Blog post from Thorkil Sonne: Bigger than we are

Bigger than we are

My youngest son made me a social entrepreneur when he was diagnosed with autism. I realized that when it comes to developing and utilizing the talents of autistic people – we have a broken system. Approximately 1% of the world’s population may be autistic and face an un/underemployment rate of up to 80%.

The more I got to know my son, the more I appreciated that he was different, not less, and it was clear to us as his parents, that he deserved the same chance to realize his potential as his older brothers.

Specialisterne-logoIn 2004, I founded Specialisterne (Danish for The Specialists) and 4 years later, I founded the not-for-profit Specialisterne Foundation with the goal to change the system through enabling 1 million jobs for autistic people.

12 years later, with activities in 15 countries, we are experiencing a strong interest in global programs for hiring autistic people through company-specific adaptations of the Specialisterne model. Global clients such as SAP and HP Enterprise have been leaders in promoting the value of tapping into a previously untapped talent pool of autistic people.

Digesting the impressions from April, the Autism Awareness Month, I have come to acknowledge that our journey is bigger than we are.

Let me share a couple of recent experiences with you.

SAP Autism at Work Summit

SAP-Autism-at-work-summitSince 2013, Specialisterne Foundation has been the trusted partner of SAP’s “Autism at Work” program where autistic people will hold 1% of jobs by 2020. SAP was the first global company to reach 100 jobs for autistic people in 7 countries.

It was my pleasure to assist SAP in planning the SAP Autism at Work Summit which took place on March 23rd and 24th, in SAP America’s headquarters in Newtown Square, PA.

Participants representing all kinds of stakeholders came from distant places to become inspired, and to learn from the employment experiences of SAP’s Autism at Work program and similar programs of other Specialisterne clients, such as HP Enterprise’s Dandelion Program and Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program. We were inspired by hiring managers, autistic individuals, politicians, authors, researchers, representatives from high schools/colleges/universities and community agencies.

The common message to employers is: employment of autistic people is the right thing to do for your shareholders. The sooner employers get into the game; the more attractive they will be for talented autistic people.

UN World Autism Awareness Day

I was grateful to be asked by the UN Department of Public Information to assist in the planning of the UN World Autism Awareness Day April 2nd 2016. We chose to follow up on last year’s UN WAAD’s theme “Employment: The Autism Advantage” and General-Secretary Ban Ki-moon’s Call to Action encouraging employers to make pledges to hire autistic people.

This year’s theme was “Autism and the 2030 Agenda: Inclusion and Neurodiversity”.

SDG-8I had the pleasure of being part of a panel with SAP and HP Enterprise. We discussed Sustainable Development Goal 8: “Good jobs and economic growth” and announced the collaboration between Specialisterne Foundation (former Specialist People Foundation), SAP and HP Enterprise by which the partners will work on removing some of the barriers to employment and create greater inclusion and acceptance for autistic people.

I am very happy with the commitment from Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP, and Meg Whitman, CEO of HP Enterprise. The engagement from SAP and HP Enterprise at all management levels, shines through in the feedback from employees, clients and the community.

SAP-logoSAP’s Autism at Work program is unique by the adaptation of the model in SAP operations across different cultures and government support systems on 5 continents.

HPE-logoHP Enterprise’s Dandelion Program’s uniqueness is the strong research backed partnership started by HP Enterprise, the Government of Australia’s Department of Human Services and Specialisterne. The Australian Department of Defence recently kicked off Dandelion@Defence, which is now recruiting for Cyber Security roles.

The collaboration will help us provide a global change in mindset, advocating that it makes good business sense to employ and support autistic people in your company.

Everyone can be a change-maker

Somehow, autism is touching almost all of us through family members, friends, acquaintances, neighbors, classmates and other people in our networks.

We can enable one million jobs for autistic people across the globe if we work together to create awareness about autism, to promote acceptance of diversity and to share testimonies of appreciation from autistic employees and their managers.

You can make a change for autistic people in your community and company too.

Specialisterne Foundation (former Specialist People Foundation) is dedicated to the one million job goal, and to ensure that what we learn now, will benefit autistic people and their families who have the needs, but not the means to achieve a meaningful and productive job.

Join us on a journey that is bigger than we are.

Please consider Specialisterne and Specialisterne Foundation (former Specialist People Foundation) when contributing to non-profit organizations through your company’s giving program.

Best regards,

Thorkil Sonne


Specialisterne, Specialisterne Foundation