Balsam Al-Ayoub/ Internationally acclaimed athlete to businesswoman, philanthropist, fashion designer and filmmaker
Balsam Al-Ayoub is a former Kuwait Olympian and international fencing champion who works in the field of empowering the community through sport and the use of education and sport as a tool for social change and gender equality. She is an innovator and together with her team, works tirelessly for community change and social inclusion.
Balsam was raised in a household of sports enthusiasts and because both of her parents were athletes, Balsam was encouraged at a young age to be active and athletic.
She joined Al-Fatat Sport Club (then Kuwait’s only sports club for females) in 1995, at the age of 16 and left it in 2000 to become a formal professional athlete in Kuwait Sports Club; a government Sports Club which was not common at that time because it was more gender biased.
Balsam’s dedication to fencing and drive to pursue opportunities at an international level was so strong that it was often in confrontation with the traditional model of Kuwait women. Balsam decided to put herself in the spotlight and challenge that stereotype. Supported by her community, media and the sponsors because of her respectful representation of herself, her culture and her traditions, Balsam became a role model for Kuwaiti and Arab women globally because of her positive representation.
Co-founding a company in 2009 with her sister Lulwa, a fellow Kuwait fencing champion, they consolidated their worldwide sport development projects, diversifying their interests to include Asia, Middle East and Latin America all with the common theme of sport as a tool for development and peace.
They were selected for a number of prestigious awards and also elected as fellows in several elite organisations dedicated to innovative young leaders, women’s empowerment and entrepreneurs.
In 2014 Balsam decided to create a new vision and strategy taking her experience in a different direction. She was focused on combining sport and humanitarian projects; between the two disparate areas Balsam was putting in a lot of hard work learning how to make documentaries, working on women’s empowerment within the community, mentoring athletes and building her reputation as a humanitarian through her children’s sport projects.
In 2015 Balsam commenced 2 pilot programs – A CHAMPION AMONG US and BE STRONG. Originally A CHAMPION AMONG US was created as a platform for gender equality to ensure girls were able to enjoy the same rights as boys in the sports arenas. Through co-educational sports events and lessons, she started instigating reform in a society and culture which discriminated against women and girls participation.
A CHAMPION AMONG US evolved into a program for girls and boys – revolutionising social change in children in Kuwait between the ages of 5-12 years; teaching them how to be responsible contributing members of the community through social conscience, humanitarian acts and learning how to be future leaders. Camps for these children incorporated sport, healthy lifestyle, art and cultural awareness programs teaching them how sport can be a tool for philanthropy, charity, education, development and humanity.
The BE STRONG program focused entirely on the wellbeing and women’s empowerment of women and girls. When a woman is educated and empowered, she starts a ripple effect of change in her community. The BE STRONG campaign focused on advocacy and empowerment for women and girls, facilitating community based projects nationally and internationally that united, motivated and educated them within their society’s mores and norms.
In 2016 Balsam co-founded Balsam International – a Kuwaiti company devoted to investing in humanity; changing the lives of not only the Kuwaiti community but isolated, underprivileged communities globally through gender equality, empowerment, education, training, sport, humanitarian action and community inclusion programs. She has continued building the BE STRONG and A CHAMPION AMONG US programs; implementing them in a number of countries for women and children from all walks of life.
In 2017 Balsam International created a philanthropy division within the company – the Balsam Foundation. This foundation links in with the BE STRONG and A CHAMPION AMONG US programs through specific GIVING campaigns.
Within A CHAMPION AMONG US it activates the social conscience of the children. Understanding their own privileged standing in the community, the children participate in the GIVING campaigns by donating new and used sports equipment and clothing in a box to underprivileged, needy children from another part of the world. The children collect their donations and create their own loving message of hope for the GIVING community. Their donations are then given to Direct Aid in Kuwait for distribution.
On several occasions over the past year Balsam has travelled to poor rural communities in Africa as part of the GIVING Campaign. Her philanthropic visit in 2018 coincided with a documentary making course she was participating in and allowed her to train girls and boys in different villages in football and badminton. As well as documenting her time teaching the children she personally contributed sports equipment and clothing for over 200 children and two schools.
The philanthropic arm of the company is very important to Balsam International. It is a way of giving back to the global community and trying to make sure that all boys and girls receive the best possible education and opportunity to succeed both in sport and socially using sport as a tool for development and change.
Balsam’s fashion label BALSAM STUDIO is another example of her charitable arm. Balsam donated 30% of her sales to ending violence against women in Kuwait through her 2017 collection “Sewing the Wounds” and is set to run a series of Fashion shows throughout Africa in 2019 to support a number of causes such as Women’s Empowerment, Girls in Sport and Education.
She was selected for the Arab Women’s Award in 2015 and also Harper’s Bazaar Best Dressed Woman in 2017. She’s been nominated for her work in Kuwait supporting gender equality and eliminating violence against women.
Balsam is an exceptional woman in the Middle East and indeed throughout the GCC.
Sharing her victories with others has become a key aspect of Balsam’s personal and professional path; from internationally acclaimed athlete to businesswoman, wife, mother, philanthropist, fashion designer, filmmaker, mentor, TV host and humanitarian Balsam is determined to be a change maker and better people’s lives through philanthropy, women’s empowerment, education, training, sport, humanitarian action and community inclusion programs.