The Year That Was: Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini, Managing Director, Saudi Sports For All Federation
Al-Husseini's sense of accomplishment came after she witnessed firsthand how people were reacting to the initiatives that the Federation was spearheading.
On her LinkedIn page, Saudi Sports for All Federation Managing Director Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini describes herself as an advocate for “a healthy and active lifestyle for people of all ages and abilities across the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” But a mission like that can be hard to accomplish especially when the country in question is in the throes of a global pandemic, and its residents are subject to lockdowns that effectively force them to stay home, and thus lose the chance to physically exert themselves in the outdoors.
But Al-Husseini and her team at the Federation didn’t let this challenge deter them from the goals they had set for 2020- indeed, they just pulled their socks up, and, pardon the pun, got moving. “2020 was a year that could have quite easily gone to waste, but thankfully, our team worked extremely hard to pivot immediately,” Al-Husseini says. “Within a week’s time, we went from a heavy event focus to a heavy public health and wellness communication focus. I can say it was a point of pride for the Federation that we touched so many households across Saudi with our Baytak Nadeek campaign (topping more than 3.7 million engagements at the height of lockdown), and it had so many powerful moments, including a social impact element that saw people’s home workouts convert into donations for the Saudi Food Bank.”
As for Al-Husseini herself, her sense of accomplishment came after she witnessed firsthand how people were reacting to the initiatives that the Federation was spearheading. “The Sports for All Federation’s massive success rate at bolstering people’s physical and mental health at a time when so many people across Saudi Arabia needed us most was the professional highlight of my year,” she says. “It also resonated on a personal level, seeing all these people reach out to us on social media telling us we changed their mood and made life more positive during a challenging time.”
Time for introspection: Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini reflects on 2020
1/ Always be ready to pivot your business model in a time of need “This is probably the number one lesson that we took away from the pandemic. Had we shifted into ‘wait and see’ mode, we would have lost an entire half-year of results. We immediately launched an information portal called Healthy Living that served as our ‘base of new operations,’ with everything from physical and mental health tips to nutrition to workouts. From there, we had trainers begin online tutorials, and we had animated exercises that were accessible to all. We created competitions, and asked people across Saudi to act as our wellness advocates, creating a community spirit and helping to fight loneliness. We went from a full-on event focus to a communications focus, and we did it well before internet fatigue set in.”
2/ Be agile, and consider every avenue’s benefits before discounting your options “Ideas that may seem hollow at first may deserve a second look, especially in extreme scenarios. Look at the option from multiple viewpoints, don’t just assume that face value is enough scrutiny, especially when times are as unusual as they have been over the last six months.”
3/ Cultivate multiple verticals of influence, so that your business remains relevant in different scenarios “It isn’t enough to be good at one thing only. You may have heard before that diverse portfolios are often more resilient than others. I found this held true even in the sports sector; now that we have diversified our focus more, we are relevant to many more different segments of society, and we are impacting hard to reach demographics. This is a silver lining to our pivots early this year.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.