Storytelling is a Powerful Tool to Change Mindsets: Genevieve Jiang
Updated: Jun 22
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1. Please share what is your current role at Special Olympics & a summary of your career leading to this role.
As the Director of Marketing and Communications at Special Olympics Asia Pacific, I develop and execute the marketing and communications strategy that helps the organization achieve its objective of building positive attitudes and promoting inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities (ID) through the power of sports. We tell stories of one of the world’s most stigmatized, misunderstood and underserved populations across the Asia Pacific region, to foster a deeper public understanding of the issues they face. This is a population that does not enjoy equal opportunities, whether at the workplace, in schools or access to quality healthcare. The stigma of having ID affects not just the individual, but also their families and networks; Special Olympics aims to advocate for social change.
Prior to joining Special Olympics Asia Pacific, I worked with several non-profit organizations in Singapore, in branding and communications roles. Before becoming a part of the non-profit sector, I was a journalist for over 15 years, working across various major publications.
2. Share with us some difficulties that you face in your role & how you overcame them.
While there are now more conversations around the importance of the inclusion of people with disabilities in society, the stigma surrounding intellectual disability (ID) – often considered an ‘invisible’ disability – remains deeply entrenched in many parts of Asia Pacific.
There are up to 200 million people in the world with ID. Yet, it is little known that they are twice as likely to die before 50 compared to the general population, due to the lack of quality healthcare available to them. Many athletes with ID, before joining Special Olympics, have also experienced brutal bullying and isolation. A 2020 Kantar survey found that public
concern about intellectual disability often takes a backseat and lower priority amidst other socio-economic issues and global causes.
The job of building positive attitudes towards people with ID takes time and an entire community. At Special Olympics Asia Pacific, we do this through sports. The skills that athletes with ID learn on the sports field, from leadership to teamwork, are lessons they bring to the workplace and all other aspects of their lives. We organize unified sports, by bringing together people with and without ID on the same team, to build friendships, foster mutual understanding, and change mindsets.
Beyond sports, we are a convener, bridging partners from education and health institutions, special schools, businesses, and the youth community, to join us in supporting people with
ID. We’ve organized regional events that target the youth segment. Our biennial Youth for Inclusion Summit brings together young people with and without ID across the Asia Pacific to develop leadership skills and empower them to become advocates for inclusion.
We also know that people with ID are often put in situations where they feel discomfort or insecure. As such, another important foundational step to building more inclusive systems is working together with healthcare professionals to provide them with the best knowledge and resources so that they in turn can provide the quality care that people with ID require. For example, we provide training to doctors and medical volunteers to equip them with skills to better communicate, diagnose and care for people with ID. Some of these volunteers go on to train others, and become advocates themselves, creating a continual cycle of support and knowledge sharing.
I strongly believe in the power of working together to create change, which is why partnerships have always played an important role for us here at the Special Olympics. These multi-faceted relationships help expand the reach of our programming to further grow our abilities to deliver life-changing and life-saving interventions to people with ID.
The Golisano Foundation has been an important global partner in enabling inclusive healthcare. Over the last two decades, support from Golisano Foundation has enabled Special Olympics to provide nearly 700,000 health screenings and follow-up visits, decreasing urgent referrals by half, train over 150,000 health and wellness professionals and students in 60 countries, partner with 130 health professional schools to integrate inclusive health into their curricula, and improve the physical fitness of over 150,000 athletes and their families worldwide.
We also partner with professional sports bodies to deliver quality, inclusive sports training to athletes with ID worldwide. One such key partner is the Badminton World Federation (BWF).
Over the past few years, this partnership has enabled athletes with and without ID across the region, including Fiji, Papua New Guinea, and Guam, to be meaningfully involved in the sport.
The personal and often life-changing experiences of Special Olympics athletes, their families, youth leaders, coaches, and medical volunteers, are documented and amplified via our regional content hub, HumanRace.asia. I believe in storytelling as a powerful tool to change mindsets. HumanRace.asia tells stories of lives transformed, and why it is crucial for us as a society, to change.
3. Which digital channel do you spend most time &/or budget on and why?
We spend most of our time and budgets on social media marketing for Facebook and Instagram, as they allow us to reach our desired target audiences. We also have Google ads, and the occasional spend on LinkedIn and YouTube. Last year, we launched #WalkforInclusion, a social-by-design campaign featuring a virtual activation to raise awareness and support for children with ID across the Asia Pacific.
We’ve also been using SwipeDirect to reach out directly to our athletes and community. During the pandemic, we launched a series of Easy-to-Read Swipe Health Cards to help athletes stay updated on Covid-19, and how to take care of themselves. This tool was chosen because it allows messages to be easily shared, even with those who may not have access to the most advanced technologies. This way, we were able to disseminate useful information to even the most isolated amongst us.
Speaking of going digital, we’ve been keeping in touch with our community through webinars. The pandemic resulted in many of us being unable to conduct face-to-face sports training and competitions. Despite this, we pivoted and decided to conduct our fitness training and competitions virtually instead. The decision to do so provided our athletes with ID an opportunity to continually keep active and engage meaningfully with the community.
4. What do you enjoy most about your role?
Having the privilege to tell the stories of Special Olympics athletes has been life-changing for me. The athletes have taught me life lessons and values of determination, resilience, and what true inclusion looks like. I met an Australian athlete with autism who was peed on, burnt, stabbed, and abused by his schoolmates.
He was made to sit in a corner for an entire year simply because his teacher couldn’t understand his disability. Another athlete from the Philippines was told he would never be able to even tie his own shoelaces. In Pakistan, an athlete with Down Syndrome lived in darkness for years because he was denied medical treatment to correct his eyesight.
Today, all of these athletes have reclaimed their lives and achieved what society said they couldn’t. Sports has given them the skills and confidence to fulfill their potential, gain
employment, and for some, to travel the world and advocate for change. Watching the athletes give their all – whether on the race track, the football field, or the badminton court – is a true celebration of human strength and will.
What matters isn’t who wins the medal in the end, but understanding the journey each of them has taken and the grit it took to get to where they are. The Special Olympics athlete oath sums it up quite perfectly, “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.” Witnessing these incredible life stories and being able to share them with the world has been priceless.
5. What advice will you give to people taking on a similar role?
In a non-profit organization, resources are often limited. My advice would be to think out of the box, be enterprising, and come up with creative ways to achieve your marketing and
communications goals. Be ready to roll up your sleeves to both strategize as well as execute. Seek partners that are aligned with the cause, because the work of changing mindsets takes a village!
At Special Olympics Asia Pacific, we’re thankful to work alongside like-minded agencies and partners, including Adtomica and Burson Cohn & Wolfe, who have been nothing short of amazing in supporting us to meet these objectives.
Thank you Genevieve for taking out time from your busy schedule to share these wonderful insights with our audience. These will be immensely helpful for budding marketers.
That is all that we have for you today. Keep a lookout for our next blog as we continue to share what marketers do. We aim to cover marketers from different countries to get global coverage on what marketers do. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any marketing inputs to share with our audience or if you know someone who’d enjoy doing that.
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