An Olympian Legacy That Keeps the People in Its Heart

An Olympian Legacy That Keeps the People in Its Heart


Mariana Behr Andrade’s (’02) Olympic education program continues its profound impact in Brazil

March 25, 2024

  • Mariana Behr Andrade developed an educational program in her native Brazil in conjunction with the 2016 Rio Olympics
  • The program enrolled 8 million children and still involves 275,000 teachers
  • The UCLA Anderson MBA continues to serve as an IOC advisor to cities preparing to host the Olympics

Mariana Behr Andrade (’02) left her native Brazil to pursue a Bachelor of Science in industrial engineering at Boston’s Northeastern University. A stint at General Motors followed, but Andrade soon discovered that engineering was not her calling. “I worked as an engineer, but I never loved being an engineer,” she said over Zoom from her home in Rio de Janeiro.

Wanting to do “something different,” Andrade enrolled at UCLA Anderson, earning her MBA in 2002. “Anderson is very well known for marketing,” she said, “so that was one of the reasons I went there. It just had a different vibe than what I was used to on the East Coast.”

Professor Aimee Drolet Rossi’s Consumer Behavior class was the “most impactful” for Andrade because “it was all about seeing what makes humans tick. That’s when I realized, I really like working with people. It was a mind-switch for me because I realized how much I wanted to work in that space.”

“You have to be very creative in your work relationships. I had to use a lot of the marketing skills I learned at Anderson to get people on board.”

After Anderson, she moved to Belgium to serve as head of international cooperation at ERTICO – ITS Europe, where she worked on mobility projects involving private corporations, European governments, nonprofit, and multilateral institutions. She also earned her MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School in 2010.

A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity beckoned her home to Brazil: an offer to work for the local organizing committee as Rio prepared to host the first Olympic Games on South American soil, the 2016 Olympics and Paralympics.

“It felt like such an amazing opportunity — the Olympics in my home country — because the Olympics are about bringing humanity together,” she said. “I think sports is such a force for social change, and I wanted to be involved in that.”

Hired to create and build strategies for various projects in the startup phase of the games, she helped select the company to produce the opening and closing ceremonies, ran the public-facing torch relay activities, oversaw the quadrennial Olympic Truce to promote dialogue and peace, and performed tactical troubleshooting to solve organizational problems.

Meanwhile, she was charged with designing and launching a nationwide education program required of all Olympic host cities. “I basically had no visibility, no budget, no support,” she said about the early days of her efforts. “You have to do a little bit of everything and know how to market your project. You have to be very creative in your work relationships. That’s where the Anderson education kicked in. I had to use a lot of the marketing skills I learned at Anderson to get people on board and to give it the attention it deserved.”

Andrade likened the experience to “an entrepreneur starting my own startup within the Olympic Games umbrella,” she said. “Anderson really helped me with that because they focus on helping entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in general.”

She also learned that managing the myriad competing parties involved in the Olympics, a process akin to herding cats, is crucial to creating win-win results. Or, what she likes to call “love-love situations.”

“The Olympics give you the opportunity to do amazing things in the host countries,” she said. “But it can be very complicated because you have all these stakeholders: national and international media, sponsors, different levels of state and federal government, the national sports federations and the International Olympic Committee itself.”

The education initiative, which focused primarily on public schools in the 26 states of Brazil, was a massive effort: some 8 million children were enrolled in the program. Andrade is proudest of the fact that she and her team created a momentous legacy. Many of the educators continued the program after the Games concluded. Some 275,000 teachers are currently involved in the program.

“We were setting up these programs for the Olympics, but we were always thinking about the legacy and what we’re going to leave afterward,” she said.

Andrade concluded her nearly six-year stint with the Olympics as head of engagement for the local organizing committee. She ended up using a lot of methodology gleaned from the education program to “get people connected and more excited about the Games,” she said.

The relentless pace of working for a behemoth project like the Olympics led to some burnout, according to Andrade. To regain her equilibrium, she leaned into self-compassion. That encouraged her to envision and then launch her own startup endeavor as a strategic storytelling advisor who helps individual clients “increase sales, donations, visibility and positive media exposure by creating authentic and compelling stories.

“It’s basically, ‘How do we connect with our own greatness and speak from that place?’” she said.

Her success in Rio led to her current Olympics-related role: advisor to the Switzerland-based IOC. She consults and guides future host countries on public engagement and social impact programs as they ramp up for the overwhelming experience of having the world arrive on their doorstep for two action-packed weeks, including Tokyo 2020, Beijing 2022, Paris 2024 and Milano-Cortina 2026.

“The local organizing committees are the ones that are going to do the work,” she said. “It’s going to be country-centric and appropriate for their culture. But we guide them in the beginning when it’s just a blank slate.”

The relentless pace of a behemoth project like the Olympics led to some burnout. To regain her equilibrium, Andrade leaned into self-compassion. That encouraged her to envision and launch her own startup endeavor as a strategic storytelling advisor.

Newly anointed host cities often treat the Olympics like “fairy dust,” she said. “Typically, what happens when a country gets the Games, their eyes start shining and they think, ‘Wow, we can change so many things.’ But you can’t do everything, and you can’t be the be-all, end-all for everyone. It’s about helping them figure out what their focus is going to be.”

This summer, Andrade is planning to attend the Paralympic Games in Paris. “The Paralympics are a magical experience,” she said. “It changes the way you look at life and look at your fellow human beings.”

With Los Angeles set to host the 2028 Olympic and Paralympic Games, Andrade is “very excited” to see what L.A.’s organizing committee (led by Casey Wasserman, B.A. ’96) is preparing with “so many eyeballs looking at one event at the same time.”

Her hard-earned advice? “Do everything you do while thinking of the city and what you’re leaving behind for them. Have the people always in your heart.”