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David Evangelista: Using the Transformative Power of Sport to Break Down Barriers of Exclusion

David Evangelista: Using the Transformative Power of Sport to Break Down Barriers of Exclusion

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse picture books and online curriculum with the mission to empower over a million kids to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews by our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring Social Entrepreneurs and Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Builders, who are advancing the UN SDGs. 

Spiffy here! I’m back with the scoop on the changemaking leaders of Planet Earth. As the only interplanetary journalist stationed on this blue planet, I’m thrilled to present this galactic exclusive with David Evangelista, the president and managing director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. Let’s see what he is doing to make a positive impact in the world. 

Spiffy: Thanks for joining me, David! Tell me, what challenge are you addressing through your organization? 

David: Glad to be with you, Spiffy! Special Olympics empowers individuals with intellectual disabilities to become fully contributing members of their communities and nations. We use the transformative power of sport to break down barriers of exclusion and replace them with opportunity, solidarity, and a common understanding of our shared humanity that the world desperately needs. We amplify the voices of individuals most on the margins of their communities—persons with intellectual disabilities—to highlight their talents, skills, and key contributions to the global community. Special Olympics believes that everyone has inherent gifts and abilities, and it puts its energies into building inclusive communities through the convening power of sport. 

Spiffy: How wonderful! What motivates you to tackle this challenge?

David: Well, Special Olympics brings tremendous motivation to any and all who come in contact with it. I have had the honor of meeting countless individuals with intellectual disabilities over the course of my career, and I have seen first-hand the powerful impact they have on the mainstream: their example, their message of unity, their ability to speak to our shared humanity, their grit and determination in the face of everyday adversity and stigma. Special Olympics invites all of us to recast ourselves in a new way—in a unified way—to consider the other person's dreams and aspirations, to recognize their gifts and talents, to accept differences and even at times celebrate them in the spirit of harnessing the energy that comes with diversity.

Spiffy: Beautifully said! How would you describe the impact of your work?

David: Special Olympics engages over 6,000,000 individuals with intellectual disabilities, and millions more when one considers families, volunteers, supporters, teachers, classmates, and colleagues. Special Olympics provides millions of mainstream students the chance to learn from their Special Olympics athlete peers. Our movement offers the largest inclusive-health services platform worldwide, creating millions of free health screenings and health interventions for people most on the margins. Most of all, Special Olympics offers the global community a glimpse of what the world could look like when inclusive mindsets and inclusive skillsets come together to make a more just world for all. 

Spiffy: Tell me about a recent initiative by your team. What impact does that make? 

David: Over the past several years, Special Olympics created a new program called Unified with Refugees, a global platform that has Special Olympics athletes extend their hand of friendship to refugee youth of all abilities and equally extend an invitation to Play Unified. It's a simple proposition with profound impacts. Refugees from Europe to Africa to Asia and beyond are accepting this invitation and joining hands—on and off the pitch—with Special Olympics athletes, demonstrating that individuals with intellectual disabilities can be both beneficiaries of social inclusion and drivers of social inclusion at the same time. It is a new and growing platform that represents a key milestone in the trajectory of the movement. 

Spiffy: Is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?

David: To all reading this, engage individuals with intellectual disabilities. Volunteer at a local event. Coach a team. Sponsor an athlete on the local, national, or global stage. Individuals with intellectual disabilities, and many other marginalized demographics, have tremendous gifts to bring and powerful perspectives to offer. Most of all, they offer to the world what we need most: unity and togetherness. It may sound light on the surface, but I encourage everyone to take simple actions to include those often excluded, then see what happens. Unsure where to start? Begin with Special Olympics. It represents the journey of a lifetime.

Spiffy: Thanks for speaking with me today, David—it’s been an honor!

David Evangelista is an international relations and development professional committed to providing a voice for some of the world's most isolated groups. He is the president and managing director of Special Olympics Europe Eurasia. (First published on the Ladderworks website on November 9, 2022.)

© 2022 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by George Romar. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. For the Ladderworks digital curriculum to help K-3 kids advance the UN SDGs, visit Spiffy's Launchpad: Creative Entrepreneurship Workshops for K-3 Kids and their caregivers here.