Hashem Sabbagh


Finalist of the EPIC Awards 2020

"In 1841 the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson said: it’s not the destination that matters. It’s the journey. That quote still rings true to me. While the destination is still uncertain, the journey has been more rewarding than anything I could have dreamed of.
The journey has taught me that when opportunity knocks, ask yourself: Is this an opportunity I believe in passionately and unconditionally? Is this something I am willing to sacrifice everything to work on? Developing and nurturing this mindset has allowed me to experience a lifetime journey unlike any I could have dreamed of. Taking these boys from the depths of despair to empower them to change their life has been an incredible journey."

Executive Producer of Five Football Dreams and International Development Manager at the Black Pearls Football Academy. IMBA 2015.

I was born and raised in Amman, Jordan. I studied to be a lawyer at the University of Nottingham and later graduated from the George Washington University Law School with an LLM. I practiced law as a project finance and capital markets attorney in New York and Amman for 8 years. Later I joined the IE Business School IMBA Program.
I have always tried to look at life through a different lens. Working in a corporate environment was not what I had aspired to, and after attending IE I was inspired to have a career that was more wholesome and meaningful. During the IMBA Program, I attended an internship through Emzingo, with a Brazilian organization named the Black Pearls Football Academy. A couple of years after finishing the MBA, working with the Black Pearls’, we expanded the program by running tryouts for talented teenage refugees in one of the largest refugee camps in the world (Zaatari Refugee Camp).
We successfully chose five boys to pursue their dreams of professional football in Rio de Janeiro. Over the coming months, I grew closer to the boys and eventually decided to document their journey in a feature documentary film that follows their lives as they pursue their lifelong dream. In the process I changed my career from being a corporate lawyer to becoming a film producer. Seeing a dream come true in the eyes of these boys and then having the belief that any goal you set yourself is possible with hard work and determination, even when the odds are heavily stacked against you, is an incredibly empowering mindset. I now hold this virtue in any venture I take on. You can also read about the story here.

How did IE help you get to where you are today?

Throughout my life I have been an avid sports player who always played with passion for the team. As a young man, I played basketball at the University of Nottingham. Our team was made up of diverse nationalities (11 of our 12 players were from different countries). We relished that diversity and made lifelong friends. The experience opened my mind and my soul to accepting and relishing diversity. This same trait was what drove me to the IMBA at IE Business School. The diversity within our class and classrooms was invaluable to my life and an experience I hold dearly.
When the opportunity to take teenage Syrian refugees (who had lived in an enclosed camp for 7 years and were children of war) to Brazil where they would experience a whole different world, I did not hesitate. I knew from my IE experience that diversity in one’s life is invaluable in how you perceive the World and yourself. Being put in a situation that motivates you to succeed, especially after being in such a hopeless place is something which drives these boys every day and is what primarily motivated me to making this project happen.
Without IE I would not have had the pleasure of experiencing life with so many different people, developing my skill-set and confidence to be able to change my career from a lawyer to a movie producer and to feel empowered to have the courage to take risks.

What drove you to work for a cause that believes in the greater good?

At IE, I found a social leadership program, Emzingo, that ticked all the boxes for me. Emzingo allowed MBA students to attend internships at social organizations, startups with a social cause or at projects within companies that had a social goal. At Emzingo, I had the opportunity to learn how business and social good can interact in a creative and innovative way. Learning new concepts in a totally different environment (Brazil), allowed me to really be inspired to pursue a career in social impact.
When opportunity knocked with the Black Pearls project in Jordan, I knew it was the right moment to make that switch I had longed for. I can clearly remember the day when I was convinced this project needed my full committment. It was our first day in Brazil. After their first training session Omar (one of the boys) asked me, in his innocent and fragile way: “can we go out and run up to the top of that mountain?” I said yes of course. He said: “are we not surrounded by a fence?” I said: “Nope. You are free to do anything you want.” His face lit up and he looked around with a deep smile on his face, taking it all in. It was, as if, at that exact moment, Omar finally felt alive. From that point on Omar was a different person. Suddenly he was the joker. The leader of the group. Curious about the world. He used to be a shy and reserved boy. Today he is a totally different person, developing a curiosity for life, a love for nature and a strong ambition to become professional footballers. This newfound love for life inspires me every day.

In what way is your work impacting the world?

The main ambition behind the work I am doing, is to use it to inspire the next generation. By using football as a hook (with an estimated 3 billion football fans) I believe we will be able to attract football fans from all over the world to this inspirational story. Telling the story from the perspective of five young refugee boys will allow audiences from all over the world to engage with this unique journey and have profound connections with their experiences.
Stories of young refugees as thematically hopeful and ambitious are under-represented in worldwide cinema. My mindset has shifted to focus my attention on presenting this story to a global audience and to maximize the impact I can have on the world by influencing the manner in which audiences perceive (not just) refugees, but also foreigners and to use this narrative as fuel to influence different outlooks and perspectives (one of hope rather than pity). This is something which motivates me every day.


Every alumni has a story that deserves to be told.
Share yours or nominate someone EPIC for next edition.