NBK RISE: Advancing women’s empowerment in the region

KUWAIT: Since it was first introduced, “NBK RISE,” a women-led leadership global initiative aimed at empowering and supporting women leaders while fostering a supportive environment for their skill development and readiness for leadership roles, has achieved remarkable success and garnered significant attention in Kuwait and the region. The program has embraced the task of breaking down barriers and propelling the advancement of a culture of women’s empowerment within private sector organizations. Furthermore, it aspires to create a ripple effect, inspiring other institutions to prioritize diversity and inclusivity in their leadership ranks.

The program, unveiled by Shaikha Al-Bahar, Deputy Group CEO of National Bank of Kuwait, signifies a stride towards consolidating endeavors aimed at empowering women to achieve their full potential. This initiative aligns with the bank’s belief in the pivotal role of diversity and inclusion in securing the future sustainability of all organizations.

In a relatively brief period, NBK RISE has achieved significant success in actively bolstering and advocating for women’s leadership not only in Kuwait but also across the region and on a global scale. It has achieved this by engaging, inspiring, and motivating women from diverse geographical areas, sectors, and fields of expertise. Additionally, the program has aimed to establish a community of women leaders committed to the ongoing advancement and sustainable development of this initiative.

The program has proven to be an inspiring initiative that extends beyond NBK’s efforts. It has also engaged several prominent organizations in Kuwait, as they jointly signed a pledge to enhance the representation of women in leadership positions. This action demonstrates their strong dedication to collaborating to achieve the goals of this global program.

Najla Al-Sager, Head of Talent Management, NBK Group Human Resources, manages the initiative in collaboration with Alia Abu El-Fath, Head of Corporate Communications, NBK Capital and Global Wealth Management. They contribute their communication expertise and the knowledge gained throughout their professional journeys to create an exceptional leadership program. This program is developed in partnership with renowned educational institutions, experts, and specialists in the field. Its primary goal is to provide training and development opportunities for female candidates aspiring to assume leadership roles.

Over the course of nine months, NBK RISE offered a structured framework aimed at fostering the growth and professional advancement of participants not only from NBK Kuwait but also from other organizations involved in the program. Throughout this period, participants received valuable guidance and support from seasoned leaders, along with specialized leadership training to enhance their skills and capabilities.

On this notable occasion, Najla Al-Sager, a key contributor to the program’s development, remarked, “Within NBK Group, we have a substantial number of female professionals who possess the potential and talent for leadership. Furthermore, these female trainees already hold key positions within the bank’s organizational structure. Therefore, the program was meticulously crafted to cater to the unique needs and aspirations of these candidates.”

Al-Sager also emphasized that at NBK RISE, their mission is to foster an environment that encourages the growth of these women and provides a supportive atmosphere. They aim to inspire these aspiring female leaders to excel and continue learning, offering them the opportunities and skillsets required to potentially assume the roles of CEOs and break down board room barriers in the future.

“What is truly unique about this program is that it is not limited to NBK. The organization has commitments from multiple organizations such as Al-Shaya, Saudi Telecom (STC), Burgan Bank, Commercial Bank of Kuwait, and EQUATE,” she noted. She further elaborated that these institutions nominated program participants under the complete sponsorship of NBK Group. The initial group comprised twenty-one participants, including ten from NBK Kuwait, six from the bank’s international branches, and five from other companies. The diverse group composition demonstrates their dedication to realizing their goals of diversity and inclusivity.

Al-Sager also noted that the participants came from all the countries where NBK has a presence, as well as from different departments within the bank. This diversity extends to external participants as well, ensuring a rich exchange of backgrounds and practical experiences. Al-Sager highlighted that NBK has forged partnerships with prestigious universities worldwide to enrich the program’s training content. These collaborations include renowned business schools such as INSEAD, Franklin Covey, and IE Business School, which have crafted customized leadership training modules explicitly tailored for NBK RISE. She emphasized that NBK RISE was designed to offer a comprehensive educational experience, incorporating peer and group training. Furthermore, it provides participants with the chance to collaborate with external trainers and receive guidance from mentors within NBK management.

Meanwhile, Alia Abu El-Fath said, “Our objective with this program is to drive a transformative change that spans across various business sectors and to offer learning and development pathways for future women leaders on a global scale. This mission commences with each one of us, enabling us to serve as role models and actively contribute to achieving this aspiration.”

What sets this program apart, as Abu El-Fath put it, is that it was developed by women, drawing on their collective knowledge and experience. “At the start of the program, we found that women made up half of all corporate employees throughout the world. However, just two out of every ten top executives were women. This brought to light the need for new perspectives and creative solutions to help correct this discrepancy,” she added. She further explained that the program’s resilience is rooted in the unwavering dedication of top management to investing in human capital, prioritizing training, and upholding the principles of diversity and inclusion.

“NBK RISE was founded with the goal of transforming mindsets and advancing women’s leadership not only in Kuwait but also on a global scale. This objective is achieved by actively involving, inspiring, and motivating women from diverse regions, sectors, and areas of expertise. The ultimate aim is to foster a community of women leaders that can perpetuate and further develop this initiative,” Abu El-Fath indicated. She clarified that the program has shown that to drive change effectively, organizations must move beyond competition. She also highlighted that NBK RISE is taking proactive steps towards achieving sustainable growth and enhancing the presence of women in high-level leadership positions.


Skills development

The 9-month program is structured into modules, each focusing on specific aspects of leadership. These modules are meticulously crafted to prepare and develop female candidates for senior management roles, equipping them with essential leadership, strategic, and technical competencies. A total of 21 participants, hailing from various professional backgrounds, took part in the program. They represented NBK Kuwait, NBK international branches, and partner groups. Here is a breakdown of the program’s participants:

Preparations were undertaken to deliver four training modules to program participants, which are outlined as follows:

  • The first module, in collaboration with “IE Business School,” emphasized technical development. During this phase, participants received instruction on various educational topics, including key trends, growth strategies, creativity and innovation, and effective decision-making, among other subjects.
  • The second module, in collaboration with Franklin Covey, concentrated on enhancing personal skills and self-discovery by applying the principles of the seven habits of highly effective leaders.
  • The third module, in cooperation with INSEAD, placed an emphasis on leadership skills and the ability to lead change effectively. It also addressed certain standards and behaviors that can impede women’s progress in leadership and drive change. This unit provided practical exercises and training on overcoming obstacles to change and implementing strategic initiatives, covering the entire process from planning to execution.
  • The fourth module, in collaboration with “IE Business School,” centered on behavioral skills with the objective of improving self-awareness, honing comprehensive leadership abilities, and mastering negotiation and communication skills.
  • The program encompassed a total of approximately 140 training hours, covering a wide range of topics such as growth strategies, creativity and innovation, and effective decision-making.


Best initiative for women

NBK RISE achieved significant recognition by receiving two prestigious awards in 2023. It was honored as the Best Initiative for Women in Business and the Best Implementation of Diversity & Inclusion Initiatives at the MEED MENA Banking Excellence 2023.


Training material

Svenja Weber, Professor of Organizational Behavior at INSEAD Business School, said, “It was a delightful experience collaborating with the participants in NBK RISE program. INSEAD Business School conducted a 4-day training segment of the program, which is designed to support high-potential women in excelling in their current roles and expedite their advancement into future leadership positions. The module dedicated equal focus to the common challenges encountered by all leaders while also addressing the specific hurdles that women might confront. The training sessions provided a platform for participants to exchange their leadership experiences within a conducive learning environment.”

Meanwhile, Eliana El-Hage, Vice President of Business Development – IE Center for Leadership Development and Innovation (MEA Region), remarked, “ NBK RISE program is underpinned by a common belief in the significance of women occupying senior leadership roles. In partnership with NBK Group, we have established a training program to closely monitor the progress of participants and fulfill the program’s objectives. The training offered valuable insights into leadership and equipped participants with practical tools and techniques that they can readily apply in their respective roles within their organizations.”

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