A journey to discover the people who change our world.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Very Special Olympics- Who is Mary Davis?

Summer 2003, Dublin, Ireland.
I remember it well, not for the summer heat (this is Ireland after all), but for a flurry of yellow, blue, red and green raincoats that swarmed Dublin city for two weeks in July.

The raincoats belonged to the 30,000 volunteers and support staff and the 7,000 athletes that made the Special Olympic Summer Games the spectacular that it was.

It was the first time the games were hosted outside of the United States. 150 countries were represented. 177 towns, cities and villages across Ireland hosted delegates in the week preceeding the games (Even today, driving though the country, you will still see the host country welcome signs). U2 played at the opening ceremony, and Nelson Mandela also happened to turn up. Those two weeks were a bit of magic and the woman behind it all was Mary Davis, CEO of the Games.

When the games were over, the work was just beginning. The games put disability on the agenda in Ireland, and now the task was to keep it there.

Mary is currently CEO of Special Olympics Ireland, whose mission is to provide year round sports training and competition for people with learning disabilities. In doing so, Special Olympics Ireland provides opportunities for individuals to volunteer, develop strength and courage, experience community, share skills, gain confidence, and a whole host of other immeasurable, wonderful factors.

During the interview Mary provided me with one of the best definitions of social entrepreneurship I have heard. On asking whether she would consider herself a social entrepreneur she said;

'Yes, I would now, because when you look at a successful entrepreneur and what they do, they are usually quite creative in terms of their business, and they are also quite focused and financially astute. They are people who go after something, and they have unshakeable confidence and determination. So they have all the things that you need to have to do something like that as well. The difference is that one is working in an organisation that creates profit, and the other is working in an organisation that doesn'’t create financial profit, but it does create huge social profit. In some ways that it even more rewarding.
The whole idea of making a difference in someone else'’s life; well can you get anything that matches that? Is there anything in the world that matches that?'

Back to Summer 2003, thankfully the raincoats were not needed that much, but the people underneath them have transformed the way service, voluntarism and ability are being perceived in this country, and each in their own way is keeping it on the agenda.…
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