Najat AlSayegh is Empowering Women in Kuwait

By Lorne Chan, October 13, 2015

Najat AlSayegh has lived in Kuwait her whole life. She has experienced the ups and downs of a traditional Muslim country adjusting to modernization.

In a country where women gained the right to vote in 2005, the conservative nation has just begun to support women in sports.

And as shopping malls and United States-based fast food chains became wildly popular in Kuwait, obesity levels among women are at 80.4 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

AlSayegh, 28, wants to fix the problem.

She works in the Kuwait government as a manager with the Ministry of Youth Affairs, raising diabetes awareness and opening sports clubs in areas where women don’t have access and can’t exercise in the desert heat.

AlSayegh wants to change the world, and she came to San Antonio to gain the tools to do it.

She is working with Spurs Sports & Entertainment as part of The U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program. AlSayegh spent the past three weeks in San Antonio working with Laura Dixon, Executive Director of Community Responsibility for SS&E.

She has met with Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon, general manager R.C. Buford, University of Texas director of women’s athletics Chris Plonsky and many more.

“It’s been four weeks but it feels like a lifetime,” AlSayegh said. “There’s so much experience, knowledge, connections, collaborations and ideas. In such a short time it’s a lot to process, but it’s going to make a difference in Kuwait.”

AlSayegh said one of her most inspiring moments came when she met with Hammon and asked her about leading in a male-dominated field. According to the state department, Kuwaiti women are looking for more governmental support and encouragement to empower them to reach higher political and social positions.

AlSayegh hopes to start Kuwait’s first women’s sports department.

“Becky talked about hard work,” AlSayegh said. “She talked about earning respect. It was amazing. She carries herself as a leader.”

Najat was one of 16 women from around the world selected to participate, with the program finding accomplished women from Kenya, Indonesia, New Zealand, Vietnam and other countries.

Spurs Sports & Entertainment is the only team involved in the program. Other organizations involved include the NBA, NHL, PGA of America and the U.S. Olympic Committee.

“While we have our international team representing the Spurs on the court, there’s a lot of work to be done throughout the world with sport,” Dixon said. “We’re going to do what we can to empower people.”

AlSayegh, in addition to working with the Kuwaiti government, has an organization called Eighty Percent that organizes youth fitness programs. It was recently named by the Emirates Foundation as one of 15 organizations shortlisted for the Arabian Gulf Youth Award.

Her time in America concludes with seminars with the State Department in Washinton D.C. this week and the sixth annual espnW Summit, which begins Thursday in California.

“I’ve received so much support,” AlSayegh said. “I’ve talked with so many people who had ideas and weren’t afraid of pressure and rejection. All the people I talked to never gave up, and they’ve been able to create change.”

AlSayegh said every one of her meetings has been an eye-opening experience, whether it was with YMCA of Greater San Antonio president Sandy Morander, Stars coach and general manager Dan Hughes or San Antonio city councilmen and councilwomen.

She furiously takes notes in her Star Wars notebook at every meeting, and many of the notes have already made it back to Kuwait.

“I’m already having Skype meetings with my team,” AlSayegh said. “With what I’ve learned here, we’ve already started work at home.”

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