Acee San Juan believes that her participation in the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme will provide her with the “chance to make a change”.
San Juan was introduced to rugby while studying at university and was instantly hooked, going on to represent the Philippines as a player and finding further outlets for her passion as a coach, referee, educator and development officer.
In 2022, she became a General Manager at the Philippine Rugby Football Union. But even then – and despite her friend and mentor, Ada Milby being a scholar – she reasoned that a place on the Women in Rugby Leadership Programme was beyond her.
“I felt like that was something I could not do because it was a bit too much for me,” San Juan told World Rugby.
However, that changed in November 2022 when she attended the Grassroots to Global Connect Forum on the sidelines of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021 in Auckland.
Meeting with scholars in New Zealand not only highlighted the benefits of the programme but helped to convince her that it was something she could in fact do.
“When I also met the others, I found them all relatable and [I thought] if they can do it, why can’t I?” San Juan added.
“Them sharing the experiences that they've had, the opportunities, that really convinced me to apply for the scholarship and try it, and then it happened so it's really good.”
San Juan subsequently applied for the programme and was selected as one of 12 inspiring women to be a part of the 2023 intake.
“I’m really grateful and appreciative of the opportunity because someone said that I'm part of the [small] group of women in the whole world who have this opportunity,” she said.
“This is my chance to make a change starting with the Philippines, at least because with my role as GM I have influence on how women's rugby will be grown in our country.
“So, this opportunity will help me get more ideas and build more opportunities to build more activities.”
January will be an important month for San Juan as she begins an executive coaching course and also finalises plans for a study trip.
She hopes that the sessions can give her the tools to succeed in rugby and in life. “When I applied for the scholarship, I identified that there are gaps in my leadership,” San Juan explained.
“Because I started as a player, I know the technical stuff about rugby but not really on the management side and being a senior executive.
“So, this opportunity came to me, so I am hoping that this executive coaching course will help me be a better leader for our union and also be a better person as well.”
As part of the Women in Rugby Leadership Programme, San Juan and her fellow scholars are given access to both a mentor from rugby and a Capgemini coach.
Both have been important to her journey on the programme and San Juan feels that being able to talk to someone from outside of rugby who has extensive leadership experience, such as her Capgemini coach Astha Chaturvedi, has been particularly beneficial.
“Mainly she wants me to think about what my goals are. What do I want to achieve after this programme?” she said.
“It’s really good because we were able to share a lot of stuff and with her experience in her field, it really helps me a lot because she’s not from sport, she’s not from rugby but her experience as part of the Capgemini team really helped me a lot.”
And just as San Juan was inspired by the scholars she met in Auckland last November, she is now grateful to the network that those women were already a part of.
Being able to seek advice and perspectives from the 60-plus women who have taken part in the programme since its inaugural year in 2018 has been a welcome support.
“It’s not going to be a smooth ride, the leadership journey and at times it'll be tough, you will have challenges,” San Juan admitted.
“But having this network of [women] we can call friends now, who can easily talk to you or listen to you helps.
“You learn that they also have the same challenges. Someone is there to listen to you and then after that you just bounce back and reset and do it all over again.
“So, it's good that there are people who can relate to your leadership journey as well.”
San Juan is sure to be at the front of the queue in years to come when a member of the programme needs some advice or support on their own leadership journey.