Language: NOR | ENG

PhD public defence Wednesday: “They experienced mastery and pride”

PhD public defence Wednesday: “They experienced mastery and pride”

PhD candidate Roald Undlien. (Photo: INN University)

Volunteering can change the living situation of people with intellectual disabilities, a new doctorate work shows.

The public defence of the thesis will be held on June 10th. For infection prevention reasons, registration is required. See information at the bottom of the article.

Research fellow Roald Undlien will be defending his thesis within the PhD programme Innovation in Services in the Public and Private Sectors (INSEPP) at INN University.

The thesis is based on the Youth Olympics in Lillehammer in 2016. Among those who volunteered during the event were a group of students from a local high school with different types of intellectual disabilities, who were tasked with collecting and sorting garbage in two of the arenas. The thesis follows this group before, during and two years after the event.

Experienced mastery

People with intellectual disabilities are not usually part of the volunteer corps at sporting events, and we therefore know little about what kind of benefits they can gain from this type of activity.

Those who participated experienced the Youth Olympics as an arena where one could learn new skills, experience mastery, and build strong bonds within a group.

“For people with intellectual disabilities, volunteering at an Olympic event offers the opportunity to enter into a context where one can be useful, rather than being one who receives assistance. One also has the opportunity to learn new skills, show new sides of oneself, and make closer contact with others. For some, volunteering can also be a pathway into the ordinary working life,” says Undlien.

Two years after the event, the Youth Olympics were still a source of pride, fond memories, and positively impacted the quality of life for several of the participants.

Win-win effects

Some of the main findings are that volunteering at Olympic events has the potential to create win-win effects and collaborations between individuals or organizations that do not normally work together.

Organizations that highlight important social issues on behalf of vulnerable groups perceived the Youth Olympics as a suitable arena for social entrepreneurship.

Furthermore, social entrepreneurs can benefit from the marketing and attention that follow an Olympic event to highlight their own projects, and in turn create social value for specific groups through volunteering.

Undlien says he hopes the doctoral thesis can help the user group themselves, those who work with the target group, and organizers of different events to learn more about the potential of this type of volunteering.

“The hope is that the thesis can, in the long run, help more people with intellectual disabilities to be included in volunteer work,” says Roald Undlien.

Undlien is affiliated with the research centre “Lillehammer Olympic and Paralympic Studies Centre” (LOSC) 


Roald Undlien:   “We just knew that we had to be a part of it” ‒ The Youth Olympic Games as a catalyst for social innovation, INN University, June 2020.