Dear friends at YMCA England and Wales – all protocols observed.
I bring you greetings from World YMCA President, Madam Patricia Pelton. I acknowledge the presence of Peter Posner, the immediate past President of the World Alliance of YMCAs, and two other members of the World YMCA Executive Committee, Emma Osmunden and Duncan Ingram.
I am delighted to be with you today.
It’s hard to concentrate on a happy and purpose-ful event like this, in the midst of one of the unhappiest and most sense-less periods that any of us can ever have experienced.
Others have spoken and will speak about Ukraine, and my specific purpose today is in fact to draw out lessons as to how the world is changing as a result of what is happening in that country, and how we must react.
But can I at least stop for two seconds now, to do two things.
First, to remember the millions of vulnerable people who are experiencing untold suffering as a result of this horrible war.
And second, to thank and encourage all our YMCA colleagues in Europe and across the world who are doing so much to help. And thank you, YMCA England and Wales for your generous donations and for all kinds of other support.
‘YMCA stands for peace, YMCA works for peace’
I pay special tribute today to the 17 out of 25 local YMCAs in Ukraine who are still serving their communities.
Lord, from the bottom of our hearts, grant us peace.
Today I feel amongst friends, and let me thank three of them – Denise Hatton, Reg Bailey and Jason Stacey.
I thank them not just for this kind invitation, but for all their incredible support for the World Alliance of YMCAs and the worldwide YMCA Movement.
Denise, you are truly a tower of strength in our global conversations, and in our National General Secretaries meetings. I personally want to thank you for the way you encourage me.
Reg, you were kind enough to lead one of our Padare discussions, and Jason, you have been kind enough to chair the YMCA-wide Community of Impact on Policy and Advocacy.
To all of you, and to all your exceptional colleagues, and to many remarkable CEOs of your local associations including my good friend Steve Clay: thank you.
It means a lot to me to back at the venue of my very first YMCA World Council, in 1994.
What a theme you have chosen: ‘Vision 2030 – Sustainability, Growth, Excellence, Impact’.
I thank you for giving oxygen to Vision 2030 as our shared roadmap for the next 10 years, and for flagging up four of the generic targets of ‘Sustainability, Growth, Excellence and Impact’ which Vision 2030 can help us to achieve …
Colleagues, this is an important moment.
It’s the first time YMCA England and Wales has met in four years.
And in 86 days’ time – … I know the hours, minutes and even seconds too, as I have a terrifying stopwatch on my desk – the whole YMCA Movement will meet for the first time in four years, at World Council.
So naturally we ask: where are we?
We are living through two global crises – Covid and Ukraine – which may forever change our world and how we as the YMCA operate in that world.
What lessons are we learning?
Covid – lessons learned
Covid taught us how interconnected and vulnerable we are.
It taught us that young people suffered the most, in their education, their jobs, their relationships, their emotional wellbeing.
But it also taught us that young people are ‘the solution’: they responded to Covid, they took action in their own and in their communities’ lives. It was they who gave us the expression that now encapsulates who we are: ‘Youth Led Solutions’.
Covid also taught us the huge lesson that the future of this Movement lies as much in community outreach and engagement as in traditional membership services like gym and swim, housing …
That means, that it lies as much in those who pivot and adapt their business model as in those who carry on doing traditional things.
Covid taught us that our future lies as much in support for mental health as in support for physical health ….
… and that our future lies as much in online programmes as in ‘in-person’ programmes ….
Ukraine – lessons learned
And what is the crisis in Ukraine now teaching us?
How do we view the unimaginable and unspeakable things that are happening, just 1500 miles away?
It is already clear that a crisis in one country has become a crisis worldwide: we may be witnessing the start of a new world order.
A month ago the German Chancellor, Olaf Schulz, called it a ‘Zeitwende’, a turning point – a defining moment for humanity.
This Ukrainian crisis is teaching us – or reminding us – to look at all crisis first and foremost through our young people’s eyes.
It is above all their futures, and their lives, which are at stake. They are the first to be conscripted to fight; they constitute the largest number of refugees.
The Ukraine war is reminding us to look at crisis through the eyes of the most vulnerable. Like the women and children …
… and like those young people from Africa and the Middle East who faced real discrimination as they tried to flee Ukraine.
And this crisis is above all challenging us: what do we mean by the fourth Pillar of Vision 2030, which is our quest for ‘A Just World’?
How will we go about trying to achieve the just world in the hearts, minds and lives of the young people and communities we serve?
Those are the challenges going forward.
The YMCA Covid response of Resilience, Recovery, Reimagination
But many of us are in fact still looking back; and perhaps still licking our wounds.
In the earliest days of Covid, I used to join you for morning prayers, and remember the pain you were going through. We shared our suffering.
In other national gatherings, I have heard grown men cry when they speak about the trauma of laying off thousands of staff in those first, desperate Covid weeks in March 2020. By May 2020 we had carried out research which showed that 40% of YMCAs worldwide feared closing some – or all – of their programmes.
We have lost much, including friends and family. No one on earth, and no part of earth, has been left untouched by Covid.
I was very much encouraged by Denise Hatton’s report yesterday, saying that no YMCA in England and Wales closed due to Covid.
You were also part of an incredible global YMCA response as we rallied round each other, raising close to $1 million to support YMCA National Movements who found themselves really struggling. We estimated at the end of 2021 that we had kept nearly 400 YMCA people in their jobs.
In the context of Vision 2030 today, I ask myself whether it might have carried us through Covid….?
In truth I don’t think so, especially if it was seen as ‘just another strategy’.
You’ll remember that World YMCA launched a three-part Covid response of Resilience, Recovery and Reimagination. All of these phases have in fact run at once.
But most of all, the secret of our survival has been our ‘Reimagination’. And Vision 2030 is a result of the third R, of ‘Reimagination’.
Reimagination – the narrative
What makes Vision 2030 special and promising is its underlying narrative.
That word ‘Narrative’ is key.
Narratives can be false and fearful, and they can be hopeful.
We saw largely threat-based ‘narratives’ building around Covid – the blame game, the injustice whereby some suffered more than others, the arguments for and against vaccination, despite the unjust distribution of vaccines globally.
Ideological narratives are behind the ever-growing extremism and polarization of our societies. The war in Ukraine is fuelled by such threat-based narratives.
The power of narrative is that it moves us from being observers to active participants. It helps persuade us that what we do matters.
Narratives help us overcome our fear-driven passiveness; they give us a sense of a future that is worth striving for today.
John Hagel, in his book The Journey Beyond Fear, writes how narratives also provide stability, and in a world of accelerating change and uncertainty, this is critical. We become disoriented and anxious when we lack something to hold onto.
And today I want to suggest that what will make Vision 2030 a game changer is its embedded narrative.
I’ve asked my old friend Peter Posner to read you a fable: the fable of the Eagle and the Chickens.
Thank you Peter. Not the bald eagle, but the bold eagle!
Image of chicken & eagle: ‘we are not chickens, we are eagles’
So the narrative is this: As YMCAs, we are not chickens, we are eagles.
Yes: we are not chickens; we are eagles.
And No, I have not gone mad!
Dear friends, what binds us together? What do we hold onto?
John 21, 17
We say it all the time: ‘That all may be one’.
We make claims to be one.
The oldest youth empowerment organisation in the world, and one of the largest.
World YMCA map with statistics
We all trumpet our global YMCA presence in 120 countries and 12,000 communities, our 90,000 staff and 920,000 volunteers, the 60+ million people we reach every year.
But are we really ‘one’?
The fact is, we are many different things in many different places, and that is both a huge advantage and a huge disadvantage.
An advantage I see all the time is that people value us for our network and the trust in which we are held. They want to access that network of young people and communities.
A small recent example: HP Life – the charitable foundation of the global technology company Hewlett Packard – want to run their IT courses for young people though our local branches.
And the disadvantage is that we paint a confused picture, as much to ourselves as to partners, donors, and even the people we serve.
If we don’t always know who we are, how can others? How can we claim to be the ‘go to’ organisation for youth empowerment?
Dear friends, today I am making the case for Vision 2030 as the ground for a new narrative and the new structure around which we can align as a global movement. After all, we are part of the same tree.
Let me explain.
Covid, as I have said, was both crisis and opportunity: it presented the absolute imperative to rethink and reimagine, and to find our North Star.
What is the North Star? It is the guiding star that you see, wherever you are in the world.
Our North Star is reached by discussion, and I’m proud to say that over two-thirds of this YMCA Movement have been part of his discussion, making their suggestions over the course of two consultations: one late last year, another earlier this year.
The result is this document: YMCA Vision 2030.
The task of Vision 2030 is to help us to build on a new narrative, to consolidate our collective identity, and to align ourselves in a changing world. And to be the eagles we yearn to be.
Because I believe the world needs the YMCA more than ever. And in turn, I believe the YMCA needs Vision 2030 more than ever.
Beyond being a narrative, Vision 2030 encompasses the three realities of Space, Time and Structure. Up to now, we have perhaps limited ourselves to talking about its Structure. But the Space and the Time are just as real.
VISION 2030 BRINGS SPACE, TIME, STRUCTURE
The Space is local, national and global.
There are no physical borders to the space, because the local is part of the national which is part of the global, which is part of …. well, everything on our globe.
There are only frontiers – frontiers which we can push and push and push. Like the eagle, our space is our nest, and it’s also the big blue sky. Vision 2030 can take us beyond the farm to the foothills of the mountains.
VISION 2030 BRINGS SPACE, TIME, STRUCTURE
The second component of Vision 2030 is Time.
The ancient Greeks talked about Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is the physical time: the hours and minutes. Kairos is the metaphorical and metaphysical time: it is ‘the moment’. Vision 2030 is an idea whose time has come, in large part because of the screaming global needs for justice, equity, dignity and compassion.
It took us 3 years of Chronos and consultation to reach where we are, and we have another 8 years to accomplish what we target for this decade, to coincide with the global commitment to reach the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
But this is our Kairos moment, when we have to make a choice. Either we are chickens or eagles. Either we stay on the farm and lay eggs, or we break free and fly.
VISION 2030 BRINGS SPACE, TIME, STRUCTURE (VISION, MISSION, PILLARS OF IMPACT)
The third component of Vision 2030 is Structure. Structures are where we fit in: we all need a place to fit.
Let me repeat the three levels of structure that Vision 2030 gives us. Vision, Mission, Pillars of Impact.
VISION 2030 – VISION
So Vision 2030 gives us a collective YMCA vision. Let me say it, as if quoting scripture: ‘Our [collective YMCA] vision is a world where every person lives in harmony with self, with society and with creation.’
VISION 2030 – MISSION
Then, our collective YMCA mission is, quote, ‘to empower young people and communities worldwide to build a just, sustainable, equitable and inclusive world, where every person can thrive in body, mind and spirit’.
Indeed, from Juliet’s presentation of your draft YMCA England and Wales strategy yesterday, we can see how connected we are.
Words are of course important: they are how we express ourselves. But please let’s not get buried in semantics – your words, our words. One thing is clear: they are broadly similar, and you should take what works for you.
But I know this: we are all stronger if we draw from the same global vision and mission, and tailor them to our needs. It may mean that nothing changes, or that everything changes. Either is fine: just know the Space, the Time and the Structure that you are in, and let that be a source of freedom and inspiration.
VISION 2030 – FOUR PILLARS OF IMPACT
The third aspect of the Structure of Vision 2030 is its four pillars of impact. Let me quote from Vision 2030 and the narrative statement which introduces it.
‘We promise, as we head to 2030, to commit our energy, courage and creativity to mobilizing tangible progress in four critical, intersecting pillars of action:
First, Community Wellbeing:
We will provide high-quality, relevant and sustainable health and wellbeing solutions to young people and communities worldwide, contributing to a measurable increase in the wellbeing of the young people and communities we reach.
Second, Meaningful Work:
We will create and advocate for meaningful, just and fair education, training and employment opportunities and working conditions for this, and future, generations.
Third, a Sustainable Planet:
We will act to decrease our carbon footprint, support sustainability solutions throughout the world, and contribute to regenerating the Earth.
Fourth, a Just World:
We will defy discrimination, inequity, injustice and systemic racism; amplifying young people as agents of change for an equal and safe world.’
Again, I don’t want you to have an existential crisis as you examine what you do in the light of those four pillars. The fact is, that your key activities of support and advice, accommodation, family work, health and wellbeing, training and education fit right in.
You do them all brilliantly – and indeed in one of them, ‘Accommodation’, you are a favoured Government supplier and indeed a national institution. A national treasure.
From experience I know that the young people and the residents to whom you give a helping hand are not seen as chickens, destined for a short life on the farm. Let us continue to try and give young people the opportunity and the pathway to being eagles, in full flight. Let us be the naturalist who whispers to them: “You are not chickens”.
So, in Vision 2030, you have a global resource to draw on if you want to strengthen or refresh or challenge what you do.
If you want to embrace it 100%, fine. 50%, fine. 0% … well, I hope not. But at least it will challenge you and concentrate your minds.
And of course I realise that Vision 2030’s biggest challenge will not, in the end, be the painstaking three-year process by which we have consulted and debated and reached this sacred text.
The biggest challenge is still to come. It will be in operationalizing the four pillars and giving 120 National Movements guidance as to how they might do some or all of those things under the four pillars.
MANY FACES AT WORLD COUNCIL
Dear friends, each YMCA is unique, but each is the same. We come from the same roots; we operate on the same principles; we embrace the same broad vision and mission (whatever their wording).
And – hear this – we respond to community needs whatever they are, anywhere in the world, because we are truly part of the communities we serve. This is the magic combination of structure and also movement and flexibility.
So Vision 2030 is really an invitation. It invites each YMCA – regional, national and local – to explore what is relevant to their context, and to align their own journeys to it, as much or as little as they like. But let us be consistent.
When we move on to questions and answers, I’d be pleased to share how other YMCA National Movements have truly picked up the Vision 2030 baton and run.
Because together we are stronger. Together we can serve young people and communities worldwide like never before. Together we are one YMCA. Together, we help young people to ignite change.
EAGLE AGAIN – soaring
And, as the prophet Isaiah said, together we ‘will soar on wings like eagles; [we] will run and not grow weary, [we] will walk and not be faint’.
Let these YMCA eagles soar. Thank you.