Guilt by association is an existential risk that can undermine the missions of the most dedicated institutions. Faced with just such a challenge, Special Olympics International took the proverbial bull by its horns.
Special Olympics International, the world’s largest nonprofit organization dedicated to recognizing the unique gifts and dignity of people with intellectual disabilities, faced criticism during the lead-up to the 2007 Special Olympics World Games in China because that country–while home to the largest number of Special Olympic athletes–was reputedly unsympathetic to the intellectually disabled.
In response, a bold campaign was mounted, reinforcing the organization’s 40+ year mission to change minds and change lives. Particularly effective, the outreach was built around an “R-word” campaign in which “respect” replaced the familiar insulting epithet. Success comes not only from the experience to see the early warning signs of change but the courage to seize the moment and execute it.
Today, the reputation of the Special Olympics as possibly the greatest public service entity in sports is sounder than ever.