Moving one million kilometres to help 50 athletes realise their Special Olympics dreams.
In an ideal world, Special Olympics wouldn’t exist - or at least wouldn’t need to exist. That’s the vision of Zehra Sayin, CEO, Special Olympics Belgium. "I would love to live in a future where there’s no need for our organisation; where everyone has the right to take part in any sport, no matter who they are. That’s something unfortunately we’re still a long way from," she explains. "Today, we spend most of our time explaining why people with intellectual disabilities have as much right to practice sports as everyone else. There are obstacles everywhere. We want to destroy them," she adds.
Special Olympics is the world's largest sports organisation for children and adults with intellectual disabilities. It provides year-round training and events for more than five million athletes worldwide, more than 17,000 in Belgium.
Over the past five years, Special Olympics has been actively working toward real inclusion in sports. First, with its ‘Open the mind’ campaign that broached the conversation about inclusion. It encouraged 40,000 visitors to attend events to see what Special Olympics is all about. In 2016, Special Olympics' 'Dare to Play' movement sought to encourage sports associations to allow people with an intellectual disability to train with them in regular clubs.
"We've seen that our athletes who train in public clubs and teams experience far greater and faster social evolution. Our aim’s to have 20,000 people with an intellectual disability actively taking part in sports by 2020," Zehra Sayin notes. Teams that invest in opening their doors are awarded Special Olympics’ Play Unified label. In 2018, Special Olympics launched its 'Dare to sponsor' campaign to encourage corporates to sponsor athletes.
"It takes just under 200 euros a year to finance an athlete. But for most of our sponsors, it’s about more than just giving money. With Special Olympics, companies have an opportunity to invite their people to do something really meaningful. Volunteering, helping out at events and seeing the athletes they’re supporting potentially win a medal - and if not, have a great deal of fun trying! -, engages employees in a totally different way," Zehra Sayin enhuses.
© François Evrard
Special Olympics relies heavily on donations and volunteers. That’s how Zehra Sayin got involved with the organisation, volunteering to pack lunch boxes for the athletes for an event. "Seeing the joy on the athletes’ faces and those of their parents gives you such a feeling of satisfaction. Working with an enterprise like Special Olympics, you can see the difference you’re making. You’re really changing lives," she enthuses.
Special Olympics Belgium currently has 14,000 volunteers on its books, 11,000 of who are active at least three times a year.
"Today, CSR’s taken much more seriously and is often part of the CEO’s vision."
Corporate invovlement’s something she’s seen evolve significantly over the past few years. “There’s been a huge mental shift. Firms now understand that corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes aren’t just a 'nice to have' or a box to tick. Today, CSR’s taken much more seriously and is often part of the CEO’s vision.” And that’s changing the conversations she’s having with them.
"For companies looking to make a difference, Special Olympics is a great story. People get really involved with the athletes they sponsor," Zehra Sayin says. She adds, "we've never lost a sponsor. Once a bond’s formed, it’s hard to break." This unique sponsorship model is one of the reasons that Special Olympics’ Dare to sponsor campaign won a eurobest gold Award in 2018. The last two campaigns were awarded national and European Gold Effies.
PwC’s opted to combine sponsorship of Special Olympics with our ambition to help our people find the right balance between non-stop activities and making time for themselves, to enable them to grow, personally and professionally, and importantly lower their chance of burnout.
Our new Fit for Your wellbeing programme stimulates everyone to make the lifestyle changes required to enjoy better health. To help boost their motivation, we’ve set ourselves the target of moving one million kilometers in a year. For every 20,000 kms our people move, we’ll donate the money needed to support the Special Olympic ambitions of one athlete. To help further engage our people, we’ll also be including Special Olympics as one of the projects our people can volunteer with during our annual Community Days initiative.
Why one million kms? As well as being a nice round number, it represents the amount of people who’re in daily contact with the 165,000 people in Belgium with an intellectual disability. By moving one million kms, we’ve the potential to reach almost 10% of the Belgian population. For Special Olympics, taking part’s more important than winning. Its motto is "let me win, but if I can't win, let me be brave in the attempt," which we believe ideally mirrors our Fit for You programme and what we’re looking to achieve.
Making this contribution also fits well with our community programme and global PwC values, especially work together and make a difference. Once we’ve reached our overall goal, we’ll be helping 50 athletes realise their Special Olympics dream.