South, as well as to disseminate it in other Brazilian states.

The Person

Diane grew up in the poor northeast of Brazil in a difficult family situation. And yet, she enjoyed a happy and exciting childhood. Her father had lost his two legs in an accident, but he inspired his daughter with his rich imagination and vitality. Dianes grandmother, who also cared for the girl, was a midwife and percussionist, and educated Diane with great wisdom. They always supported and stimulated the young girl, and Diane experimented many moments of happiness and joy, of creativity and experiments. Those years laid the foundations of what Diane characterizes today. She is eager to learn, keen to experiment, self-confident and full of ideas.

She was first educated in a public school in her hometown São Bento in the State of Maranhão. For high school she received a scholarship, so she could attend a private school that offered her more activities. She was committed to music and joined a local orchestra. There, she became the first woman percussionist at the age of eleven years, and this was a special moment for her. Music was what she loved and lived for during those years. Her second love was soccer. Diane became a good player and even received offers to go to São Paulo or Germany and start a professional soccer career. However, this was not what Diane wanted. For her, soccer always was a social game, where she would meet her friends and enjoy some happy moments.

At the age of 13 Diane came into contact with the Instituto Formação, that is coordinated by the Ashoka Fellow Regina Cabral. Regina encouraged Diane to dream and to try to realize her dreams. That deeply impressed Diana and she kept volunteering and working at the Instituto Formação until today. From 2006 to 2010 Diane participated in the project CIP Young Citizen of the Instituto Formação, especially in the sports and arts activities. In 2010 she was chosen to participate in an exchange programme with the German NGO KickFair, that is a partner of the Instituto Formação. Diane went to Germany, participated in various activities in schools, and collaborated on the creation of the international network Football-Learning-Global. This network connects NGOs, schools and projects from all continents. Diane was responsible to raise funds for the network and for this aim she went to South Africa in 2010 and lobbied for the project during the soccer world championship. A year later she was invited to Germany by the German Heinrich Böll Foundation to talk about soccer and the emancipation of women.

With those rich experiences Diane had made, she was prepared to take on more responsibility at home. In 2011, when she was 19 years young, the Instituto Formação entrusted Diane to create, design and coordinate new projects. Her first project she created was the School of Imparting and Educational Sports. In the broader context of the school she realized various projects with differents NGOs from the Brazilian northeast region to set up spaces for sports that benefit schools and communities and have an inclusive effect on all participants. In those projects she could improve her methods to introduce sports activities to a society that is often characterized of shortages, underdevelopment and discrimination. The school was supported by UNICEF, and different NGOs connected in networks that foster soccer and street soccer.

One year later, Diane was given the opportunity to think about new projects and she created the Incubator of Sports and Citizenship that today combines all sports projects at the Instituto Formação. Diane is responsible for the elaboration, realization, management, dissemination and monitoring of the sports and leisure projects. She became a partner of UNICEF and realized various activities during the soccer world championship 2014 in Brazil, for example the ”International Festival Brazil 2014 – One game, one vision, one world“. In 2015 UNICEF invited Diane to Azerbaijan to advise on sports and the dissemination of the methods Diane had developed.

At the same time Diane didn’t rest to push ahead her own education. Her thirst of knowledge comes from the poor living conditions and the lack of opportunities Diane experiences in the Brazilian Northeast. She had learned to lend wings to her imagination and to look out for new horizons, and she also had learned to constantly improve her skills and abilities. In 2011 she enrolled at university to study Law and finished her studies in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree. In 2017 she finished an advanced training in Legal psychology.

Are you a Fellow? Use the Fellow Directory!

This will help you quickly discover and know how best to connect with the other Ashoka Fellows.