I am driven both by the pain of our country’s past and hope for our country’s future, as well as the complex set of circumstances that define the present. Sport has a huge role to play in what happens next.
Vice President of Community Engagement and Social Impact
The interview with Mari Horita was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
1Tell us about your role as Vice President of Community Engagement and Social Impact for the Seattle Kraken.
I joined the Kraken three years ago before we had a name, a team, or any sheets of ice in Seattle.
Even at that early juncture, the commitment to giving back and supporting our community was foundational to who we were, and that’s why I was one of the first hires.
As far as my role, as is common for a start-up my job has been wide-ranging: including building and now operating a 501c3 public charity, developing impact pillars, fundraising, leading our public art selection process, forging relationships with and supporting our nonprofit partners, developing our DE&I work, and other duties as assigned.
Never a dull moment.
2You have had lots of amazing experience throughout your career and transitioned to the sport industry in 2019. Tell us why you made the change and what inspired you about working with the Kraken.
I wasn’t looking for the job. I didn’t even know the role existed, nor did I know anything about hockey.
I met with my now boss late in 2018 to talk about the nonprofit I was running at the time.
We spent an hour talking about his vision to not only bring the Stanley Cup back to Seattle but to make a meaningful positive difference – and he certainly had the track record to back that up - and I shared my work fostering a more inclusive and equitable local arts sector.
It was a wonderful conversation but I did not expect to hear from him again. And so I was surprised, to say the least when his deputy called me back a week later and offered me a job.
I never had aspirations to work for a pro sports team, let alone launch an NHL expansion team, but building an enterprise from literally the ground up with a boss who had an audacious vision to uplift and unite our community was a once in a lifetime opportunity I could not pass up.
So I took a leap of faith – as did he – and I’m forever grateful.
3The sport industry has a huge influence on community development and can create a great impact. What’s your inspiration behind what you do?
Most of us are driven by our own lived experiences, and I often describe mine as a paradox between my mother’s life and my daughter’s life.
My mother was incarcerated for three years at the age of 11 during WWII for being of Japanese ancestry. She was born in the U.S., it was the only country she knew, and yet because of the color of her skin, her whole life was upended and taken away from her.
School, friends, family property, jobs, civil liberties, and dignity.
Contrasting her experience is that of my 17-year-old daughter, who is off to college next year with a world of opportunity in front of her.
So I am driven both by the pain of our country’s past and hope for our country’s future, as well as the complex set of circumstances that define the present.
Sport has a huge role to play in what happens next.
To quote Nelson Mandela – “Sport has the power to change the world,” at the individual, community, and societal levels.
4The One Roof Foundation helps tackle social inequalities and supports local organizations. What’s the process of finding local partners and creating impactful initiatives? How do you measure long-term impact afterwards?
Thanks for asking about One Roof Foundation!
We launched last spring, and we came up with the name because of the literal reference to the iconic roof at Climate Pledge Arena as well as the symbolic significance of the shelter and community a roof provides.
We are focused on three primary impact pillars: youth homelessness; youth access to hockey, sports, and opportunities in life; and environmental justice.
Both One Roof and the team are connected to and work with dozens of local nonprofits, and of those One Roof has developed focused and multifaceted partnerships with a handful that closely align with our impact pillars.
As far as measuring long-term impacts, we’re working with a few different groups – subject matter experts in different sectors – to obtain their input on measurement and how to achieve lasting and meaningful change.
We’re also working with evaluation experts at the University of Washington to assess some of our recent environmental justice efforts, and their findings will inform our longer-term approach.
The Ultimate American Sport Industry Job Board
The best place to find sport jobs and passionate job seekers to fill them.
5In your opinion, what can organizations do to be more intentional and impactful with their advocacy?
My colleagues are subject matter experts in everything to do with hockey.
When it comes to key societal issues or causes, it’s important to listen to and learn from the experts in those areas – front-line community members, scholars, and policy leaders – in order to formulate an informed and intentional approach.
I am also a huge believer in the collective impact of partnership and collaboration, particularly when multiple constituents are working toward the same objective.
We strive to work with the public sector, academia, nonprofits, the Seattle pro teams, other NHL clubs and the League, and our corporate partners whenever we can.
6What advice do you have for aspiring sport professional looking to work in community development?
It’s important to have a clear understanding of how you define “community development” because it means a lot of different things to different people.
It could be marketing, fan development, CSR, philanthropy, social impact work, or all or some combination of the above. And in every case, it ties back to the team and the fans.
As you chart your course, figure out what you are interested in and then educate yourself and learn, whether that be in a classroom or in the field.
Players, teams, and leagues are leaning into this work in new and powerful ways, and the future of sports philanthropy and social impact work will be increasingly significant for both the industry as well as the community at large.
If you take the time to look at what various teams and leagues are doing you’ll start to see stark differences in approach, and understanding those differences can help you refine your own objectives.
And for any fellow introverts out there, don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith.
Emma's Final Thoughts
Mari Horita, Vice President of Community Engagement & Social Impact for the Seattle Kraken, transitioned to the sport industry in 2019. Her passion for creating a more inclusive and equitable environment was evident and The Kraken knew they needed someone like her on their team. To her surprise, they reached back out with a job offer and she knew she couldn't pass up an opportunity to build an enterprise from the ground up. Amazing opportunities are everywhere and Mari is a prime example of how being authentically yourself can pay off. She shared her inspiration behind what she does and the devastating circumstancing her mother endured because of her skin color. Mari believes that sport has a huge role in changing the future for the better and the industry is lucky to have leaders like her!