Speaker 1 00:00:07 Welcome to the edge, a Skillsoft podcast for learners and leaders alike to engage in thought provoking conversations and open dialogue on the topics of learning and growth in the workplace. And today beyond now, this is Michelle Beebe, your host, and today I'm coming to you from Martha's vineyard. So any sound issues you'll have to bear with me, but I'm so excited to introduce you to today's guests. We have special Olympics. This is an organization that is close to my heart, and it is an honor to be joined today by Dennis Doolin, chief organizational excellence for special Olympics and a Manuel. And you do truck Fernandez. This Sosa a special Olympics medalist in soccer and a newly elected Sergeant Shriver international global messenger. I am so glad you were both able to join me today. Welcome Dennis. Welcome mono.
Speaker 2 00:00:59 Thank you very much for so,
Speaker 1 00:01:01 So many of our listeners likely know the special Olympics brand, but may not realize the massive, massive reach of what really is an iconic organization. The world's largest sports organization for children and adults with intellectual disabilities and physical disabilities, providing year-round training and activities to 5 million participants and unified sports partners in 172 countries. The sheer scale of this organization is incredible not to mention the life-changing impact special Olympics has on its athletes, coaches, and the community. So I'd like to start Manu with you if it's okay. Can you tell us how you became involved with special Olympics and what it's meant to you? Um,
Speaker 2 00:01:47 After I see the sports since seven years old, he organization here in Brazil or abide and, uh, in 2013, um, especially in paste, came to my CDs for a training training, some cultures, and then invited a pie for soccer demonstrating match. And then since then I've been so involved in special Olympics. Um, I met an, a power executed director for a special Olympics per zero. It is event and, uh, nowadays she's my mentor. And, uh, especially in pigs for me is like home is very few comfortable of being yourself is where you feel loved. You feel empower. It's a place that I recommend for everyone to know and to get, you know, involved with. I always invite people to, to learn about special Olympics because it's very important for me and for
Speaker 1 00:02:59 Medium athlete. No, thank you so much for sharing that. Um, what an incredibly powerful statement, Dennis, I would love to hear your story as well. How did you get involved with special Olympics and how does the organization and its mission continue to inspire you? I'm already inspired by nose. So I think it's probably pretty easy to stay inspired.
Speaker 3 00:03:24 Absolutely. Yeah. Well, anything I say is going to pale by comparison enough, but I do actually have a very personal connection. So to be honest, I got involved because of, uh, my vent experience or background. I actually worked on the Olympic games and Paralympic games in Sydney. I, when I came back to Ireland, I learned that there was this organization called special Olympics, going to organize the first ever world, special Olympics, summer games outside of the U S, which happened in Ireland in 2003. So locally I talked my way into that and ended up working on it for the best part of three years. But at exactly the same time that personal connection happened because my sister Emma is actually a special Olympics athlete. She became a special Olympics athlete during that time and I've been able to see them really personally, really firsthand how it influenced her.
Speaker 3 00:04:23 And, you know, I, I will always remember that they, the club manager, uh, he, he spoke to me quite early on and he said in the very first few sessions, my sister, Emma sat in the corner and talked to nobody. And by the third or fourth session, she was running around the hall, giving high fives to him and to others as she ran around. So I, you know, I think the word transform or transformative is often overused, but in this case it definitely applies. So it's been, it's just been fantastic to see and be part of that.
Speaker 1 00:04:55 That's amazing. That's amazing. And so, um, what does your sister compete in? What is her favorite? What is her sport that she loves
Speaker 3 00:05:04 It competes in gymnastics would be her favorite, I would say at this point. And she also does some athletics, uh, mainly, uh, like a hundred meters, 200 meters, but, uh, sharp part as well. So she does a couple of the sport.
Speaker 1 00:05:19 Oh, that's fantastic. Um, I think what I'm hearing from both of you even already is how powerful this organization truly is and its ability to unite people of all abilities and backgrounds and to engage them and to do so in so many parts of the world, Dennis, maybe you can speak to the global reach of special Olympics and what an impact it's made, not just as you said in the United States, but around the world.
Speaker 3 00:05:49 Yes, of course. Yeah. It, it, I think that's one of the surprising things for a lot of people. Maybe they don't realize how, how broad that reaches. In fact, after the last special Olympics world, summer games, which happened in Abu Dhabi in 2019, we actually introduced special Olympics in 20 new countries. So it's now in over 200 countries, which is really quite astounding. When you think of drought, there aren't that many organizations that can say that. And then to your point, I suppose, why is it in so many places or it's, it's very simply because the need is there, there's people with intellectual disabilities in all communities and all societies. And, you know, I think for me, like special Olympics just brings out that good side of humanity and, and shows the potential that's there in everyone, which I know is something that's dear to your heart as well. It's, it's tapping into that potential and, and seeing a good ripple effect then for everyone in the community, not just for the people with intellectual disabilities themselves, but for their families, for the volunteers who get involved and really for anyone who's in that community.
Speaker 1 00:07:03 Yeah, no, I, I think that's, I think that's wonderful. And I think what, what surprised me perhaps the most Dennis is I learned about the organization was in fact, the global reach. Um, it's been such a pleasure to get to know not only you and some of the other, um, um, uh, members of special Olympics, but also the athletes. And that's been wonderful. You know, we had, um, a couple of special Olympics, special Olympics athletes who spoke at perspectives. And I think for me, that was the highlight. I want to come back to mano for a moment, you know, games and competition are such a fundamental component of what special Olympics does and how the organization brings the community together. And a lot of that is done in person Manu, I would love to understand from you, how has the organization adapted during this time of a pandemic when we cannot do these in-person events when gathering and competing, at least in person together isn't feasible. Um,
Speaker 2 00:08:04 Some athletes are practicing at home are following the school of strange that it has on a specialty piece website and everyone can watch it. It's very fun. And, um, we are also following feet, five exercises, so to keep healthy and, uh, some countries are doing some virtual games. It's really cool. Maybe Dennis can talk a little about, about this because, um, so many, so many countries that different from each other and, uh, some are doing this and some are, you know, just cheering and, uh, you know, doing some Facebook and Instagram lives also, it's very important nowadays. Every are doing a lot of, um, meetings via zoom is B it's been very fun. I mean, I really feel, you know, I miss practicing with my friends participating on especially big events, but I can feel the love through via virtual calls.
Speaker 1 00:09:27 That's I think that's, that's wonderful because I do think that we are, you know, even now we're struggling to maintain those social connections that we have, you know, in, in light of these great sort of physical divides. And so knowing that you can still maintain not only your physical fitness, but also be able to connect with your friends, with your colleagues, with other athletes. I think that's fantastic. Um, and it's nice that special Olympics has made that possible. Dennis, maybe you could touch a little bit on what the organization has done to keep people connected at a time when that's so challenging.
Speaker 3 00:10:08 Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it is. It is. I mean, you know, there, there is a serious side to this, which is for many special Olympics athletes and their families as well, like special Olympics really is the, the main outlet, the main social outlet that they have in their lives. And, you know, to lose that, that in-person connection is, is, is a re is a huge issue and is a real problem for them. Uh, so, you know, it's good to hear man, who saying that, you know, that some of the things we've been doing are, are resonating and are getting to the frontline, so to speak. Um, I, so I think, you know, yes, it certainly shifted some of our programming online and, and some of that is, is with the help of Skillsoft as well, our training and education, you know, a lot of that content we've moved online and try to, you know, show, show how people can easily connect with it and, and be part of it.
Speaker 3 00:11:08 I think the other thing we've done is, is it sounds so simple, but it's been really powerful. We've actually done a weekly global webinar, which people can connect with from any part of the world at any level. And here our chair, Tim Shriver, or, or here, our CEO, Mary Davis here, athlete leaders like Manu here, you know, celebrities, um, uh, Michelle, you were part of it, of course at one point. So, you know, that that's really worked, you know, we, we get great feedback on that where people do feel like it's a chance to, to reconnect, to say hello, to feel part of something bigger. Cause I think that's one of the things that's, that's really jumped out in all this, and I'm sure you've seen and heard a lot about this as the effect it's having on mental health and the need for people to feel that, you know, to try and get away from feeling overwhelmed and feel like they are part of something bigger and better.
Speaker 3 00:12:08 So we've, we've been trying to do that as much as we can. And then just practically speaking, we've, we've put, I would say a lot more effort into not just moving things online, but translating materials, really trying to make sure that, you know, stuff is available. For example, let's take my news case. That's special Olympics. Brazil would have good access quick and easy access to materials, which they then decide the best way to get those to their constituent stakeholders, whether that be athletes or families or volunteers or whoever, because sometimes that's true technology. And sometimes it's not because literally the connection is not there or the access to technology is not there on the part of the, the athletes and their families.
Speaker 1 00:13:00 Yeah. I, I, you know, I think that the, the coal that I was on, um, I think it was a couple of months ago was perhaps one of the most inspiring we had an amazing performance, but, but I think what resonated most for me was listening to athletes talk about their experiences, particularly during the pandemic and how they, um, strove to make this, um, you know, to continue not only with athletics, but to continue coming together as the community at a time when that is difficult, because let's face it. Everybody is struggling. Um, I wanna, I wanna talk a little bit Dennis and Manu about special Olympics unified leadership program, because I think we, you know, we, there were so many misconceptions about people with intellectual disabilities and what they're truly capable of. And in fact, we know that this population experiences chronically low levels of employment.
Speaker 1 00:13:56 I think pandemic prior to the pandemic, it was only 19%. Um, I would hate to think that that has gone down as a result of the pandemic, but, but we could certainly talk about that. Special Olympics has an approach called unified leadership that strives to overcome this barrier and make sure that organizations are more inclusive and that everybody has an opportunity, um, to do any job they wish. So Dennis, can you talk a little bit more about your unified leadership program and then Manu would love to come back to you and talk about your experience with unified leadership?
Speaker 3 00:14:28 Yeah, of course. Uh, it great. And I know a man who has a really powerful story, which I think brings to life why it's needed because of some of the not so good experiences she's had in her life. So certainly look forward to coming back to that, but, uh, yeah, just, I suppose the first thing to say is, is that the, the 19% that you mentioned is, uh, Michelle was correct for the U S it's even lower in other parts of the world. It's probably higher in some parts as well, to be fair, but very few places. And, and, and, um, to your point, I, I would honestly think that it's, it probably has dropped even in places that were beginning to make some ground because of the fact that, you know, a lot of jobs have been, let go and allow those might be jobs that people with intellectual disabilities might've been doing.
Speaker 3 00:15:21 So to come back to your question, then on the unified leadership approach in many ways, it's very simple. It's, it's about shaping an environment so that somebody who has some different needs, but also has some different talents can really tap into those talents and succeed. And, and if I, if I crystallize it, it comes down to, rather than looking at that person, let's take my sister, Emma, as an example, and thinking about what they can do and maybe trying to have them fit in with the way we do things around here in our company or in our business. It's, it's sort of turning that on its head and saying, well, you know, is the way we do things here really the best way to get the most from Emma? Or could we tweak something? Could we do something slightly different that might mean that Emma is able to do a job and do it reasonably well.
Speaker 3 00:16:19 And do you know, at least hopefully as well as anyone else. Um, and just embrace that as a way of, of being as a way of, of organizing our company, rather than like I say, expecting her to, to fit in and to reach the same type of standards or the same type of, um, approach as anybody else would, because often that's just not realistic. And it's in the same way as I think you could argue for a lot of other employees. I don't think this is necessarily only about people with intellectual disabilities. It is a way of, of working and approaching the difference in diversity that every single person brings, uh, and getting the most from them.
Speaker 1 00:17:07 Yeah, that's interesting. It does necessitate a different way of thinking and organizations really do need to have we talk about this a lot, this notion of a growth mindset. Um, but, but I think more than that, you have to be willing to adapt and you have to be willing to shift even your culture to make sure that you are being truly inclusive because it's not just about bringing people in and saying, okay, you need to adapt to the organization as it is now. It's about changing the organization to make sure that people anywhere, um, can be active participants and, and, you know, um, feel confident that they're contributing in a meaningful way. Yes,
Speaker 3 00:17:55 Absolutely. Yeah. You've, you've summarized really, really well. I, I would say it's about shaping the environment to the individual rather than shaping the indivi, the individual to the environment in so far as possible. And that's the beauty of the approach I suppose, is this is not about special Olympics or anyone else for that matter coming in and saying, you know, this is how you have to do things, or this is the way you should run your company. It really is about what you mentioned a moment ago, which is mindset it's about raising the radar or putting it on the radar for people to say, you know, let us just think about the way you do things. And could you tweak them in, in, in small and simple ways that might just make it much more possible and accessible for someone whose talents are a bit different to have those talents shine through and, and, and then have their potential deliver to your bottom line.
Speaker 1 00:18:49 This is a great place, mano. Um, I I'd love to hear a little bit about your story, not only your involvement with unified leadership, but what it's meant to you.
Speaker 2 00:18:57 Um, you're saying about adapting in the environment, um, companies, and, uh, I was through a moment that I was working for a company here in may city that I spent, uh, almost a year working for them. And I was fired because of the pandemic. Um, but when I was there, I spent, uh, almost seven, eight months working on human resources. And then, um, it's, it's kind of funny because, uh, I never failed the, you know, they, they wanted to know how I fell there, how I was feeling, how, um, if, if I had any idea in the special Olympics I had this, I have people ask me what I think about something and, uh, how we can, um, have a solution for a issue there maybe can have can happen. But in the company, I didn't, I didn't have this. Um, there was a printer.
Speaker 2 00:20:20 I know that, uh, across industry, there was the only, only printer of the company. And, um, my colleagues, they asked me to bring some copies from prints. So I had to for them. So I had to go downstairs, cross the street, drink their prints, going back there, industry again, going upstairs, and then giving them the print. The, I use it to do that. I worked from 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM. And I used to do that all the time said because they couldn't do that. So I need to do that because they were tired of no getting up of their seat. So they asked me to do that all the time for them. And that I had to, when I was in the printer, I had to call them and ask them if they had any print, any more prints so I could bring for them. And I don't think that that's fair because you know, when you're on company, maybe we can learn together.
Speaker 2 00:21:48 No, uh, they take, they taught me a little bit of XL and work, but I was very expressive. Uh, I had a lot of anxious working there because I wasn't feeling, I wasn't feeling good. I wasn't feeling well because you know, all, all their lights. I mean, I need to go downstairs across the street. And, uh, the temperature of this room was cold and outside was very hot. And, uh, above this sunlight, my eyes was, was, um, hurting, you know, it was not a good experience at all. And, uh, I think, uh, companies should, you know, worry about how, how we feel and, uh, just give us basic, uh, work there just because other people don't want to do, you know, we, we have perseverance. We want to learn. So I think if you have a little bit of patient, we can work together. So as a special Olympics, um, unify leadership, I have this feeling that I, I, I care that I, you know, that people care about me. Uh, that's why I love a lot about special Olympics because I met her is not only, you know, doing stuff that people don't want to do. These is giving ideas, giving solutions.
Speaker 1 00:23:45 No, thank you for sharing that story. And you know, that is, it's a shame because it's clear that this organization not only underestimated your talent, but also your willingness and your drive. And so I, I think that, you know, this is a, it's a great opportunity to talk a little bit about inclusion because that clearly is an organization that doesn't necessarily value true inclusion. And so we think about how we shift our workforce, how we become more diverse in our organizations and how we are more inclusive. I know we touched a little bit on this, but I'd like to understand from each of you and, and, uh, Dennis, why don't we start with you? What does true inclusivity mean to you?
Speaker 3 00:24:36 Thanks, Michelle. Yeah. I mean, that was very powerful, man. Thank you for sharing it. I, I suppose I, to me, it is about that adaptation that you mentioned previously, Michelle, that idea that if you are serious about equity, then you, you are going to need to be willing to take, you know, a sacred cow, like your hiring process and be willing to turn it upside down and be willing to, to shake it and say, you know, is the very nature of this process. Something that's preventing us from having different types of people with different types of abilities and so on. I mean, that's just one example where you, you know, it's, it's a willingness to look at what you do, look at how you do it and look at shifting it in a way that then creates a level playing field for someone who brings a difference into your work environment.
Speaker 3 00:25:45 So that you're then able to, uh, realize and see the different talents and potential that they bring. And man who's example is just still jumping, screaming at me because, you know, I've seen the talents that man who brings, um, man, who didn't really speak English when I first got to know over, believe it or not just a couple of years ago. And you've heard her speaking on this podcast today. So, uh, that just shows you the kind of talent that's there yet. That example that she gave that company that she spoke about just never really took the time to, to tap into it. So to inclusionist when you have taken that time, made the adaptations. And I would say seeing the benefits,
Speaker 1 00:26:36 You know, I think that's, I think that's so important, Dennis, and it sounds like there's a really critical message for organizations as they look beyond perhaps some of the areas of diversity that, that they consider now. Right? So we, we know that gender, we know race ethnicity, but really we've got to be more open to what it means to be a diverse organization, but, but then it's, it's got to go beyond that, right? So that it's not just about who we bring into the organization, but now how, how do we create an environment and how do we adapt that environment as we talked about so that everybody feels as if they are able and are given the opportunity to contribute in a meaningful way. Manu, I'd love to just hear from you. What does this notion of true inclusivity? What do you want to see from, from the next organization you work at?
Speaker 2 00:27:36 We'll say more training. I mean, they can ask you to do stuff if you don't know. I mean, most of the people with disabilities don't even know how to read and write. And, uh, here in Brazil, we don't have a lot of opportunities, job opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities. And then if we had a training, you know, uh, things to Vicky would use and the, the job you could be great, because as I said, we are, we have perseverance, perseverance. And then, um, you could just have a training for us to learn how to use it. And, uh, the visitation, because we can, we can take a little time to learn a bit of extra time, but you see the benefits as Danny said. So investing on training for me is the best solution because, um, here in Brazil, we have a law that states the, I think it's something like that.
Speaker 2 00:29:04 That's it states that I company that has a hundred or more employees, it has to, to hire 10% of all its employees, people with, with disabilities. It doesn't matter if it's physical, if it's intellectual, where they have to hire a 10% of the 800, but they don't do this for inclusion, they do this, just not pay bills for the federal. And, uh, no, it's not, it's not really inclusion. The inclusion is to give the training to respect or, or limitations. And, uh, to listen to us, we have some ideas that could help the company to reach their goals. Maybe we can work together, you know, like, like a unit leadership, like special Olympics does listen to each other and bring the ideas and working together to bring the solutions.
Speaker 1 00:30:21 I know I love that guidance and I think that's certainly appropriate for anyone listening. Um, Dennis, as we, as we close out this episode, I'd love to understand what advice or what guidance you would have for organizations who are, that are interested in not just hiring people with intellectual disabilities, but truly carving out meaningful opportunities. What guidance would you, would you leave people today?
Speaker 3 00:30:46 I have two, two points that I think are worth considering. So the first is the idea of reaping what you sow, which is very simply thinking about how you create diversity in the first place. You know, if you're going out into the community. Well, first of all, are you even going out into the community? I mean, that's the biggest thing I'd highlight, highlight in this idea of, of reaping what you sow because, you know, connecting with organizations like special Olympics and others to reach a diverse groups is really, really important. But then taking the time to actually work with those groups, to prepare people from different backgrounds, from diverse backgrounds, like people with intellectual disabilities for the workplace, because it's not an automatic thing. Like what, um, Maddie was just saying in relation to, you know, there could be a need to help with some, some basic skills and to build those almost pre hiring, you know, it's, it's like that idea that if you just hire and just drop someone in the chances that they won't succeed are really, really high.
Speaker 3 00:31:58 So, so I would, I would reverse that and say, what can you do to really cultivate talent within the community, working with the community and organizations in the community so that when someone then, you know, crosses that threshold and comes in your door, that they really are in a place where they can begin to show that all the, all the gifts and potential that they have, because things like a hiring process, if you, if you just have someone, you know, go straight into that can be really, really daunting. The second piece then is once they've crossed that threshold, once they're in the door, I think if you listen to Manu and if you listened to many, many other special Olympics athletes, what's missing often is a very, very simple step, which is to ask, you know, Manu gave some practical examples. There is it that if there was more light, it would be helpful if it was less light, would it be helpful, more noise, less noise, you know, simple, simple things that can, you know, more or less any company I would argue can do. They don't break the process or break the system. And maybe sometimes they do. And maybe that's a good thing for everybody. But the key ultimately is to ask rather than to just assume that someone will, will fit in and we'll gradually figure things out that may not happen. But if you have the right mindset and you do ask working together, you can make it happen.
Speaker 1 00:33:26 Thank you, Dennis. You know, our, our time is going short, but Manu, I'd love to ask you any final thoughts or anything you would like to share with the audience. As we close out today,
Speaker 2 00:33:38 A little like to invite people to, to get to know more about special Olympics, you will fall in love, maybe a, um, volunteer for a special Olympics. It will change your life forever. And, uh, to give more opportunity for us, for people with disabilities, we have a lot to share about our experiences. We, we are very good listeners. So if you need someone to talk to, to share something, a idea, we are, we have pleasure to, to hear
Speaker 1 00:34:23 Thank you so much for that Manu. And I think that's a great way to end the segment. I'd like to thank everybody for joining me for what I think is probably our most powerful episode of the edge and many thanks to my guests, Manu and Dennis for sharing the story of the unified leadership and special Olympics. Thank you so much.