In early 2013 Sheikha Intisar Al Sabah came across a video that shook her core. A young man posted a song on YouTube that bashed Kuwait, and showed images of a country she hardly recognized as her own. As the images of trash and traffic flashed on her screen, tears welled up in her eyes. She thought to herself “why is he doing this to Kuwait? Kuwait doesn’t deserve this. ” After some digging she found that the images of trash posted in the video were from Jeleeb Al-Shuyoukh, the site of one of the country’s shut down landfills.
Never one to wallow in negativity, Sheikha Intisar found the young man’s contact information, called him, and asked him why he would do such a thing.
“He said ‘this is the truth’,” she told bazaar. “I said, ‘this is not the truth, this is your truth’. I remember being very upset,” she said. “He loved Kuwait from his perspective. He thought by bashing it, he could make it better.”
Many of us seem to agree with the YouTube author. An issue comes up in our lives and we call our spouses or siblings, parents or friends and tell them all about it. We spend days discussing it with everyone around us, dancing around the topic and analyzing it in every which way. We think we are working through our problems, that this is part of the process to make things better. Yet, the numbers prove we are not.
The Happy Planet Index ranks Kuwait at 143 out of 151 countries. Expat Insider found that Kuwait was one of the least hospitable countries to expats. About 40% of youth in the country are afraid of responsibility, and more than a quarter are affected with depression.
Though the numbers are depressing, for Sheikha Intisar they are challenges that have motivated her to change negative perceptions to positive ones. Drawing from her experience as managing director and chairwoman of a family majority owned business and the creation of her own publishing house, she has created what she calls her CSR to Kuwait, Alnowair. With a team of eleven the nonprofit initiative has created a dozen successful events, a volunteer base of more than 20,000 people and is the winner of a local creativity award. None of which would be possible without Sheikha Intisar’s positive lens.
Prior to Alnowair she had spent much of her early career at the Refrigeration Industries and Storage Company (RIC). In the six years she was there she dealt with drama she compares to Ramadan soap opera specials. With a major issue every day, she had to keep herself focused and fend off the stress that would debilitate most people. Simple tasks, like converting the company from a paper and telephone based communication system to email, a task that could be implemented in just one week, took months, and she loved it.
“I discovered myself at RIC,” she said. “I discovered I have a lot of abilities. Which is what you realize when you are put in front of a challenge and you find one solution after another. I realized that the more challenging it becomes, the more problem solving abilities you gain.”
So when she saw the YouTube video, she couldn’t understand how the young man thought that this was a solution to the problems the country was having. However, the mystery was solved within a week. She came across a Harvard study that proved people have a singular outlook on life. Each of us either sees problems as obstacles that are unmovable, or as small challenges that can be solved. She realized that while the young man was in the former group, she was in the latter, and became determined to use such scientific evidence to change Kuwait’s perspective.
This wouldn’t be the first of Sheikha Intisar’s projects that attempt to change people’s outlooks on the Middle East. While at RIC she was an avid reader, but was constantly disappointed at the frivolous content offered to Arab women. A fluent English and French speaker, she could see that Western magazines offered content that respected women’s intellectuality with reports and studies that inspire a more productive lifestyle. They encouraged women to accept challenges and contribute to their society. Nothing like that existed in the Middle East. With the goal of changing the perspective that Arab women have of themselves, she left RIC and started Lulua Publishing in June of 2011.
She named the publishing company after her grandmother, a woman she described as strong, determined and one that commanded respect. The name is also the Arabic word for pearl. According to the Lulua publishing website it “represents something rare and valuable that encapsulates the journey from suffering to fulfillment.”
It took her almost six months to find the perfect editor in chief, but in the end it was Zeina Bitar’s passion that landed her the job. “I love fire inside people,” said Sheikha Intisar. “I don’t work with people who don’t have fire for change.”
After a couple of failed attempts, the team forged a relationship with a magazine that was perfect for the Arab world and her vision. Good Health, an Australian based magazine published by Bauer Media, was simple, colorful and easily tailored to the Arab community. It encouraged stories that covered medical advances, psychology, relationships, kids and food, to name a few. More importantly, it was a magazine that empowered readers with the sense that they can do something positive, and change their lives.
With the largest annual growth in subscriptions of 10-20%, Good Health Arabia has become one of the largest magazines in the region. Lulua publishing also simultaneously produced books like The Alchemy of Wisdom, a collection of 48 people in Kuwait who have made a positive difference.
Lulua Publishing was up and running, and the Sheikha had time once more to think of how she could change her country for the better, and it was then that she saw the YouTube video, and the realization she came to when she read the Harvard study.
“Since I see a problem, how can I change it? So I thought, how about I start using the scientific evidence and showing it to people. One thing led to another and we decided we are going to advertise positivity using scientific evidence.”
It was from that thought that the nonprofit initiative Alnowair was born, and named after a yellow desert flower with five different species, and as many petal shapes. The flower captures the similarity of our uniqueness. Just as the flowers from each of the five species needs the same elements to survive, everyone in the community needed a positive attitude to grow and flourish.
“Complaining is when you think you are powerless,” she told bazaar. “So you find an excuse to be handicapped. Why? If you don’t want to do it, say I don’t want to do anything about it. I’ll do something about another thing.”
The organization launched with an opening event on March 20, 2013, the International Day of Happiness, dubbed “The Bloom”. The team set up a four-day interactive exhibit in a rundown building. It included activities like the Balloon of Worry, where each of the attendees was encouraged to write a worry on a card, tie it to the balloon, and watch as it floated away. In the Thankful For station, they wrote something they were thankful for and posted it on the wall. Participants were challenged to put a pencil between their teeth, which forced a smile, and experience how you can change your mood to a happy one with that simple action.
The stations were based on the Alnowair tree; an outline the team has created to bring order to their message of cultivating a positive attitude. From Kindness and Simplicity to Gratitude and Making a Difference, each of the seven branches act as a guide for all events, campaigns and activities. Now two years after the opening, the group has successfully carried out more than a dozen events, and they are making quite a yellow splash.
Take their Yellow Car Parade back in November of last year. They took 40 yellow cars, three buses and a whole bunch of supporters from Marina Waves, all the way to Green Island. They aimed to spread awareness on the importance of empathetic driving. By giving way, showing signals and following traffic rules, everyone contributes to a safer and happier Kuwait.
“Road accidents, citations and traffic congestion are one of the biggest problems faced by the people of Kuwait, and one of the ways we can help solve the problem is by being kind while on the road,” said Alnowair campaign manager Gaya Kruchlik.
The group at Alnowair also brought to light issues that may negatively impact our lives without our realizing it. At the end of last year they launched their anti-Phubbing campaign. Phubbing is when you use your PHone and snUB the people around you. According to a study done by the University of Essex, “the presence of mobile phones can interfere with human relationships.” Furthermore the study found that the ”mere presence of mobile communication devices …can have negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation.”
Their 90 stands around The Avenues in December attracted scores of people to their main booth. There they were given Phumbs, a cloth sleeve for their thumbs that would prevent people from using their phones while at the booth. At the end of the event more than 4,000 people signed a pledge to stop Phubbing and start focusing more on the people right in front of them.
Most important, the programs from Alnowair have worked to change our outlook on the very place we live in, Kuwait. Their latest campaign, 30 Yellow Benches, challenged residents to really see the beauty that we may miss every day. Sheikha Intisar and her team placed 30 yellow benches around the country from as far north as Jahra to the southern area of Julai’a. They then presented a challenge to photographers everywhere to visit the benches, and take pictures of the beautiful settings. The benches are located on beachfronts, in the desert and around the city, encouraging everyone to truly see the beauty and wonder that Sheikha Intisar has always appreciated in her country.
Their biggest event of the year is the Think Work Live Positive conference. When it started last year it was the first of its kind in the GCC. Held at the end of April 2014, the two days were packed full of inspirational seminars and workshops in the main lecture room at Gulf University of Science and Technology, and activities in the outside hall such as the Pick an Instant Boost of Positivity, and the opportunity to take a conference selfie.
Throughout the two days, the 600 attendees learned from speakers such as co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series Jack Canfield, professional psychologist and public speaker Dr. Todd Kashdan, and human performance researcher Dr. Adam Fraser who gave attendees tools to having a positive outlook on life.
“Last year was a huge success,” said Sheikha Intisar. “We always offer a few seats for free to people who we know need that positivity. We offered free seats to government teachers, government employees and mothers and doctors because we want a trickle-down effect. We want the influencers to have a positive outlook so they can influence the people they deal with.”
This year’s conference promises to deliver more of the same but better. The Think Work Live Positive 2015 conference brings back Dr. Adam Fraser who will teach attendees how to make the most of every moment. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, bestselling author and professor of psychology at the University of California, will demonstrate “the how of happiness” and will give simple daily practices that boost health productivity and happiness. Finally, the renowned author, T.V. star, international superstar and success guru Dr. Joe Vitale from The Key and DVD The Secret will give the attendees the secret to a positive, happy and healthy life. The goal of the conference is to show people what it really means to be happy, and how little material goods factor in that occasion.
“It’s going to be fabulous,” said Sheikha Intisar. “We don’t talk about money because it’s scientifically proven that big incomes don’t make you happy. It’s the fulfillment of your dream that makes you happier than having a million KD. So we are trying to find the positivity and the happiness in the small things. We look forward to a very entertaining and inspirational two days.”
Until then, Sheikha Intisar has a small fifteen-minute challenge for all of bazaar’s readers. Take five minutes and complain about everything you can think about. Focus on your body, and how it changes with each complaint. Does your heart rate increase? Are you starting to sweat a bit? Are you wringing your hands in anticipation? Take a moment after you are done complaining to completely assess how your body has responded.
Now, take another five minutes to think of everything you like. Find whatever little thrills you may have experienced over the last few days whether it’s a beautiful scene, or a green traffic light when you are late. Assess your body again and see how you physical feel after the five minutes.
“Which state of mind would you like?” she asked. “Complaining strips you of all energy, and happiness. While positivity fuels you.”
For more information on Alnowair check out their website alnowair.com. Follow them on Instagram @al_nowair. For more information on the Think Work Live Positive conference, or to book your ticket visit twlconference.com.
Up Close and Personal Questions
What do you most value in your friends?
I love that my best friends are interesting to talk to as I learn new things from them.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
My garden with friends and family laughing.
What is your greatest fear?
Funny that it is still success.
What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
My inner critic is quite harsh sometimes .
What is the trait you most deplore in others?
When they see firstly the bad and not the good.
Which living person do you most admire?
My daughters each in her amazing way to teach me new things.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I love my jewelry.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
What is it that you most dislike?
Which talent would you most like to have?
To draw, paint or play the guitar.
If you could have any job, what would it be?
I have 5 jobs and love them. Would not change them for the world.
What would you consider your greatest achievement?
My daughters. I love and truly like them. They are amazing.
What is your most treasured possession?
What is your most marked characteristic?
My smile. Can’t keep it hidden for long.
Where would you most like to live?
Kuwait always and forever. Maybe travel but live!!!! Would not swap it for heaven.
What are your favorite words to live by?
Love Hug Smile Make someone happy.