Most of us know that Special Olympics has a profound impact on the athletes who participate and on communities around the world. What you probably don’t know is that Special Olympics now runs a Leadership Academy that provides comprehensive leadership training in seven global regions encompassing 170 countries around the world.
The Academy first launched as a three-day leadership workshop in Delhi, India, in December 2014. Since then, we have conducted a total of nine workshops involving 237 leaders from 85 countries.
Leaders who have taken part in the Academy report increased funding, strengthened and expanded partnerships and increases in the number of athletes and volunteers, among many other positive results.
Embodying Inclusive Leadership
For leaders—both athletes and program leaders—the Academy provides training through workshops that cover an array of leadership skills. This includes leading and influencing others, emotional intelligence, transformational and network leadership, change management and more.
Focusing on the Special Olympics mission and vision, the Leadership Academy highlights the ideas and proven practices of inclusive leadership.
We practice what we preach by bringing together leaders with and without intellectual disability as equal participants in the Academy.
For a year following each training, participants get additional support to integrate the new skills into their work. They report on their progress after six months and one year. The level of engagement and strength of positive feedback has reinforced how much our leaders need and value development opportunities – and how much more there is to do.
A Tangible Impact
The reporting data indicate the program is making a real and tangible difference to the development of Special Olympics. That said, it’s the personal stories that capture it best.
In Sri Lanka, participants credited the Academy with transforming the way they do the behind-the-scenes work – and ultimately increasing visibility of and participation in Special Olympics.
A Special Olympics Leadership Academy participant from Sri Lanka puts it this way: “We reshuffled the committee and the teams based on what we learned from the Leadership Academy, dividing ourselves up by our skills. We selected districts in the North, East, West, and South, and before the date we called a media conference with major TV and radio channels and major newspapers in Sri Lanka. In the end, we registered more than 500 new athletes, coaches, volunteers, and families within one day, and we are getting continuous phone calls from people who want to join with Special Olympics Serendib.”