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Press Releases

Empowering Youth to Bridge the Divide

Special Olympics and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) partner to launch the Global Campaign for Inclusion.

18 November 2021—New York, New York: As part of a historic initiative to advance inclusive development worldwide for youth of all abilities, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) has provided the Special Olympics movement with a new grant of $8,500,000 USD to launch a Global Campaign for Inclusion in support of individuals with intellectual disabilities. The support makes possible a partnership that will elevate awareness of the transformative power of Special Olympics inclusive programming around the world and empower youth to help drive a global policy effort to support inclusion in schools and communities.

“We are honored to gain the continued support of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation to bring to the world a Global Campaign for Inclusion that rejects and counters the divisive words of political extremes. The Special Olympics’ message of inclusion is one of acceptance of difference that touches hundreds of millions of children and youth around the world. We know that our athletes, and the youth of today across the world have a voice that needs amplification, and strong consideration. Their message is apolitical, non-polarizing—it is one of solidarity, unity and hope that will see us through such a divisive time in human history.”
Tim Shriver, Chair of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors

The grant from SNF, one of the world’s leading philanthropic organizations, builds on the Foundation’s support for and partnership with Special Olympics International since 1998. It makes possible the expansion of the Special Olympics inclusive education through the Special Olympics Unified Schools sports program, Unified Schools, which embeds inclusive sports and inclusive youth engagement in school settings. The expansion effort will see the program develop to reach 22 nations and almost 3,000 schools. In addition, the grant will launch both a robust thought leadership campaign on the theme of inclusion as well as the creation of the first-ever Global Coalition for Inclusion and Education, a coalition of national governments, United Nations agencies, foreign aid agencies and Foundations whose aim it is to strengthen social inclusion globally through education.

“SNF seeks to support lasting social change for the better, and Special Olympics has a proven record of helping create permanent shifts in mindset that ripple outward from individuals to schools, to families, to communities, and even to whole nations. We’re very lucky to have committed and energized young people of all abilities showing us the way to a more inclusive future. SNF is proud to be part of the effort to amplify their voices while delivering key services in schools worldwide.”

Through the global Play Unified: Learn Unified global partnership platform, Special Olympics and SNF have successfully delivered on an ambitious vision to transform school settings into communities of acceptance and inclusion for youth with and without intellectual disabilities. Since 2018, Play Unified: Learn Unified has reached over 190,000 youth with and without intellectual disabilities in 14 countries across the globe, leading to valuable insights about how they define and value global inclusion. In its first three years, the initiative generated global evidence that Unified Schools programming is a powerful tool for fostering inclusive mindsets and behaviors. After participating in Play Unified: Learn Unified:

  • 8 out of 10 teachers believe that Unified Schools programming has positively impacted their school climate.
  • 94 percent of schools reported that Unified Schools programming has made a big impact in reducing bullying, teasing and offensive language in their schools.
  • Students in Greece were nine times more likely to believe they can learn from people different than themselves, and nine times more likely to believe they can make their school a better place.
  • Over 90 percent of students with and without intellectual disabilities in India and Kenya believe Unified Schools changed behaviors such as bullying, teasing, and use of offensive languages.

Building off the success of Play Unified: Learn Unified, Special Olympics and SNF will partner to launch this new ambitious three-year partnership, the Global Campaign for Inclusion, with a focus on the urgent goal of teaching and elevating a youth-led message of inclusion worldwide. Special Olympics will expand Play Unified: Learn Unified to 22 countries, delivering the message of inclusion to thought leaders who shape mainstream public discourse, and will convene a Global Leadership Coalition for Education and Inclusion that will propel this important area of inclusive development into more communities as part of a shared commitment to inclusion and the celebration of a common humanity.

About Special Olympics

Founded in 1968, Special Olympics is a global movement to end discrimination against people with intellectual disabilities. We foster acceptance of all people through the power of sport and programming in education, health, and leadership. With more than six million athletes and Unified Sports partners in over 190 countries and territories and more than one million coaches and volunteers, Special Olympics delivers more than 30 Olympic-type sports and over 100,000 games and competitions every year. Engage with us on: Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedInand our blog on Medium. Learn more at

About the Stavros Niarchos Foundation

The Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) is one of the world’s leading private, international philanthropic organizations, making grants to nonprofit organizations in the areas of arts and culture, education, health and sports, and social welfare. SNF funds organizations and projects worldwide that aim to achieve a broad, lasting, and positive impact for society at large, and exhibit strong leadership and sound management. The Foundation also supports projects that facilitate the formation of public-private partnerships as an effective means for serving public welfare.

Since 1996, the Foundation has committed more than $3.2 billion through over 5,000 grants to nonprofit organizations in more than 135 countries around the world.

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Media Contact

Jason Teitler

SVP, Global Communications and Brand Lead, Marketing and Development
Special Olympics International

Patricia Keim

Stavros Niarchos Foundation
Co-Director, Communications