Ten days with 100 young YMCA people …. good or bad?



I’ve just spent a week with over 100 young people from more than 60 countries.

What a fascinating experiment. What an amazing melting-pot of cultures, experiences and hopes.

This is the YMCA at its best! Global training creating life-long friendships and networks for change.
Who are these young people?

They are YMCA Change Agents. They are the leaders of local YMCAs today and in the future.  They are an outworking of the World YMCA OUR WAY Strategy.

The YMCAs of the world are all about empowering young people. As a result they are genuine in investing in the next generations of leadership. This is not some cliché about ‘leaders of tomorrow’, this is for real. We are taking responsibility to ensure our future.  

Together we are in Chiang Mai, Thailand.  I’m sitting at a dinner table having a lively discussion around cultural differences in language. Some are from developed countries that have fewer needs for material things, but who own the responsibility of serving others that comes with such privilege. Some are from developing countries who are giving everything they have to the group as well. They are equals in this group. All are included. Here, all have a voice.

They share a common anger about the injustices against young people in the world. They have experienced that first hand when some of their group from Gaza are not allowed to leave the country to be with them because of man-made walls and rules.  And they share a desire to be the change in the world. “Be the change” is an oft heard mandate. They aim to move beyond this Global Training Event being just words and ensuring it is about action. They don’t seek to replace the older people, but to work alongside them and with them as equals in YMCA leadership.

We’re having a session on our global research: One Million Voices. The largest youth research ever conducted. They acknowledge that there are similarities across countries for the biggest needs of young people, but their countries also hold unique issues. They speak of opportunities – of holding the torch for young people in their country. They are passionate and wear their responsibility with pride.

The change they seek to make – to make the world a better place for young people - is not a threat to the YMCAs they represent, nor is it something to fear. They speak of how the thing to fear is becoming irrelevant to those we aim to serve by not changing.

They make plans: corporate and personal plans.  They have projects of change that they are delivering in their local communities through their local YMCAs. They talk about moving from follower to leader, receiving to giving, actor to resource. These are not contrite terms learnt in management texts, these are heartfelt statements.  The weight of leadership responsibility sits well on their shoulders.

I wish I could video record the session on the future of the YMCA from their perspective and play it to all the YMCA Movement. To all the Executive Committee, NGS, GST and other existing leaders of the Movement.  They need to ensure they hear these voices.

And so the deep thinking and deep discussions continue:  good and bad leadership, the Christian perspective of the YMCA, Safe Space, advocacy and more. Through fascinating ‘fish bowl’ exercises that could be extended long past the allocate time. For example, this demonstrates our diversity on how we approach the ‘C’ in the YMCA name and how we find common ground in demonstrating our serving and inclusiveness by demonstrating the Christian values we share.

This is the meeting highlight of the year. This is the hope for the future. This is change becoming reality. This is the future of the YMCA. In years to come we shall become famous for these YMCA Change Agents. Their return-on-investment, a management term for gaining favourable investment dividends, for their sending YMCA is unquestionable. This is the change we need.

We should all be very proud of these leaders of the YMCA.

Andrew McKenzie


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