In two decades working in rugby in Georgia, Natalie Kurtanidze has watched as the game has blossomed into one that holds a special place in the heart of the nation.

Kurtanidze first came into contact with rugby in the early-2000s, when she started work at a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that used the game as a way to promote education and a healthy lifestyle.

Now, deputy manager for international relations at the Georgian Rugby Union (GRU), she wants to help create a similar groundswell of support for female participation within the European country.

Kurtanidze is hopeful she can use her time on the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme to help show other women in Georgia that they have a role to play in the administration of the game.

Asked what prompted her to apply for the programme, she told World Rugby: “My primary motivation was to show that Georgia is on the map, that there are some aspiring women in Georgia willing to support the development of rugby in this country.”

Kurtanidze is the first Georgian to be accepted onto the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme since its inception in 2018.

However, she is confident that there are many more Georgian women who possess the capabilities to follow in her footsteps.

“It is very important to me [to inspire future participants] because, well, not encouraging women to participate in this sport, to work in this sport, we actually lose half of the Georgian population,” she added.

“I am very confident that much better scholars might emerge from Georgia than me.”

Although Georgia’s men’s 15s national team have risen to 13th in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini and have qualified for six successive Rugby World Cups, the country does not appear in the Women’s Rankings.

Georgia did enter a team into the Rugby Europe Women’s Sevens Trophy 2023, finishing the 12-team, two-tournament competition fourth, however, and Kurtanidze is hopeful a brighter future is on the horizon.

“Rugby can be our way to freedom of self,” she said. “When I attend festivals and matches, I see many women and girls who just play because they want to be free.

“In our country, the biggest sports for women are chess and dancing – we do have some fantastic women in chess – but rugby is about physicality and looking at men’s rugby, it’s [viewed as] something inconceivable for women to do.

“When we do it, we just do it, we go against this public conception. I hope rugby becomes, I heard this fantastic phrase, rugby might become a sport of choice for us; for women in my country.”

Kurtanidze’s plan to help put female participation front and centre within Georgian rugby has been aided by her involvement with the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme.

She enrolled on the World Academy of Sport last September and is currently studying for a postgraduate certificate in sports development.

Alongside these studies, she has also interacted with the Capgemini University. Kurtanidze has started several courses, including one on connected leadership.

“You feel like a kid standing in a candy store, a huge candy store extending in all directions,” she said about the huge range of courses on offer to the participants through the Capgemini University. “And, you don't know which way to go.”

Kurtanidze added that the specific courses she enrolled on, which included lessons on building professional relationships, winning the confidence of management and change management, were “very interesting”.

That feeling of being part of something big was only heightened when she attended the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Summit 2023 at Campus Serge Kampf Les Fontaines.

Held during Men’s Rugby World Cup 2023 it gave participants an opportunity to meet in person, share best practice and bolster their network.

“It contributed to strengthening the ties between the other scholars and myself,” Kurtanidze said. “And, also contributed to getting to know the sponsors of my scholarship.

“This was really important for me because it gave me some fascinating ideas.”

Kurtanidze is confident the skills that she has learned through the Capgemini Women in Rugby Leadership Programme have transferred into her day-to-day job at the GRU.

“It is making a difference,” she explained. “It’s telling in my communication with my colleagues and on appraisals of work situations.

“There are small changes toward higher efficiency, which I note.”

One of the biggest benefits that Kurtanidze has gained through the programme, however, has come in the shape of the global network of past and present scholars that she has been opened up to.

“This is a worldwide network of connections in different unions, which I can’t even evaluate properly,” she added.

“It’s enormous. You can just reach out to anyone and discuss very intimately things, like what your issues are at work and what you can contribute. It’s very useful and very good.”

It is a resource that Kurtanidze is sure to lean on in the coming years as she continues to shatter through glass ceilings in Georgia and inspire other women while doing so.