Meet the new World YMCA’s UN Advocacy Group

Climate change. Equality. Poverty. Us vs them. These and many others are all issues impacting the future of the world’s children and young people today. On any local, national and global issue young people need to be heard loud and clear, because young voices matter. YMCA is there for more than 58 million young people globally, which makes it our duty to empower young people to speak up, share their ideas and voice their concerns on improving our common global society.

YMCA is one of the largest and oldest youth organizations in the world. With that history comes a special accreditation to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, which we received 72 years ago. It is both a privilege and a responsibility to make use of our right to be there and have a seat at the table, giving a voice to young people across the world.

In order to leverage the wealth of experience across the movement, World YMCA has launched its first United Nations Advocacy Group. After receiving dozens of applications from around the world, a vigorous selection process followed and today World YMCA proudly presents the members of the UN Advocacy Group to serve over the next two years:

– Phillippa Lewis, YMCA England & Wales
– Milla Mäkinen, YMCA Finland
– Zinta Akpoko, YMCA Nigeria
– Stefanie Tornow, YMCA Germany (Bonn)
– Joe Fifield, YMCA of the USA (Greater Twin Cities)
– Karla Maria Contreras Rodriguez, YMCA Guatemala
– Ana Clara Castillo, YMCA Uruguay
– Amanda Gailiss, YMCA Australia (Victoria)
– Da Eun Yang, YMCA Korea
– Eugene Lucien MBEE, YMCA Cameroon
– Dorina Davies, YMCA Kosovo
– Sokthea Phay, YMCA of the USA (Greater Long Beach)

All UN Advocacy Group members will be flying to New York at the beginning of April for a three-day training course and planning meeting hosted by Frost Valley YMCA. Straight after, the group will attend the ECOSOC Youth Forum from 8-9 April at the UN Headquarters. There they will be joined by the rest of the YMCA delegation including a group of their peers, World YMCA staff, and World YMCA officers.

What is the purpose of the UN Advocacy Group?

– Position YMCA as a global leader and the go-to organization in making young people’s voices heard at the UN;
– Increase the visibility of the YMCA movement on the global stage, especially by showcasing our initiatives which are contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
– Increase the visibility of the UN among the YMCA Movements, creating a two-way communication (from YMCA to the UN and from the UN to YMCA).

What will the Group do?

– Represent World YMCA at strategic UN events throughout the year;
– Prepare position papers on various issues important to young people and which are a priority for YMCA;
– Advocate on the strategic issues of YMCA in UN-related processes;
– Prepare written statements to be sent to the United Nations, when invited to do so;
– Inform the national movements about the highlights of our participation in UN-related processes, as well as various opportunities that are available;
– Inform the UN about the work national movements are doing to advance the Sustainable Development Goals, increasing the visibility of those initiatives.

Stay tuned to the World YMCA social media channels for updates throughout the week under #YoungVoicesMatter.

For more information on the UN Advocacy Group please contact;  World YMCA UN Advocacy Coordinator –  Răzvan-Victor Sassu (Twitter: @RazvanSassu).

“We need greater collaboration to empower youth” – NGS Conference in Brisbane

“If you want to change the world, start with yourself. As the oldest and largest youth organisation we should take the words of Mahatma Gandi to heart. We want to empower youth to change the world, but we need to first look at ourselves and ask whether we are going about things the right way. Are we making the most effective use of our resources? How do we need to change to meet the needs of today’s youth?”

World Alliance of YMCAs Secretary General Carlos Sanvee reflects after 48 National General Secretaries and CEOs came together at the 2019 conference in Brisbane with the perspective of increasing collaboration across local and national levels. They also tackled specific issues in the organisation as a whole regarding its relevance, reach and impact.

“It is my belief that as a movement we are at an inflexion point,” says Carlos. “On the one hand so many decades of success lie behind us with many achievements that we all individually and collectively are proud of. On the other hand, however, our movement is facing an ever-growing number of existential threats: many YMCAs are closing or facing uncertain financial circumstances and we are still struggling with a weak expression of our global relevance and impact.”

At the conference the diverse group of leaders explored new opportunities for greater innovation and collaboration together with other stakeholders to increase efficiency, fundraising, and outreach. They also looked at better ways to enhance internal collaboration and trust to make the most of the resources and potential across YMCAs individually as well as collectively.

Chief Executive Officer and National General Secretary of the YMCA Scotland, Kerry Reilly says the conference was an important meeting that came at a significant time.

“It gave the national general secretaries space to recognise and discuss the contribution that the YMCA is making around the world, especially to the UN Sustainable Development Goals,” says Kerry. “Aligning our work to the SDGs allows us to explain the impact of YMCA work in a language and a framework that is understood externally by NGOs, governments, policy makers and business. From a Scottish perspective the timing of this was great as both the Scottish and UK governments are currently researching the impact that NGOs are having on delivery of the SDGs.”

Project Coordinator and Global Change Agent at the YMCA Australia, Georgie Nichol, attended the final day of the conference and she put forward a challenge to the National General Secretaries:

“You’re the role models for not just the leaders of tomorrow, but the young people of today. Don’t underestimate the power of your influence – young people are looking to you. And don’t lose sight of the magic, the visionary stuff that gets us all out of bed in the morning: the impact we have on small communities that have felt left behind and the young people that need to be reminded of their value in this world. Make the effort to connect and feel this magic as often as you can. Keep your passion ignited and remind yourself why we must exist.”

One of the YMCA’s most powerful but underused assets is its global community – it operates in more than 120 countries, 12,000 communities, and reaches close to 60 million people. The sheer numbers can make the thought of bringing everybody together to work more closely for a shared goal seem overwhelming but that’s where its strength lies too.

“There are vast differences between the way that local YMCAs operate around the world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate to make our collective work stronger,’ says Carlos. “We want to allow the individual organisations to tell us what they need and to give them the opportunity to contribute to the greater plan for the future of the organisation.

While for the last 175 years the YMCA has been that space where young people realise their potential, the need for safe spaces for youths to be empowered is needed now more than ever. At the same time a different approach is required to develop and manage the spaces and initiate transformation.

This is a question Carlos puts to all YMCAs around the world: “How do we create and maintain these kind of spaces in a way that attracts and engages young people to benefit their wellbeing, teach them leadership and life skills and get them more involved in helping their communities?”

President and Chief Executive Officer of the YMCA Canada, Peter Dinsdale, was inspired by Carlos’ approach to leadership at the conference.

“He set a great tone with the first meeting – it was open and it was all about national movements, the work we’re doing and how we can contribute to the goals of the organisation as a whole,” says Peter. “Carlos did a really effective job of bringing everyone together and making space for us to provide leadership. He put a lot of focus on our input to meeting the issues the YMCA is facing and he’s put the challenge to us as to how we can contribute, so I’m looking forward to seeing the outcomes of this approach.”

Carlos too left the conference with renewed optimism about the potential of the wider YMCA family to achieve the organisation’s goals around youth employment, civic engagement, mental health and environmental issues.

“I believe at the end of it we all had the will to clearly identify our collective north star as a renewed narrative around youth empowerment,” he says. “We have started the co-creation of our journey.”



A message to the youths involved in the climate change protests from the Secretary General of the World Alliance of YMCAs

Watching the recent coverage of the climate change school strikes has struck a chord with me personally as well as professionally. When I see these young people all over the world taking the initiative to stand up for what they believe in, standing up for the future of the planet and everyone on it, and standing up for themselves it moves me deeply.

The empowerment of young people, particularly in regards to climate change and civic engagement, is at the heart of the YMCA’s raison d’être. So while the issue of climate change is a grave topic, the only consoling factor for me is the clear demonstration of these young people’s passion, courage and tenacity. I have always believed that the greatest hope for a better future lies in this kind of attitude from the youths of the world – when they fully engage in civic issues that effect them and their communities we will start to see real change in the world.

And I hope that the success they have already achieved in gaining the world’s attention will spur them on and keep them motivated to stick with these issues and continue to work towards their goals. I personally feel uplifted because I can see that they are realising their power and their potential to make a difference. This is how the leaders of tomorrow will be shaped, and they will do better than the leaders of today.

These young protesters say that they decided to strike because the generations before them have made a mess of the environment and they are right. They say that not enough action is being taken and not fast enough and they are right. They say that they are the ones who will pay the price for the destruction to the earth and the apathy about it and they are right.

We can already see the effects of climate change globally with more extreme weather events and sea levels and temperatures rising, and this will only continue to worsen. The impacts on land, food and water will likely lead to more humanitarian disasters, scarcity, mass migration, and economic collapse on an unforeseeable scale.

When a UN report warns that there are just 12 years left to have any chance of avoiding the worst effects it is only natural that these students call on governments to declare a climate emergency, to communicate the severity of the crisis and to focus the school curriculum on the environment as an educational priority too.

We can’t predict exactly how the future will look if the current lack of action continues, but we do know that it doesn’t look good. Of course these kids are scared of what’s in store for them during their lifetimes. Of course they are outraged at those in power who have allowed political self-interest and short-term objectives to blind them to the urgency of these issues.

So as the Secretary General of the World Alliance of YMCAs I want to officially congratulate these young people and let them know that the YMCA supports you whole-heartedly. We back your cause and we applaud your initiative to take the lead where elected leaders have failed. We join you in calling on decision-makers to do all they can to preserve our planet and to take real definitive action on climate change.

Carlos Sanvee
Secretary General, World YMCAs