The global YMCA Movement and the
World Alliance of YMCAs:
Empowering young people – Space, Transformation, Impact
YMCA is the oldest and one of the largest youth organisations in the world.
Its goal is to be the global youth empowerment organisation: empowering, inspiring and mobilising young people to find and share their voice on the issues that matter to them and to the world.
YMCA helps young people to better themselves, to better their communities, and to better their world. It gives them the Space to bring about Transformation in themselves and their communities, and make a positive difference – an Impact – as a result.
Founded in London in 1844 as the Young Men’s Christian Association, YMCA has grown to reach over 60 million people a year across 120 countries.
Established as a safe space for young Christian men, YMCA now welcomes men and women of any or no faith, of any race or background. With nearly 90,000 staff, some 920,000 volunteers and 12,000 branches worldwide, its work embraces young and old.
YMCA empowers young people
While associated with many things – including affordable accommodation for the vulnerable; the invention of basketball and the role of ‘gym and swim’; even a 1970s disco song and its accompanying dance moves – the Movement is above all about one thing: youth empowerment.
Youth empowerment means equipping young people to play active roles in shaping their societies. It also means ‘youth-led solutions’. YMCA provides the space – and critical expertise, and seed funding – for young people to lead the way in addressing the challenges of the world they are inheriting.
This marks a fundamental shift in YMCA’s approach, from providing services to young people, to empowering young people to provide solutions themselves.
YMCA works in four main areas
The YMCA Movement empowers youth to stand up and be agents of change in four main areas, deriving from research carried out by YMCA among young people, and formally agreed by the YMCA World Council in Colorado, USA, in 2014.
Each is closely linked with the quest to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and YMCA monitors its alignment with those Goals.
Health – ‘Nurturing the young in body, mind and spirit’
YMCA is committed to helping young people overcome barriers to accessing quality health education. It provides services to improve their wellbeing in body, mind and spirit.
Over 90 National YMCAs worldwide are working in health-related issues. YMCA worldwide runs over 117,000 programmes on health-related issues, involving and reaching nearly 16.9 million people (Data: 2018).
Environment – ‘Channelling young people’s commitment to climate justice and sustainability’
YMCA is committed to advancing global conservation and responsibility to reduce the effects of climate change through youth-led education programmes and advocacy initiatives that improve environmental awareness.
70 national YMCAs worldwide are working on environment-related issues. YMCA worldwide runs 2,400 programmes on environment-related issues, involving and reaching some 232,000 people (Data: 2018).
Civic engagement – ‘Amplifying youth voices and actions in communities’
YMCA is committed to providing platforms for young people to lead change in their communities through civic action and advocacy, gender equality, youth justice and leadership development.
88 national YMCAs worldwide are working on civic engagement-related issues. YMCA worldwide runs nearly 7,400 programmes on issues related to civic engagement, involving and reaching over 280,000 people (Data: 2018).
Employment – ‘Preparing young people for decent jobs and sustainable livelihoods’
YMCA is committed to providing quality education, vocational training, and opportunities to young people to ensure they have the experience and knowledge needed to succeed in today’s work environment.
Some 75 National YMCAs worldwide are working in employment related issues. YMCA worldwide runs nearly 5,000 programmes on employment related issues, involving and reaching almost 516,000 people (Data: 2018).
Two themes run through each of these priority action areas.
First, the quest for Inclusiveness.
YMCA is committed to ensuring that young people have a safe space to belong, contribute and thrive in their local community, regardless of where they come from, who they love or how they worship.
And second, support for Migrants and Refugees.
YMCA supports the wellbeing and integration of migrants and refugees into the societies in which they seek to build a new life.
YMCA navigates Covid-19 and beyond – we follow our ‘North Star’
In 2020-2021, the entire YMCA Movement was hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic, with its business model – built around young people meeting in person – severely disrupted.
Worse, young people themselves were disproportionately affected by the pandemic, with their jobs and job prospects, their education, their friendships and community living, and above all their mental health heavily affected.
And yet young people have also stepped up as first responders in their communities, supporting the vulnerable.
Covid has been and remains an accelerator of change, and of opportunity.
It has led the YMCA Movement on a path through Resilience and Recovery, to ‘Reimagination’ for the 21st Century, as it agrees its collective roadmap for the next ten years – its Vision 2030 – in helping the world to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, and for the next 20 years, as it approaches its bicentenary in 2044.
The YMCA’s ‘North Star’ is undimmed: as the global youth empowerment organisation, it will continue to empower, inspire and mobilise young people to ‘be the change they want to see’.
And now …
At the 20th YMCA World Council, on 5 July 2022, the global YMCA Movement adopted Vision 2030, a collective roadmap for the next decade. YMCA Vision 2030 comprises one collective vision statement, one collective mission statement, the four collective priority action areas of Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, Sustainable Planet and Just World, and 12 collective goals to turn the priorities into action at the YMCA, the community and the global levels. Vision 2030 is a framework for global alignment which allows each of the 120 YMCA National Movements to go at their own pace according to their own strengths and their own communities’ needs, in pursuit of common goals.
The World Alliance of YMCAs
The Paris Basis has been developed and enriched over the years, notably by the Kampala Principles of 1973, and Challenge 21 of 1998. The organisation has grown, embracing more people and doing more things.
Based in Geneva, Switzerland since 1878, World YMCA represents and supports 120 national YMCA Movements and four YMCA Area Alliances across the globe (Africa, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America & Caribbean – América Latina y el Caribe) and three Regions (Canada, USA, Middle East). Its Secretary-General Carlos Sanvee (2018-) leads a team based in Geneva as well as Africa, Europe, South America and the US. World YMCA is governed by an Executive Committee under its President Soheila Hayek (2022-), and its highest decision-making body is the four-yearly YMCA World Council.
World YMCA strengthens the capacity of National YMCA movements to respond to social issues; it advocates globally on issues affecting young people; it represents YMCA at the global level and partners with key stakeholders, United Nations bodies, ecumenical bodies and other civil society organisations; and it coordinates YMCA emergency response efforts.
Its Change Agents youth leadership programme has trained nearly 800 youth leaders since 2012, and its Youth Led Solutions Initiative has explored the worlds of climate action, jobs and wellbeing through the lens of young people, launching projects worldwide.
It works in close partnership with other global and local youth organisations, UN agencies and governments, and increasingly businesses. As one of the world’s ‘Big 6’ youth organisations*, it is a founding member and leading light in the Global Youth Mobilization.
World YMCA’s 2021-2022 Strategy is built around the three pillars of enhancing collective YMCA impact on young people to unlock youth-led solutions, supporting journeying together as one worldwide YMCA Movement, and supporting worldwide Movement financial sustainability.