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The power of positivity: Kuwait’s Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah

The power of positivity: Kuwait’s Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah

With a mission to instil positivity throughout Kuwait and beyond, Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah explains what has driven her in her ambition

A business card is rarely the best way to get a first impression of someone, but in the case of Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah it might be fair to make an exception.

As we exchange cards when we meet at Dubai’s Four Seasons DIFC hotel, I look down to see three job titles: ‘Alnowair originator – contagious smiler – optimist’. And after an hour in Sheikha Intisar’s company, the truth of these descriptions is more than well borne out.

A princess of Kuwait’s royal Al Sabah family, Sheikha Intisar is a bundle of positive energy as we discuss her many and varied endeavours that have helped her establish a new way of thinking about business and society in her home nation.

From publishing to jewellery, and well-being to the arts, Sheikha Intisar has an impressive track record in making a difference – an accolade she says reaches back to before her start in business.

“I’ve always been the kind of person who, when I do something, I like to do it well,” she says.

“So when I was a mother I was a full time mother and home keeper – I took care of everything and I wanted to do it the best that I could. And in business it is the same; I’m totally dedicated to what I’m doing.

“I had to learn along the way, of course, but management is management – whether you are managing a house, managing children, managing people, managing anything. It’s all the same in the end – it’s a people skill. You either know how to get the best out of people or you don’t.”

These people skills, and a focus on creating positive change, appear to have served Sheikha Intisar well in recent years.

In 2011 she launched Lulua Publishing in a bid to provide Gulf women with reading material that would enhance their mental and physical well-being, with a beauty brand – Prismologie – following in 2015, and jewellery brand Intisars launching just last year. Sandwiched between these has also been the establishment of the hugely successful and ever-expanding NGO, Alnowair, which has been active with various initiatives since 2013.

On top of these entrepreneurial efforts, Sheikha Intisar still finds time to serve as an active philanthropist on many boards and with many organisations; among them Kuwait’s Association for the Care of Children in Hospitals, Bayt Abdullah Children’s Hospice, animal welfare group K’s Path, Human Rights Watch, and many more.

So how did all these branches of her business career take root?

“I was working full time in a partly family run business, which was in manufacturing and factories,” she starts to explain.

“It was long, long, long hours with 95 or 98 per cent men, and I love reading – I still do – and I always found answers and solace in reading self-help books, self-help magazines.

“I realised that I didn’t read Arabic magazines very much, so I looked at why, and in my opinion at the time they were putting women down. Gulf women are worth more than beauty, fashion, gossip, second wife, and witchcraft. Gulf women are very well educated, so why dim their light by giving them rubbish? In Kuwait we’re getting up to 70 per cent female graduates in engineering school, and to simplify all their brains in fashion and beauty and gossip is unfair.

“That’s when I decided to give them something that would empower them – something that would tell them how great they are and how they can be even better.”

And so Lulua Publishing was born, under the motto ‘You, but simply better’. With a portfolio that includes publications such as Good Health Arabia, Vacations & Travel Arabia, numerous well-being and self-development books, and a movie production house that released its first feature – the award winning Habib Al Ard – in 2015, the publishing business is going from strength to strength.

“Now we are about to launch our website, which is going to be spectacular,” says Sheikha Intisar.
“It’s a well-being website, which we don’t have in the Arab world, but simplified well-being. It will be speaking to and empowering women – we’re not going to give them rubbish.

“The name will be Fatena.com, and hopefully it will be ready in the first quarter [of 2018]. We’ve wanted to do it for a while, so we just jumped into it.”

In describing her move into publishing, Sheikha Intisar refers to her ‘tools’. These tools are things that have helped her during her life in one way or another, which she feels her duty to pass on to other people in a bid to help them in turn.

“It could be a well-being magazine, it could be a jewellery line that reminds you of love, it could be a beauty care product that enhances your mood, it could be an NGO that spreads positivity,” she explains.

“Whenever I discover a tool, I think it’s my duty to tell others that this can make you feel better. I’m sort of a conductor of how you become happier, more positive, more in love.”

Love was the key ingredient to her jewellery brand, launched in 2017, which is based on “meaningful reminders of love”.

“It started when I realised that I don’t wear a lot of the jewellery I have because it has no meaning to me. And my daughters would not wear any jewellery that had no meaning for them either,” Sheikha Intisar says.

“So I wondered how can I do something for them that has meaning and they’ll wear it, and remind me of my love for them. I got an idea, and thought it was a nice tool and that other people should have it as well – to have something that can remind them of love in one way or another.

“Why can’t jewellery have meaning, other than just being gold and stones?”

This particular tool has already brought some meaningful developments, leading to a partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross to help alleviate the plight of women in war.

Following a round table discussion hosted by Sheikha Intisar on the challenges of women living in war torn areas, and action points to raise awareness of the topic and give women practical assistance and advice, it was announced that Intisars would create a foundation with ICRC to emotionally help Arab women in war.

But perhaps the tool that has crafted the most impact and change in Sheikha Intisar’s hands is her non-profit initiative Alnowair.

It is certainly the one that brings out the most excitement in her, as she explains how the non-government organisation was founded.

“It was at the end of summer 2012, and there was a video that somebody did out of good nature to tell people in Kuwait that they have to change,” she says.

“But to me the way that it was done was very unproductive. He was showing everything bad about Kuwait … and being derogatory towards the country. I cried and said ‘why is he doing that? Why is he hurting our country?’ He was Kuwaiti as well and loved Kuwait in his own way, but I couldn’t understand his point of view. So I picked up the phone and gave him a call.

“He said he wanted Kuwait to change, but I said ‘not this way – you can’t look at Kuwait that way and expect it to change’.

“Within two weeks of this happening I read an article saying that after 10 years of research Harvard have come to the conclusion that people either have a positive connotation to life, or a subject or anything, or a negative one. And you can’t have two of them at the same time. Of course when you’re positive you see possibilities, and when you’re negative you see impossibilities. And that’s when I realised the difference between him and I. He was looking at the negative and I was looking at the positive.”

Sheikh Intisar goes on to explain that the article gave 12 exercises that could help change your mind-set from a negative one to a positive on, prompting her to look at how she could encourage people in Kuwait to improve their mind-set.

“I said that people have to know this, and that’s how Alnowair started. We decided we needed to target the youth, and we realised how we wanted to target them. The youth don’t do workshops, and I started thinking the way to target the youth was to advertise to them. Not in the traditional way, but by marketing it in a different way. And so I brought in a project manager who was the head of an advertising and marketing company.

“We have amazing branding, amazing content, and interesting logo, and it’s always exciting, young, fresh, and engaging. We don’t lecture, we don’t tell them what to do, we just tell them what science is proving through a very nice and simplified way. We take positive psychology and simplify it into everyday tools.”

Officially launched on World Happiness Day in 2013, Alnowair runs a number of initiatives, events, campaign and programmes to promote and instil a positive attitude throughout Kuwait.

The organisation’s latest campaign is One Million Smiles Kuwait – inspired by an experiment conducted at the University of Essex in the UK.

“We used research done by Michael Mosley on the BBC, which was about how to become a more positive person in a simplified way,” explains Sheikha Intisar.

“The idea was that if you train your mind to always look at the good things, your mind becomes more positive, and he explained it with a very simple experiment at the University of Essex. You were put in front of a screen with about 15 faces, and one was smiling, the rest were not. You just had to find the smiley face. Every time you got the smiley face you got another similar screen, and so on. You do that for about six weeks – every day for 10 minutes. After that he became more positive, he slept well, his health became better, and other positive things.

“So we took that and started a simplified campaign where you look at things and try to find the ‘eyes’ and turn it into a smiley face. Just everyday things around you – take a picture, and turn it into a smiley face. You will never look at that thing again. It has been a great way to engage with the youth.”

This initiative is but one of many rolled out by Alnowair, and Sheikha Intisar believes the combined effort is having the desired effect.

“Alnowair has huge, thick branches that keep growing,” she says.

“Five years ago when we started, if you told somebody ‘I’m positive’, they would say ‘you’re unrealistic’. Now if you say to somebody that they are ‘negative’, they don’t say ‘we’re realistic’, they say ‘no we’re not’.

“To us, that anger is a sign that we’ve done well, that we’ve marketed positivity in such a way that being negative, or ‘realistic’ as they used to call it, is no longer appreciated and is frowned upon.

“It matters because positive people live longer, are healthier, and accomplish more. Being positive gives you the ability to see the possibilities, to work on them and to become a better person, a better employee, a better whatever you’re working on.”

It is clear that positivity flows through Sheikha Intisar’s veins – not least when talking about other new initiatives and plans for the future.

“One of the other things we’re working on is a programme we’re introducing into school that uses drama and art therapy to overcome bullying,” she reveals.

“We go to the schools and ask them for the bullies and get them into the play. They enact the bully and what we do in the play is ‘what goes around comes around’, so they bully and it comes round to them in the end.

“We’ve had huge social behaviour changes in the bullies, and we’ve had some amazing testimonials from the bullies, the teachers, the parents and the schools. We’ve expanded that to a five-year plan for it now, which is great.

“We’re also working on another big programme for Kuwait about how to introduce a positive mind-set, and so many other things. Like I said, Alnowair is like a tree with branches that keep growing, and we have so many things happening that the whole tree continues to just grow and grow.”

With so many businesses, initiatives, roles, commitments and future plans, it begs the question how Sheikha Intisar manages to keep everything going at once.

“One thing I know I’m really good at is getting the right people,” she explains.

“When I have the right person, I actually don’t have to do too much. The entities that have the right person – the empowered, strong, efficient person – I don’t have to do much.

“My time is really spent on those that don’t have amazing people quite yet. When they do, I’ll find something else to do,” she concludes with a laugh, displaying one of those contagious smiles advertised on her business card.

And on the evidence at hand, you certainly wouldn’t bet against it.

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