How Education Empowers Us to Create Truly Inclusive Environments

Michelle Boockoff-Bajdek
4 min readJul 6, 2023

“You are the stars and the world is watching you. By your presence, you send a message to every village, every city, every nation. A message of hope. A message of victory.

— Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Shriver founded Special Olympics in 1968, originally as a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities (ID). Her vision and passion sparked a global movement. Today, Special Olympics unites six million athletes and Unified Sports partners, and one million coaches and volunteers across 200 accredited programs worldwide.

At the Special Olympics World Games in Berlin, more than 7,000 athletes representing 190 countries competed in 26 different sports — from basketball to rhythmic gymnastics, swimming to badminton.

These incredible athletes have dedicated years to prepare for this very moment — to compete on a global stage in the sport they love. I had the great fortune to meet a Bahamian athlete whose unwavering commitment has led him to represent his home country for the fourth time at the World Games.

Yet, the impact extends beyond sports. As part of the World Games, Special Olympics International hosts a Global Forum for Inclusion, a conference built upon the principles of the UN Convention on the rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The Forum brings together leaders across nation and business, driven by the mission to ensure the full participation and inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities in society.

Responsible Leadership Drives Positive Change

I had the incredible opportunity to address Special Olympics Youth Leaders alongside the remarkable (and quite famous!) Hanna Joy Atkinson, a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger, accomplished athlete, and passionate advocate of women’s rights. Together, we explored the importance of responsible leadership and the power of raising our voices to drive positive change. We talked about the true legacy of the World Games: changing mindsets and implementing tangible programs that profoundly impact the lives of people with ID.

Presenting with Hanna Joy Atkinson, a Sargent Shriver International Global Messenger for Special Olympics

And the biggest driver of change — we know — is education. Education provides people with ID with the skills they need to be successful, while fostering greater understanding among those without ID. It empowers us to create truly inclusive environments.

This experience was truly extraordinary, and it touched me on a profound and personal level. I only wish I could convey how magical it was. What I witnessed firsthand, and had the privilege to contribute to, epitomized what we all strive for — to do well and to do good.

The unwavering dedication of Forum organizers, volunteers, and participants to make our world a better place — one in which every individual is valued and given opportunities to grow and succeed — left me in awe. It was a true honor to represent Skillsoft and reflect on the remarkable contributions we can make, both as part of an organization and as individuals.

Representing Skillsoft at the Global Forum for Inclusion

A Personal Commitment to Action

During his Forum keynote, Dr. Tim Shriver, head of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, urged listeners to make a personal commitment to move from a mindset of inclusion to action. He encouraged us to digitally sign a formal declaration and pledge to undertake three acts of inclusion within our communities, acknowledging that even small actions can have a big impact.

Meeting with Dr. Tim Shriver, head of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors, and a young Special Olympics athlete

And so, I would like to share my commitments, both on a personal level and on behalf of our organization:

  1. With my family, I pledge to donate our time as volunteers and contribute to our local Special Olympics chapter.
  2. I will share broadly the Unified Leadership Leadercamp we produced with Special Olympics, which is available for replay along with the courses we produced in partnership with Special Olympics in 2021: Embracing the Power of Diversity and Inclusion featuring Special Olympics and Great Leaders Must be Inclusive featuring Special Olympics.
  3. I will continue to be an advocate of — and support — our Special Olympics partnership here at Skillsoft. I also encourage everyone to attend our upcoming fall Unified Leadership Leadercamp — stay tuned for more information!

If you are interested in making your own declaration, you can do so here.

And if this hasn’t inspired you enough, I’ll leave you with a profound thought from my fellow speaker and newfound friend, Hanna Joy Atkinson:

As leaders of change, we should be inspiring joy, acceptance, and empowerment. Everyone has a right to their place in this world. Inclusion is about acceptance, valuing all people, and listening to unique perspectives.”