Denis O’Brien | Special Olympics Ireland
Denis O’Brien, an Irish entrepreneur, is committed to philanthropic endeavours. Focusing on education, social enterprise and special needs, O’Brien works to help improve the world around him. He is the founder and chairman of Digicel Group, a telecommunications operator based out of Jamaica, as well as several global philanthropic organisations.
Contributions to Special Olympics Ireland
As chairman of the Games Organising Committee for the 2003 World Games, O’Brien led a small team to raise EUR €60 million for Ireland to fund the cost of staging the Games. He also oversaw the most successful World Games ever, which kicked off with an impressive opening ceremony in Dublin’s Croke Park. The opening ceremony featured celebrity participants like Nelson Mandela, Muhammad Ali, U2 and actor, Colin Farrell.
Funds leftover from hosting the Games were directed towards the establishment of a two-year Certificate in Contemporary Living Course. The course was run by Trinity College Dublin’s National Institute for Intellectual Disability and enabled people with special needs to take an accredited course for the first time.
During the 2003 World Summer Games in Ireland, O’Brien followed the Torch Run across Ireland and was inspired by the great camaraderie and unity. He provided further support to extend the ceremonial run across other European countries and funded the participation of the Iraqi team in the Games.
O’Brien became a major donor for future Special Olympics events, including the 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi. He also hosted welcome events for some 1,000 families and volunteers who came from Ireland and 20 additional countries that Digicel operates in across the Caribbean, Central America and the Pacific. These countries all have had Special Olympics presence at the Games in Shanghai, Athens Los Angeles and Abu Dhabi.
During the 2007 Shanghai Games, O’Brien helped facilitate the Support an Athlete Campaign. In 2012, he funded the SOPHIE research project (Special Olympics Programmes Health Impact Evaluation), which was led by Dublin City University’s (DCU) School of Nursing and Human Sciences in collaboration with the School of Health and Human Performance at DCU, the University of York and the School of Nursing and Midwifery at Queen’s University Belfast.
In 2018, during the 50th Anniversary of the Special Olympics, O’Brien helped kick-start the US$100 million Global Fundraising Campaign. The campaign focused on inclusivity and upholding the Special Olympics’ three pillars — Sport, Health and Youth Engagement and Education.
Today O’Brien serves as chairman on Special Olympics Ireland’s Council of Patrons.
O’Brien’s continued philanthropy is amplified by his business ventures, including the Digital Operator Digicel Group. O’Brien uses his role at Digicel to help those in need through the Digicel Foundation. The Foundation has invested over US$150 million into thousands of community development projects, expanded educational access for people with learning disabilities, assisted with disaster response, fostered special needs accessibility and more. The Digicel Foundation is also a 20-country sponsor of the Special Olympics.
O’Brien’s Special Olympics support is one of several philanthropic activities, including the Digicel Foundation, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development and the Iris O’Brien Foundation. The Iris O’Brien Foundation takes on aid projects domestically in Ireland and internationally to improve the lives of underserved groups. Denis O’Brien also holds various board memberships, including the foreign aid organisation Concern Worldwide and is the chairman of the Haiti Action Network, a Clinton Global Initiative effort.
Additionally, O’Brien gives back to schools and institutions to support future generations of education. The Digicel Foundation has constructed over 180 schools in Haiti and more than 500 in Papua New Guinea. He has also established the O’Brien Fellowship at Boston College Carroll School of Management, which supports selected MBA students by providing full financial coverage for tuition, books, fees, living expenses and international travel for the duration of their programme.