Guest contribution from Panos Vazaios, Program Officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation
During the 50th anniversary of Special Olympics, we were delighted to witness firsthand the passion and motivation of the athletes as they participated in the games and events throughout the week. The professionalism, pride, and determination the volunteers and supporters of Special Olympics exhibited throughout the events cannot be overstated. Despite the significant progress Special Olympics has made throughout the years, exclusion is still a reality for millions of people around the world who grapple with its effects in every aspect of their lives — from sports and health to education and leadership. The 50th anniversary event gave us the opportunity to experience the impact the Unified Sports platform has as the ideal tool to disseminate the message of inclusion to combat neglect, stigmatization, and marginalization, starting with the next generation.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is a proud partner of Special Olympics International, working hand-in-hand to expand the program’s demonstrated ability to transform schools into spaces of inclusiveness. Our three-year $10 million grant will support the expansion of the Unified Sports and Unified Schools program to 14 countries worldwide. The partnership aims to create a minimum of 100 more Unified Schools per country, to train over 14,000 new Unified Sports Coaches, and to engage over 500,000 athletes and Unified partners. In addition, it will offer more than 200 Youth Innovation Grants for Unified pairs.
Our collaboration with Special Olympics and the global social inclusion movement is a logical next step, both for the SNF’s global philanthropic work as well as the philosophy and ethos that guides us: to work towards, to the best of our abilities, a more just society. A society characterized by inclusion, respect, acceptance and understanding. Special Olympics transcends athletics, using sports as a vehicle to empower individuals and their families and focus on what unites us, rather than what sets us apart. We are proud to support such a noble cause as it ties in with the Foundation’s overall work in supporting similar initiatives.
Our journey together began earlier this year, when in June of 2018 we had the honor of welcoming Dr. Timothy Shriver at the 7th SNF Conference on Philanthropy, where he provided the keynote speech. In addition, we were lucky to have with us Brina Maxino, an inspiring and dynamic global ambassador of Special Olympics with a great sense of humor, who spoke about her journey in overcoming difficulty and bias and the empowerment of her right to dream. We look forward to standing by our partners at Special Olympics and supporting the global social inclusion movement’s goal of forging stronger youth engagement worldwide and transforming education through sports.