Over the past three years, Special Olympics has successfully delivered on an ambitious vision to transform school settings into communities of acceptance and inclusion. Through the Play Unified: Learn Unified initiative supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), Special Olympics implemented its transformative school-based programming—Unified Schools—in 14 countries across the globe. Even more important, the initiative has reached over 190,000 youth and led to valuable insights about how they define, and desire global inclusion, and a future dominated by understanding, empathy, and dignity. Not only did the initiative generate evidence that Unified Schools programming is a powerful tool for fostering inclusive mindsets and behaviors, but the programming established a foundational footprint for expansion that includes regional hubs of excellence now poised to share their expertise.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation has committed over $8,500,000 USD to support and advance inclusion in education and sport over the next three years; but more than that, the Foundation has empowered the entire movement to amplify the voices of our athletes, Youth Leaders, and thought leaders to bring the message of inclusion to a world hungry for something positive to believe in. We are facing a global community at odds with one another; a global pandemic is serving to deepen this divide, resulting in an ‘othering’ never seen before in our national and global social dialogues; the urgency to finding solutions cannot be overstated. Through this historic grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, the athletes of Special Olympics have the solution—to Play Unified, to Learn Unified, and to launch a Global Campaign for Inclusion.
“The power of this project is that it really starts the whole process of inclusion at the level of the young people. They play together, they learn together, and they learn to respect one another.”
Special Olympics is incredibly grateful to the Foundation for their trust and confidence in our movement to deliver the urgent change needed for a world ever-more divided. Our movement is eager to bring this Global Campaign for Inclusion around the world—in every school, in every community—to demonstrate that sustained social inclusion is not only possible but is our future. Achieving human rights and inclusive sustainable development for all demands not only high-quality practices, but also fostering enabling environments—most notably in educational settings.
“We want to let these young people challenge their adult leaders, policy makers. We want to allow the voices of inclusion to become the voice of change at the highest levels of government, of business, of society, of culture.”
The success of Special Olympics’ partnership with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation has proven that powerful programming that empowers youth to become leaders for inclusion has the potential to drive policy makers to action. Over the next three years, thanks to the generous support from the Foundation, Special Olympics will:
- Launch a Global Coalition for Education and Inclusion that engages 50 Ministries of Education, Sport, Youth, and Social Welfare and works to provide support and guidance to inform inclusive policies.
- Raise $100 Million (U.S. Dollars) in direct cash and value-in-kind from governments and organizations to drive forward a movement of inclusion and acceptance worldwide.
- Create a network of 35 Global Thought Leaders to spread the impact of Unified Schools and galvanize support for Special Olympics’ global inclusive policy agenda through speaking at events and writing op-eds to unleash a message of inclusion into the mainstream public discourse.
- Expand Play Unified: Learn Unified into 22 countries, sustaining 1,900 Unified Schools and creating 700 new Unified Schools that promote social inclusion and social-emotional learning through inclusive sport, inclusive youth leadership, and youth-led advocacy for inclusion in primary schools, secondary schools, and universities, transforming school climates into communities of acceptance.
These three strategies will counter the loud and dangerous voices that are attempting to divide and dominate people today by instead lifting the powerful and visionary voices of youth, who can see a more just and joyful tomorrow. By joining forces, there is no doubt the efforts of SNF and Special Olympics have the potential to spill beyond the schoolhouse doors to create communities and cultures where differences are accepted and embraced.