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Layla Alhajjaj, Director of Legacy, World Games Abu Dhabi 2019

Layla Alhajjaj

Special Olympics Middle East / North Africa, Manager of Transformation and Legacy for Special Olympics UAE, World Games Abu Dhabi 2019

During Women’s History Month, seven women, one from each Special Olympics Region, shared their unique stories of what it was like to participate in and plan a World Games.

What World Games were you involved in and what was your role?

I was a part of Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi 2019. My role varied. I started in the strategy & the planning team working on roadmaps and milestones for the delivery of the Games. However, I realized that I wanted to have a role that was more community focused with a direct interaction with the athletes and their families and to be involved more in the legacy projects that would last beyond the Games.

I was then in charge of the formation & restructuring of Special Olympics UAE organization and the development of the Special Olympics UAE team to prepare them for the Games. Within the committee, I was responsible of managing athletes’ appearances at all the events in the lead up to the Games. I was lucky to be part of both worlds, the World Games organizing committee and the local organization, Special Olympics UAE, at the same time.

What are you most proud of from your work with the World Games?

I am proud that my work has directly impacted the legacy of the Games to ensure a sustainable, continuous impact as opposed to being involved in the games management only. I truly feel blessed to have had a role that gave me the chance to experience things on a ground level and be a part of the community.

How did this role influence the work you do in your current position?

Working on the World Games made me realize that I am happiest when I am working in a job that has a social impact element. Before joining the World Games, I worked in oil and gas for 6.5 years and I was not content in it. I made a career change to join the World Games committee. After the World Games, I couldn’t see myself working in a corporate environment anymore.

I joined Special Olympics UAE for a full-time job as the director of health & initiatives, which is currently where I work. I also recently opened a hair salon with the concept of sustainable & ethical beauty where a big part of it is contributing to the change we need to see in the world by educating people about minimizing waste and the daily decisions we make as consumers that could impact the environment.

What advice would you share with women who aspire to be in a role like yours?

When choosing a job or a career path, you need to dive deep within and find what is aligned with your values and how you want to contribute. Believe in yourself and have confidence that you can land a job and kick start a career that brings you happiness and not only generates an income.

Who is your female role model?

My manager for the World Games, Tala Al Ramahi, the chief strategy officer for the local organizing committee. I look up to her ability to achieve a life-work balance. To be able to have a successful leadership position and be a successful mom who is involved day to day with the kids while managing to stay calm and collected at all times is a state of mind that is hard to achieve. Working within her team reassured me that a woman can have both worlds and be fully present in both.

Women of World Games

  • Dorothy Okatch Special Olympics Africa, Basketball Official, World Games Abu Dhabi 2019
  • Nicole Harris Special Olympics Asia Pacific, Special Olympics Australia athlete on 2025 & 2029 World Winter Games Bid Evaluation Team
  • Kyung-won Na Special Olympics East Asia, Chairwoman, World Winter Games Pyeongchang 2013
  • Róża Banasik-Zarańska Special Olympics Europe Eurasia, Kayaking Technical & Unified Sports Delegate
  • Teresa Leitão Special Olympics Latin America, Tennis Technical Delegate at the 2011, 2015, and 2019 World Games
  • Kristine Hughes Assistant Technical Delegate, Volleyball, World Games Berlin 2023
  • Layla Alhajjaj Special Olympics Middle East / North Africa, Manager of Transformation and Legacy for Special Olympics UAE, World Games Abu Dhabi 2019

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