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February 17, 2023

Sebastián Palacios Wins 2023 ILG Impact Award

Ecuadorian Minister of Sports Sebastián Palacios, an alumnus of the 2019 Innovation and Leadership in Government Program (ILG), has been awarded the 2023 ILG Impact Award, which recognizes the extraordinary impact of ILG alumni through public and social innovation initiatives in the Latin American region.

Ecuadorian Minister of Sports Sebastián Palacios
Ecuadorian Minister of Sports Sebastián Palacios

By Michael Guarino (C'22)

For Sebastián Palacios (ILG 2019, Ecuador), sports are practically in his blood. Athleticism runs in the family: his grandfather was a cyclist, and his father competed in the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. So it’s only natural that Palacios would go on to become the Minister of Sports in Ecuador.

But Palacios’s career has been anything but ordinary - far from it, his work has had an extraordinary reach throughout all of Ecuador, earning him the 2023 ILG Impact Award accordingly. With an extensive trajectory in public service and international affairs and an unmistakable passion for sports, Palacios has generated tremendous traction through his project Hincha de Mi Barrio (“Fan of My Neighborhood”), which promotes sports as a vehicle of social and economic change for vulnerable youth.

Ecuadorian Minister of Sports Sebastián Palacios with children participating in Hincha de Mi Barrio
Ecuadorian Minister of Sports Sebastián Palacios with children participating in Hincha de Mi Barrio

When Palacios was appointed the Minister of Sports by current President Guillermo Lasso in May 2021, he remarked in an interview with LALP

“I believe that sports can change lives and transform an entire country!”' Sebastian Palacios, ILG 2019

Now, as the winner of the 2023 ILG Impact Award, he connected with us from La Sequita neighborhood in Manabí, Ecuador, in the middle of implementing a local chapter of Hincha de Mi Barrio. “You’ll probably be jealous of where I am,” he quipped, panning to a beachside view. The moment was a perfect illustration of Palacios’s commitment to service, on the ground and across all sorts of communities in the country.

Throughout his career, including four years as a Congressman in the National Assembly, and numerous other national and local government roles, and advisory positions with institutions such as the Organization of American States and the United Nations, Palacios has fought to provide institutional support for sports-related initiatives and has advocated consistently for the political participation of youth and women. Through his efforts, Ecuador advanced a state policy prioritizing sports as a force of development, especially in relation to community integration and the health and achievement of young people.

Palacios has spearheaded various noteworthy sports-related initiatives impacting the lives of thousands of Ecuadorian citizens. Under his leadership, Ecuador organized the first series of National Student Games, which involved more than 1,500 student-athletes. As the Minister of Sports, he has enacted a High-Performance Program for 2022-2025 to provide economic support for 564 of Ecuador’s top athletes, who will train in preparation for the 2024 and 2028 Olympic games. Most notably, Palacios has reached (and is continuing to reach) the lives of more than 15,000 people through Hincha de Mi Barrio, which, through the practice and playing of soccer and volleyball, promotes a culture of peace, inclusion, and social cohesion to counter the prominence of violent crime, sedentarism, and drug use and trafficking.

“The focus [of Hincha de Mi Barrio], beyond creating good athletes, is creating good people.” - Sebastian Palacios

As the country with the steepest rise in criminal violence in all of Latin America in 2022, Ecuador has subsequently faced an incarceration crisis that has highlighted the need for social rehabilitation efforts in the country. Moreover, the Ministry of the Interior has reported that 76% of children in Ecuador (3.4 million) fail to meet recommended levels of physical activity. In response to these issues, Hincha de Mi Barrio utilizes the Sport for Development methodology to provide classes, workshops, neighborhood fairs, tournaments, and other social opportunities for youth in vulnerable communities across 106 neighborhoods in 24 provinces and 11 centers for youth who have committed crimes. Hincha de Mi Barrio fosters a unique approach that not only sharpens young people’s athletic abilities, but also cultivates socioemotional skills, resilience, and civic engagement.

Hincha de Mi Barrio’s success is due in large part to the partnerships that Sebastian and his team at the Ministry of Sports have been able to forge and the ease with which impacted communities themselves can adopt the methodology and lessons learned from the program, which ensures its long-term sustainability. Hincha de Mi Barrio has become a project of the national government of Ecuador, and Palacios hopes to bring it to every province in Ecuador by 2023, with a projected target population of more than 300,000 citizens. Palacios’s connections to other national government agencies enable Hincha de Mi Barrio to extend its societal impact beyond providing sports training, allowing the project to connect citizens to other social services to mitigate the effects of malnutrition, gender-based violence, and truancy, among other issues. Through the support of private funding, Hincha de Mi Barrio was even able to send seven young participants to the World Cup in Qatar in 2022. 

Down the line, Palacios hopes to expand Hincha de Mi Barrio internationally, utilizing the knowledge, experience, and connections gained from the ILG program. In particular, he cites potential collaborations with organizations like FIFA and with his peers in the ILG Alumni Network, exemplifying the multiplier effect that LALP alumni strive to realize in the region. Despite the substantial challenges inherent to executing Hincha de Mi Barrio in dangerous neighborhoods, Palacios remains resilient. While the 2023 ILG Impact Award is a prestigious recognition of his efforts, Palacios has said himself that his project - and sports more generally - is not about winning medals, but about knowing how to rise up in the face of challenges.

Congratulations to Sebastián Palacios, and we look forward to seeing Hincha de Mi Barrio continue to generate a positive impact in Latin America!