At the heart of NIKE, Inc.’s commitment to women’s sport is listening to and learning from athletes. Inspired by their dedication and achievements, the company applies their insights to products, services and partnerships that aim to create a more equitable playing field. Together, Nike and its athletes share a vision of celebrating and empowering present and future generations.
To accelerate change from the grassroots level, Nike invests in more than 135 community partners supporting women and girls worldwide. In the realm of professional sports, Nike recently made an equity investment in the WNBA to grow the league and create more visibility for its athletes.
Nurturing more meaningful relationships with athletes is also at the root of a new initiative, the Nike Athlete Think Tank. In addition to sharing their experience and insight, the 13 founding member athletes also brought their advocacy, identifying community organizations around the world that NIKE, Inc., in partnership with CAF America (Charities Aid Foundation America), will fund $1.3 million across 20 grants on their behalf.
What We Heard
Nike has a long history of supporting its female athletes in and out of competition. Throughout the past year, Nike leadership invited athletes to the table and asked for their unfiltered feedback. “We opened up the conversation to hear their insights and help inform where we can be better,” says Tanya Hvizdak, VP, Women’s Global Sports Marketing. “We specifically asked how they believe sport can move the world forward, how we can help break barriers to sport and how we can better leverage their input and ideas.”
This group of accomplished, iconic athletes included Ada Hegerberg, Angela Davis, Bebe Vio, Dina Asher-Smith, Deyna Castellanos, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Nafissatou Thiam, Sabrina Ionescu, Scout Bassett, Serena Williams, Shalane Flanagan, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Simone Manuel. They emphasized the financial aspect of creating access to sport and the importance of bringing everyone, especially athletes with disabilities, into inclusion initiatives. They spoke about valuing purpose as much as performance, namely through meaningful community efforts. Many of them reflected on the challenges and barriers they faced along the way, often alleviated by programs and scholarships that set them up for success.
Furthermore, all of the women asked Nike to continue listening to them and amplifying their messages. “Having female athletes be part of these conversations is critical to not just Nike’s development as a company, but to sport development, in general,” says fencer and Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad.
What We Did
They asked, and Nike responded. The company committed to continuing the discussion and created the Nike Athlete Think Tank, an evolved format for gathering and listening. This included partnering with CAF America (Charities Aid Foundation America) to fund $1.3 million for a total of 20 grants for community organizations around the world that were identified by, and align with, each athlete’s advocacy to champion a sense of belonging for women and girls and level the playing field for all communities.
“We initiated the Nike Athlete Think Tank to turn insights into action,” says Whitney Malkiel, Global VP/GM of Nike Women. “Our greatest strength has always been our partnerships with the world’s best individual athletes. For the first time, we’ve united a collective of female icons that span across sports and countries to help us shape strategies that will improve the experience of all girls and women in sport.”
Partnering with athletes and CAF America to fund community organizations is a meaningful part of the Nike Athlete Think Tank’s mission and one that helps them see change happen in their backyards. “The selections athletes made for where to give back are all very personal,” says Hivzdak. “Serena Williams identified the Boys and Girls Clubs of Palm Beach County, while Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce suggested her Pocket Rocket Foundation based in Kingston, Jamaica. Sabrina Ionescu highlighted the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, and Shalane Flanagan spotlighted both Marathon Kids and Amputee Blade Runners.”
The work doesn’t stop here. Nike plans to continue the Nike Athlete Think Tank by inviting more women from their roster, extending the opportunity to create long-term, actionable impact and creating a dedicated space for the company to listen and learn. “The power of community, the power of being able to manifest positive energy and the power of listening to the athlete and how that can move our brand forward — it can’t be overstated,” Hvizdak says.
And that power isn’t lost on athletes. “Being in that environment really fired me up, stretched my thought process and gave me the energy to continue doing the work,” says runner and coach Angela Davis. “I feel like when I come here to Nike, I’m seen and heard,” says sprinter and Olympic medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce. “We can hold hands and go on this journey together because that’s what it’s all about. It’s not just about winning medals and breaking records; it’s about the things that get put in place because of these partnerships to benefit others.”