Published: 14 June 2022

Sarah de Carvalho MBE wins our Outstanding Contribution to Society accolade

Sarah de Carvalho MBE has campaigned for children’s rights and justice for nearly three decades. She’s also won our Outstanding Contribution to Society accolade in the Vice-Chancellor’s Alumni Awards 2021…

“I originally worked in media and PR,” reveals Sarah, who was awarded a scholarship to study her MBA at Surrey in 2012. “I then worked as a producer for the BBC before moving to Sky.

“Between contracts in 1993, I heard there were children on the streets in Brazil being murdered. I thought I’d go for a month and see what I could do. I ended up staying for 10 years and setting up the charity, Happy Child International.

“We worked to rescue, rehabilitate and reintegrate children from poor backgrounds who were living on the streets. We built 15 projects in Brazil and we had one in Angola, too.”

Child trafficking

It was a chance meeting that led to Sarah’s next big project.

She explains: “When I was starting my MBA, Happy Child International were setting up projects in Brazil for children that were being trafficked and sexually exploited.

“I met a girl called Rose. When she was 11, she was sent to the streets to beg for food. Caught up in trafficking, she was sold for the next five years. She told me her ‘clients’ came from all over the world, and she could take me to places where girls as young as nine were being bought.

“She said her life was over. But she asked if I could do something to help others. On the flight home, I knew I had to raise awareness about what was happening in the run-up to the 2014 football World Cup in Brazil.”

Raising awareness

Sarah had a timely meeting with the Metropolitan Police just after this encounter, too.

She continues: “They wanted information about Brazil as they were setting up bogus websites to catch potential offenders in the run-up to the World Cup. They discussed extraterritorial legislation, which includes provisions in law for countries to prosecute citizens for the abuse of children in other nations.

“They said if we ran a campaign to raise awareness about the issue, we could educate people about the punishments for offenders. We could also equip fans with signs to look out for and a hotline to dial. The police said it would prevent up to 95% of offenders from committing the crime.”

It’s a Penalty

Sarah says that’s pretty much how It’s a Penalty began. She explains:

“We harness the power of sport to prevent human trafficking, exploitation and abuse globally by running events and raising awareness during major sporting occasions.

“It’s now been running for nine years and we’ve run campaigns at the last six Super Bowls in America, the 2018 and 2022 Commonwealth Games in Australia and UK, the 2014 and 2022 Football World Cups in Brazil and Qatar, the Olympics and Paralympics in Rio in 2016 and Tokyo in 2020, and the European Football Championship in 2020.

"This year, we’re planning to run a campaign during the Women’s Football World Cup in Australia/New Zealand in the summer and during the F1 race in Las Vegas. We're also looking at the Super Bowl in Las Vegas in 2024.

“Recently, we published a report focusing on 21 Commonwealth countries that don’t have sufficient legislation to protect children. We’ve also set up a Student Ambassador Network to nurture young leaders in universities such as Surrey.”

Key learnings 

Sarah says her MBA provided key learnings that fed into the creation and success of It’s a Penalty.

She reveals: “It gave me the confidence to launch the organisation in the first place. It enhanced my skill sets so I could work in the collaborative and multi-disciplinary way I needed to, and it allowed me to envisage a brand that could work globally without having a massive infrastructure.

“I’m now on the MBA Advisory Board for Surrey Business School. It’s a Penalty also has a partnership with the University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. Students are our future leaders. We want to raise awareness about human trafficking and show how they can help prevent it when they’re in the world of work themselves.”

Genuinely touched

Sarah adds that winning the award was a lovely moment.

“Having the opportunity to make a difference is what drives me,” she says. “Human trafficking is the fastest-growing illegal business in the world. I want to combat this and help change lives for the better.

When I got the email telling I’d won the award, it totally made my day. I was genuinely touched to be recognised. We all need a bit of encouragement occasionally.

“I want to thank everyone at Surrey who made that decision. It’s not only encouragement for me, but it’s encouragement for my amazing team and the work we’re doing.

“And for anyone who’s curious, I couldn’t recommend this sort of work highly enough. Be a change maker. We need change makers to make society better.”

Share what you've read?