Innovators of the Week: Anna and Balabek

The following post was written by Anna and Balabek, two Special Olympics Youth Leaders from Kazakhstan. The pair make it their mission to strengthen inclusion in their community. Check out how they #innovateforinclusion!

In 2018, I volunteered for the first time at Special Olympics Kazakhstan tennis competitions and saw that the athletes are not only very talented, but that they also know how to make friends and communicate. I became interested and learned more about the Special Olympics program. I wanted to come up with something that would unite all of us so I thought nothing is more suitable than Unified Sports. It was then that the idea to actively develop this direction appeared — to create a Unified team, hold practices and competitions, and to attract other young people to this movement.

In the project, we managed to create a Unified Volleyball and mini-football team throughout Kazakhstan. We were also able to organize 2 Unified Schools — in Almaty and Nur Sultan (Astana), make seminars for volunteers and coaches, and attract young leaders with and without intellectual disabilities to a sports camp.

Our project addresses stereotypes against people with intellectual disabilities by helping them actively participate in society and helping society see athletes just as they see others.

We believe our project has achieved its goal that we set out to accomplish. Now we are actively developing Unified teams in our area. Today the athletes not only train together, but they also participate in other events together, actively communicate with students, play together, and even make flash mobs together.

The 2018–2019 Special Olympics Youth Innovation Grant initiative is supported through partnerships with Hasbro, Inc., The Samuel Family Foundation, the Office of Special Education Programs at the United States Department of Education, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the Kantar Group, the Microsoft Corporation, Lane Global Youth Leadership, and the Lions Clubs International Foundation. Learn more about these inspiring projects at

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