Building Inclusivity into Business – Lessons from the World of Sport

By Galimzhan Yessenov, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Jusan Bank and founder of the Almaty Marathon

Earlier this year I wrote an opinion piece about how business leaders can take lessons from elite sport to help their decision-making, performance and management. I explained how I personally have absorbed a number of key principles from my own amateur training as well as exposure to some of the world’s elite athletes through my involvement in some of Central Asia’s major sporting events and organizations. 

In particular, my charitable fund, the Courage to be First Foundation, puts on the Almaty Marathon each year in Kazakhstan, which has grown to become one of Central Asia’s largest sports events, attracting some of the region’s top marathoners, and I’m helped in this endeavour by having some of Kazakhstan’s great athletes on the Board of the Marathon, including cycling legend Alexander Vinokurov.

The lessons that sport have to offer, however, go far beyond elite athletics and high-level training. The reason I and my co-founders decided to launch a charitable fund dedicated to sport and to put on mass participatory sporting events was to showcase the benefits of sport to a much wider audience than previously had access in Kazakhstan and Central Asia, and this purpose is central to our activities to this day. 

As I write this we’ve had tens of thousands of participants from dozens of countries around the world take part in our events, and we have designed as part of our events routes and processes that encourage beginners to take part and see how sport can benefit them, and participation has grown year on year as word has spread. 

Most recently, we held the Almaty Half Marathon, which saw more than 8,000 participants from 30 countries take part. In this year’s edition, we also hosted the 2024 Virtus World Half Marathon and 10K Road races, marking the first time that the international federation for athletes with intellectual disabilities brought its events to Asia. 28 athletes from 8 countries took part in the races, with a strong contingent from Kazakhstan, and we were immensely proud to be able to broaden access to sport yet further through the event. 

Clearly, taking an inclusive approach to sport has had its benefits. How can this be applied in business? I see three clear advantages of the approach. 

Firstly, bringing a range of perspectives to a team means more innovation. At Jusan Bank, where I am Chairman of the Board of Directors, our teams are often faced with complex challenges in developing better customer solutions across our suite of retail, business and investment banking offers. We encourage teams to be formed with a range of backgrounds and experiences, which results in a wider range of ideas being raised, and quicker solutions thanks to different streams of thought and approach. 

We also see that inclusivity improves decision-making and risk management. Rather than concentrating decision-making power with a handful of managers, diverse teams raise more perspectives about potential risk, avoid blindspots, and mitigate the dangers of groupthink. 

Finally, inclusive teams often better represent the end users of the products and solutions they are trying to develop. In our retail banking operation in Kazakhstan, for example, we aim to improve financial inclusion through making banking services more easily and readily accessible, which has unique challenges in a country with such extreme geography – we have one of the lowest population densities in the world. Our product teams are therefore better equipped to know how to design services that meet customer needs when they are comprised of a wide range of backgrounds and viewpoints.