07 Jun 2021
Waleed Abu Nada is an award-winning social entrepreneur who has gained global recognition as a supporter of young people in disadvantaged communities. He is the founder and director of The Champ Camp, a social business actively empowering and developing the young people of Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp in Jordan through sports-based solutions.
Alongside his various fellowships and honours, Waleed was the first-ever Arab recipient of the prestigious Filippas Engel award in 2018. Waleed also regularly delivers mentorship, talks and workshops with individuals and organisations across the world, aiming to spread the vision of social inclusion through grassroots sports innovation.
What has sport given you?
Growing up in Jordan, sport was always my go-to platform to stay off the streets and away from all the trouble that came with it. I have seen and experienced the power of sport as a writer, athlete, coach and now an entrepreneur. I have also experienced it first-hand in a myriad of environments, from streets and refugee camps to competitions and tournaments all the way to the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. At the age of 14, I turned some of my ideas into reality and launched a one-month focus programme that provided sports-based youth development for 13 young boys from Marka, Jordan. Despite the successful delivery, the programme was not sustainable, as I ended up parting ways with the boys I worked with. That experience was a turning point in my life. While it indeed showed me the magic that sport can do with vulnerable youngsters, it also allowed me to understand the necessity of investing in long-term solutions. From that point onwards, I became determined to use sport as a vehicle that drives community development in a sustainable manner.
Tell us about your IOC Young Leaders project objectives and impact.
The Champ Camp is located at the heart of the world's largest refugee camp for Palestinians: Al-Baqa’a. When it was first established as an emergency camp in 1968, Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp had 5,000 tents for an estimated 26,000 Palestinian refugees. Over five decades later, the camp currently hosts just over 220,000 Palestinian refugees who are still confronted by extreme economic and social challenges.
Initially created in 2017 to encourage youth participation in sports, The Champ Camp has developed into an organisation that is tackling serious social issues on a community scale. Our sports-based programmes aim to provide young people with meaningful opportunities to participate in their society. By capitalising on our long-term youth-building model, we are allowing young people to engage in Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp in an unprecedented manner. The Champ Camp is allowing its beneficiaries to no longer be confined in predefined societal positions. Our commitment to the mission of building champions for life has meant that our safe space became a platform of growth for each young person on the quest of finding their purpose.
How has your project impacted your community?
One of the most important objectives of our sports-based programmes is to provide young people with meaningful opportunities to participate in a society where they frequently feel neglected. By capitalising on our long-term youth development model, we are allowing young people to engage with their society in an unprecedented manner. Several organisations and actors in the development sector in the area work on providing basic needs along with a sense of security for people, but almost no one is addressing the issue of the general sense of aimless existence amongst its young people. By addressing this critical gap, sport allows vulnerable youngsters to have a purpose that motivates them to drive forward in a tough environment.
Just like many existing sports programmes worldwide, what we offer across our different scopes allows our young people to develop necessary skills and resources. What is more important than mere capacity-building, however, is having a model that allows young people to use these developed skills to contribute to their communities. This bridge would be created by providing opportunities for meaningful engagement. As our young people increase their engagement with their community, we are almost certain that they will be able to influence decisions and create changes in Al-Baqa’a Refugee Camp. As such, they will be driving the impact across all of the community and even beyond.
Although The Champ Camp at its core is an Olympic weightlifting school, its model has provided an environment that goes beyond simply building champion athletes. We are building champions for life. Based on this philosophy, we have succeeded in delivering numerous holistic grassroots programmes that have significantly contributed to the development of our young people. Some of these programmes include entrepreneurship hubs to solve complex problems, educational camps to offer unique skills, women-only safe spaces to tackle local challenges, self-development schemes for the acquisition of interpersonal skills, and beyond. On an athletic level, our champions have collected over 300 medals in local and international competitions.
Making up the majority of Jordan’s national team, they have competed in five different countries. Additionally, we have proudly created the largest women’s weightlifting team in the history of the Arab world – evidence of our strong commitment to breaking barriers through sport. Our work and efforts have received various international recognition, extending from royal visits to being celebrated on United Nations occasions. One of our most notable achievements was becoming the first-ever Arab recipients of the prestigious Filippas Engel award – winning both main prizes in 2018.
What does being part of the IOC Young Leaders Programme mean for you?
The IOC Young Leaders programme provided me with a platform to transform my ideas into reality in the absolute best manner I could. It has provided me with opportunities to explore new cultures, new thoughts and new frameworks. It is a life-changing experience that extends beyond the lifetime of the programme. It will always continue to live with me as a philosophy of constant growth and pursuit of excellence. For me, the IOC Young Leaders Programme embodies what it means to be a champion for life.
How important has the support of TOP Partner Panasonic been to your project?
Panasonic's support for the success of my project has been incredible. Beyond the financial support, it provided me with the opportunity to develop a network of like-minded individuals from all across the world, which is something that you only appreciate when you have it. It is indeed a rare experience that not many get to enjoy, and as such I’ll always be grateful for it. It also allowed me to benefit from resources and mentorship opportunities that have shaped my thinking, and will continue to have an impact on me for a long time to come.
What have you learned from being part of the programme?
Entrepreneurial thinking goes hand-in-hand with community development. The programme has allowed me to combine my passion for entrepreneurship and innovation and interests in community and social development. It has also provided me with a level of exposure that has not only broadened my horizons and thinking but also allowed me to be creative with my problem-solving methodology.
What is your advice for the next generation of problem-solvers?
On an organisational level, keep it local. Local solutions for local problems using local interventions and local resources. Do not impose any models on communities, but instead see them as co-creators of change. Community-driven development is the way to go.
And on an individual level, make sure to stay authentic. Do not let the attention you receive change you or your values. All the way from initiation to execution, remain a student who is constantly eager to learn and improve.