Annual Report 2019

Who we are

YMCA was founded in 1844 London, and now operates in 120 countries reaching nearly 65 million people. YMCA associations are strongly rooted in their communities and offer a variety of programmes and services based on local priorities and issues affecting young people and their communities.

These programme areas cover all 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and unite us in our mission to empower young people so that they may transform the world for the better.

In 2019, we celebrated our 175thanniversary, paying homage to our inspired young founder, 22-year-old Sir George Williams, with an event attracting more than 3,000 young leaders around the world back to London, where it all began.

YMCA stands for young people

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” – Martin Luther King Jr.

As young people take their rightful place across global platforms to face injustice, with a drive for change at all levels of society, we see a force for change arise – it’s a transformative power.

Young people are full of hope, energy, innovation, courage and authenticity, and they fearlessly bring all they have to the table. They have no tolerance for injustice and are not afraid to raise their voices of concern.

We are united globally in our mission to transform the world by the power of inspired young people, driving social innovation, amplifying their voices and creating local solutions to the challenges they are facing.

We continue to offer safe, inclusive spaces where we deliver impact on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and advance social justice and equity for all.

We are dedicated to young people and their communities with a focus on four key areas: health, employment, civic engagement and environment.

YMCA stands for young people – we always have and we always will.

Never underestimate the power of an empowered young person

Our Operational Framework: Youth empowerment for good

Our Operational Framework was developed as a tool to strengthen the Movement and improve its effectiveness, with a goal to make our Movement the “go-to” organisation and partner of choice for youth empowerment. The framework was derived from the strategy adopted by the Movement at the last World Council. It depicts our motivation to continue to listen to the aspirations of Member Movements and initiate ways to articulate the “North Star” that will guide us to create more value addition for our members and external stakeholders

Our intents therefore are to collectively ensure:

–      Increased YMCA’s external relevance and collaboration

–      Increased movement efficiency, agility effectiveness, relevance and enhanced internal collaboration

–      Increased movement financial sustainability based on a robust Economic Model

Working alongside the Global Staff Team, made up of the heads of each geographic region, we have worked to strengthen the capacity of our respective YMCA Areas/National Movements in initiating processes towards becoming the rallying point for youth empowerment matters globally.


Message from our President and Secretary General

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” – Antoine de Saint Exupery.

January 2019 marked the beginning of a new administration. Under the motto of radical collaboration, the new team spent the past 12 months listening to large parts of the Movement, learning about past and present challenges, and getting a deep understanding of the opportunities that lie ahead to further our collective impact.

Against the backdrop of the “4th industrial revolution”, and its expected impact on every industry, on every person in every country, we know that the ways in which we work and live will be challenged. For the YMCA, as it approaches its 200th anniversary in 2044, this means that we will be dealing with a fundamentally different global landscape and therefore need to reinvent our social as well as our business model.

While we still stand by our pledge to keep youth empowerment as our main priority we do see the need to bring the YMCAs around the world closer together.

Over the past many years the lives of millions of young people have been transformed through our cumulative efforts. However, we have often done so in isolation without advancing the Movement’s impact – collectively. As a consequence, we limited our collective visibility to our external stakeholders. This gives us, today, the opportunity to expand our collaboration and to fully tap into the potential of the movement and drive internal as well has external impact.

So in 2019, we started defining our true “North Star”, the aspirational purpose of our organisation – for today and for the future. In an intensive process that engaged our movement’s leaders, we built our action around the three main focus areas.

These are:

1. Drive Movement Relevance

2. Build a multi-stakeholder ecosystem

3. Strengthen the movement’s overall financial sustainability

We continue to commit to collaboration with our Movement across the globe, to optimise our impact, remain relevant to young people, and ensure financial sustainability.

We are positive that – over the course of this year, 2020 and beyond – real results in the above areas will be achieved.

We look forward to continuing to co-create solutions for our challenging and exciting future together.

Patricia Pelton – President    

Carlos Madjri Sanvee – Secretary General

2019 – AT A GLANCE

Enhanced Movement Collaboration

In 2019, we embarked collectively on a journey to consolidate our collective organisational purpose. We continued to listen to the Movement at deeper level to pave the way to be more connected. We dedicated time to engage more with National General Secretaries, and to create a more collaboratively built NGS Conference. We formed Communities of Impact, and started the journey to define our collective Vision 2044 “North Star”, and entered into the pilot phase of a data project that will give the entire Movement the chance to measure its impact more efficiently.

Increased External Visibility

We placed a great focus on external communications and working with partners to help grow YMCA’s reach. Our intent was to make the YMCA the partner of choice for Youth Mobilisation and Empowerment. Through engagement with the United Nations, we have continued collaboration with one of our longest standing partners. World YMCA also took opportunities to increase the Movement’s influence within the private sector through events at the World Economic Forum, Africa Future Summit, the Concordia Summit and Dreamforce.

Expanded Youth Empowerment Ecosystem

We recognise that collaboration with young people is key to the advancement of the Movement. Our Change Agents programme is continuing to go through optimisation processes utilising emerging technologies to better empower young people in each of YMCA’s key impact areas. As a complement to this programme, we also launched World YMCA’s first UN Advocacy Group, continued delivering an annual Youth Innovation Camp, and partnered with the UN Youth Envoy to deliver global “watch and do” parties at local YMCAs, where thousands of young people tuned in to the UN’s first Youth Climate Action Summit. Going forward, we’re creating a space for young people to build a series of Youth-Led Solutions Summits aimed at discussing issues important to them. An overarching concept on Youth Resiliency accelerator is also being developed.

Advanced Governance Practices

We made great strides in our governance practices throughout 2019. Through our newly-elected Executive Committee (ExCo), standing committees were formed to match key directives of our Strategic and Operational Plans. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) were also introduced to each of the standing committees, World YMCA as a global secretariat and each individual staff member to help hold everyone involved in the organisation accountable for their work.

New policy frameworks were adopted, most notably in regards to governance, and the Governance Standing Committee is currently working to put practices in place ensuring future Executive Committees are fit for purpose. This has led to the adoption of a paperless, online governance system which allows the ExCo access to all important documents in real time without the need of printing. Furthermore, the system allows for a quicker, more efficient decision-making process thanks to the ability to hold important votes through the platform.

Key highlights


“We are not the leaders of the future, we are leaders of today” was a message that resonated with young people at the global gathering.

As the YMCA celebrated its 175th anniversary with more than 3,000 young leaders in attendance. The event was held in August, in London – the city where the Movement began in 1844. The global youth event captured the voices of many of our empowered young people, welcoming partners from the United Nations, globally renowned keynote speakers and young activists, highlighting issues of importance to young people, including mental health, climate action and inclusion.

Change Agents Cohort 4

In April 2019 Cohort 4 of the Change Agents programme began. More than 150 young leaders from every Area were registered. Before the programme began, a special Global Task force composed of previous Change Agents and Area programme staff was mandated to review the programme based on evaluations and consultation before submitting recommendations for the way forward.

Changes were introduced for this cohort such as the programme length, e-learning content, placement/internship, new Change Agent Champion role and a collaborative approach with the Areas’ leadership programmes. Areas have had a designated staff member responsible for this cohort working hand-in-hand with World YMCA staff ensuring better support for our young leaders and better collaboration.

The regional trainings were organised by each of the Areas, as well as YMCA Canada and YMCA of the USA. This was immediately followed by the Global Gathering hosted by YMCA Fairthorne Group in Southampton, England. The programme was designed and run by the task force to include a mix of interactive and structured sessions, an evening programme that included local and international nights, plus one day for site visits and learning about the host YMCA. Immediately following the gathering, the group attended YMCA175. Over the course of the event, Change Agents past and present took part in workshops and panels while facilitating and joining in on the 2044 workshop.

Change Agents have also worked through an e-learning platform which included readings, assignments, planning and delivering their projects back at their YMCA. New modules have been added with content around civic engagement, the sustainable development goals (SDGs), mental health, refugees and migrants, and modules shared by YMCA Africa and YMCA Asia-Pacific.

The curriculum from the previous cohort has also been refreshed and updated, giving Change Agents who completed all their reading and assignments the opportunity to earn an extra learning diploma from YMCA University in Mexico.

Current Change Agents and alumni are now taking leading roles through many YMCA initiatives like YMCA2044, World Challenge, our UN Youth Advocacy Group, the Youth-Led Solutions Summit Series, World Council design group and more.

“I have come away from my experience in London with my eyes open, my heart full and my head trying to process everything I have learnt. From my experience my spark has been ignited. I vow to continue to nurture my spark with love and fuel it with passion so I can become the change in the world I want to be.” – Tanya Mischler, Change Agent.

Youth-Led Solutions Summit

On our road to Aarhus, Denmark, the venue of our next World Council in 2022, we have initiated the Youth-Led Solution Summit Series (YLSSS). The vision is to amplify youth solutions that positively impact local and global sustainability, the development of just and equitable communities, and the well-being of all people. TheYLSSS will empower young people and drive social innovation to create local solutions to global challenges and to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.  Using a rolling thunder approach, this series will culminate in a Global Youth-Led Solution Showcase at World Council in 2022. The World YMCA, in collaboration with Y USA and Y San Francisco, the United Nations, academia and select private sector partners, will hold the first summit of the series in San Francisco in June 2020. It will be followed by a summit in Bogota, Colombia in November 2020, and summits in Africa and Asia regions in 2021. The World YMCA is also planning to host a global virtual YLSS to reflect our aim to be as inclusive as possible.

Innovation Camp

In partnership with eLab Switzerland we have tested a new concept of the innovation camp, as entrepreneurship boot camp. The camp focused on self-leadership and mind training, developing ideas in a canvas style format including personal and team canvas, testing and researching ideas, followed by how to pitch and receiving feedback. The 20 international young leaders representing all the continents explored their own purpose,  created solutions to meet the needs of their local communities and capacitated to train their peers with the same focus.

During the camp, Participants also got to meet the various communities within the co-working spaces and slept in futuristic pods as part of the experience.

UN Advocacy Group

In February, we launched World YMCA’s first UN Advocacy Group consisting of 12 young leaders from 11 countries, serving as our Movement’s voice with our partners at the United Nations. The group began their journey together in April with a dedicated training programme at Frost Valley YMCA (USA) and went on to attend the ECOSOC Youth Forum in New York with a high-visibility engagement approach. The UN Advocacy Group followed up by delivering a position statement on social inclusion to the UN, bringing the voice of young people and the issues they care about most to the forefront.

Later in the year, the group had strong engagement at YMCA175 where they delivered a workshop for 100+ participants, supported the activities of the UN Youth Envoy at the event and more. The group also got actively involved in several advocacy initiatives of the World YMCA throughout the year

Vision 2044

What will our Movement look like when it reaches its 200th anniversary, in 2044? We have initiated a holistic process toward the identification of our collective Vision 2044 “Our North Star” as follows:

  • Empowered youth today: thriving communities tomorrow, a global digital conversation and series of polls to explore what sort of future young people want for their communities, and what they think needs to change.
  • 2044 Scenarios: a two-part workshop where 50 changemakers and 20 strategists developed seven possible scenarios for the world in 2044.
  • Journeys into 2044: a workshop in which over 250 YMCA stakeholders and partners at the YMCA175 World Café explored the seven 2044 scenarios, identified the challenges they present, and devised a set of activities in response, including specific roles for the YMCA.
  • CEOs have been engaged, to formulate their three drafts, and the engagement process continues, with our collective Vision 2044 strategy.

The Data Initiative

Working together with 10 National Movements, we entered into the pilot phase of a new digital data gathering platform using industry leaders Vera Solutions and Salesforce. Using data from the latest Blue Book report as a baseline, YMCAs beta tested and fed back their findings to World YMCA Community platform. In year two, we will look to narrow down those data fields and bring 50 more YMCAs into the project to ensure the system is optimised for all National Movements.

World Challenge 2019

YMCAs from around 40 countries participated in the 2019 World Challenge in June. To mark the YMCA’s 175thbirthday, participants volunteered 175 minutes of their time to better their community, giving recognition to the millions of volunteers who have supported our Movement over the last 175 years.

The majority of volunteer efforts were focused on environmental causes cleaning up beaches and neighbourhoods, while others participated in community outreach such as feeding the homeless or visiting homes of the elderly. YMCA of the USA also took part for the first time with 35 of 50 states and more than 120 local YMCAs participating.

UN Youth Climate Summit

The UN’s first Youth Climate Summit took place in New York in September, with young people from 93 YMCAs (with almost 50 countries represented) gathered at “watch parties” across the globe. Before and after their respective watch parties they ventured into their communities to clean up litter from the streets and beaches, took part in group learning sessions about how they could help stop climate change, and created artwork declaring their commitment for climate action.

Communities of Impact

Strengthening its global relevance, visibility and impact has become the core of World YMCA’s  strategy. Communities of Impact (COI) are designed to  be the centrepiece of  this strategy. Each COI is formed by a group of YMCA practitioners with a shared interest. Each is committed to learning how to improve and scale up their work by sharing resources, while learning best practice and approaches to addressing common issues.

We launched our first two COIs in 2019. The first on Employment & Entrepreneurship includes eight National Movements led by Y Care International and the second one Refugees and Migrants includes 10 National Movements led by YMCA Canada.

The Communities will be mapping activities from their existing solutions on their specific topics, as well as scaling up projects considered as international best practice. Additionally, the Communities will inform the advocacy priorities of the World YMCA and develop position papers on each of our strategic pillars.

In 2020, we plan on launching three more COIs on Climate Action, Policy and Advocacy, and Mental Health, to be led by YMCA Asia Pacific, YMCA England & Wales and YMCA Australia respectively.

YMCA Global Refugee Summit

With the number of displaced people at a record total of 70 million – more than half of which are children – YMCA is stepping up its efforts to help refugees and migrants.

YMCA’s Global Summit on Migration and Immigration took place, in Baltimore, Maryland, USA at the beginning of October. Led by practitioners, the international YMCA family came together to focus our efforts on more impactful outcomes and to stand up for a dedicated humanitarian approach in this critical time.

The following are the suggested areas of focus for the COIs as determined by the delegates at the summit:

  • Capacity building
  • Data collection
  • Systems change of root causes
  • Advocacy
  • Bridge building
  • Global partnership

While YMCA already runs some programmes to help displaced people, we believe we can do more. In fact, we believe that it is our responsibility to do all we can to help the world’s most vulnerable, as an essential part of our commitment to supporting young people and their families around the world.

Africa Future Summit

From November to December, our partners, Africa Future Summit embarked on a tour across the continent hosting tech summits at five local YMCAs. Through this collaboration, young people were given the opportunity to learn from industry leaders and entrepreneurs.

These events were a prime example of how YMCA is using its spaces all over the world as a vehicle to give young people access to tools and knowledge so they can succeed in life and transform this world for the better. Throughout the tour, participants learnt from tech entrepreneurs who provided a master class on pitching and fundraising. Young people were then given the opportunity to practice their pitch skills to co-founders of Forbes 8. The tour went to South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Nigeria culminating at Ghana Tech Summit

SDG Survey

The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 global goals themed around ending poverty, protecting the planet and enabling peace and prosperity. At the request of YMCA National General Secretaries, World YMCA developed, tested and initiated a survey to map the work being done across the YMCA global Movement to achieve the 2030 agenda of the SDGs. This report will serve as the baseline for our Movement’s collective global impact, delivered in a language both NGOs and corporations are using to measure their own positive impact on the world.

In total, 59 National Movements participated in the study, which is roughly half of the 120 YMCAs currently in operation. The results indicated that YMCA is globally working in all 17 SDGs, with the Movement’s greatest impact in: SDG 1 – No Poverty, SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing, and SDG 4 – Quality Education.

Within SDG 1 – No Poverty, 19 National Movements are particularly focusing their work on building the resilience of the poor and those in the most vulnerable situations. In SDG 3 – Good Health and Wellbeing, YMCAs representing each geographic region are working to promote mental health as well as physical health. Lastly, in SDG 4 – Quality Education, YMCA is paying particular attention to substantially increasing the number of young people who have relevant technical and vocational skills to enhance employability.

Partnerships and Collaboration

In 2019 we have put a special emphasis on partnerships and strategic collaborations to provide opportunities for positioning YMCA centrally in relevant deliberations on youth empowerment, and for increasing visibility of the work of National Movements. We built strategic partnerships with a range of international organisations including United for Global Mental HealthAfrica Future SummitJesuit Refugee ServiceThe Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and MalariaConcordiaWellcome Trust and Salesforce. Additionally, World YMCA has reengaged with its long standing partners in the United Nations having worked closely with the UN Youth Envoy and President of the UN General Assembly in 2019.

With the groundwork laid, we aim to create more space for the voice of YMCA young people to be heard and to create opportunities to help mobilise resources that will benefit Area Alliances and National Movements.

World Non-formal Education Forum and Joint Statement

Throughout the second half of 2019, we joined and actively engaged in the “Big 6” Alliance of Youth Organisations Working Group which developed the Joint Statement on Non-formal Education, which was launched at the World Non-formal Education Forum in December. As partners of the Forum, we were represented by a delegation which delivered educational workshops and an Innovation Lab to over 120 youth workers from around the world. During the Forum, we also attended the Big 6 meeting together with the UN Youth Envoy and agreed to work together in the following years on non-formal education as a common advocacy priority.

Policy & Advocacy

The Executive Committee of the World YMCA adopted our first policy framework, creating the foundation to strengthen our advocacy work. Our team submitted two high level statements to the United Nations on the High-Level Political Forum and the Commission for the Status of Women and also commenced work on the Big 6 Joint Statement on Non-Formal Education. The World YMCA is actively supported in its advocacy work by the UN Advocacy Group and other consultative bodies.


This past year has been a milestone year for World YMCA, as we celebrated our 175thyear with a global gathering in London, as we strengthened our Movement collaboration, formed new partnerships, increased advocacy, expanded the Movement’s influence within the private sector through events at with World Economic Forum, Africa Future Summit, the Concordia Summit and Dreamforce, continued collaboration with one of our longest standing partners – the United Nations and witnessed empowered young people in action.

None of this would have been possible without the fair share of our Member Movements along with support from partner stakeholders, staff and our dedicated volunteers. Special thanks to Wellcome Trust for their contribution to YMCA175, thank you to INTERSPORT for your continued contributions to camping and youth sports at YMCAs in Asia and Europe, and thanks to eLab for their support to the Innovations Camp.

Also, special thanks to the following National Movements for providing support beyond their fair share contributions:

  • YMCA of the USA, YMCA Canada and YMCA Hong Kong for additional funding toward the Change Agents programme
  • YMCA Australia for hosting our National General Secretaries Conference and YMCA Canada for hosting the Executive committee meeting in Montreal
  • Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong for providing core support
  • YMCA Germany and YMCA Japan for supporting and YMCA of the USA for hosting the Global Summit on Refugees and Migration

We also extend our gratitude to the Executive Committee for their oversight to the Global Staff Team for the radical collaboration for Movement Relevance.

Thanks to Diane Shelton for her work with writing and editing for this report, she has been a tremendous help.

We invite you to continue this collective journey in the coming year as we look to empower even more young people through programmes and activities aimed at impacting issues important to them.

“If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Thank you for being a part of this wonderful journey

World YMCA Executive Committee

World YMCA Annual Review 2019
Photos: World YMCA
Published by: World YMCA
12 Clos Belmont | 1208 Geneva | Switzerland

Design by: World YMCA, February 2020