Co-Labs: On our way to Vision 2030

Date: 09 July 2022

By Sophia Elsig


A Just World, Community Wellbeing, Sustainable Planet and Meaningful Work. These four pillars of Impact were created to ground the YMCA and inspire the execution of Vision 2030.

World Council Co-Labs were the first iteration of an innovation laboratory by which YMCA members from across the world imagined, conversed and collaborated together to achieve a collective Vision 2030. Participants had the opportunity to engage in this innovation process to co-create ideas, programmes and solutions that they could take back and implement in their own YMCA. 

For all Co-Labs, similar innovative tools and methods were used, integrating design thinking and game theory elements supervised by at least two facilitators in each of the 30 Co-Lab groups.

Most facilitators were trained by ThinkPlace, a strategic design consultancy. Each group started with setting a foundation for the Co-Lab such as rules, approaches and goals. In this part of the session, participants talked about being considerate of the fact that not everyone had the same level of English, and that expectations could vary depending on factors such as culture. Once a general understanding was settled, they got to work.

 First, each group spotted weaknesses on the local, national and international level. Throughout the week, they came up with ideas and solutions on different scales, geographical, but also short-term, mid-term and long-term solutions. Below is an overview of the themes and ideas expressed in each pillar. 


 A Just World

“We are not considering the refugees in Denmark enough,” said one participant from the Danish YMCA/ YWCA. 

The YMCA believes in the power of young people and communities to promote and advance justice, peace, equity and human rights for all. We are becoming a global voice in the fight against systemic discrimination, inequity, injustice and racism in all its forms, amplifying the voices of young people and communities where it is active to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. To increase the inclusivity of the YMCA, Co-Lab groups working on “a Just World” made sure to cover a range of topics such as the danger of authoritarian systems, lack of opportunities for vulnerable communities, the lack of digital justice in certain areas or groups of people, gender equality, the alienation of the LGBTQ+ community, and more.

The participants were tasked with formulating questions that would get them thinking about how to implement certain initiatives and lay the foundation for Vision 2030. For example, “How might we be able to create an environment where everyone feels safe and included?”. One participant talked about how the YMCA and YWCA had to make more effort in making sure people from the LGBTQ+ community felt welcomed in the organization. She also mentioned that the YMCA and YWCA didn’t reflect the Danish population enough, such as the almost 40,000 refugees in the country.


A Sustainable Planet

“When your bathroom is flooding are you picking up the mop or turning off the tap?” asked one participant from a Co-Lab working on the pilar “Sustainable Planet”.

The YMCA believes that we should all commit and take action for the protection and regeneration of our planet, preparing for a Just Transition to a world where humans live in full harmony with nature. Our organization commits to becoming a Greener Movement, an active youth voice on climate justice and champion of youth-led sustainability solutions. To move towards those goals, the groups discussing “a sustainable planet” covered the multifaceted issues that contribute to climate change. Pollution, overconsumption, the lack of climate education, environmental racism, environmental catastrophes, etc.

There are already countless movements tackling these issues as we speak. But before “picking up the mop” and dealing with the consequences of climate change, YMCA is looking at the source, we are seeking “to turn off the tap”. And to do that, we are looking at how our organization is contributing to the crisis. How can we reduce our footprint on the environment?

The discussion included pledges to be “greener”, climate audits, footprint scores, changing our habits, educating our youth and connecting them to nature.

“You attract more bees with honey than with vinegar”, commented one participant. Connecting humanity with nature and aligning their values the desire to planet our planet is more sustainable than urging people to change their stubborn habits.


Meaningful Work

“Young people need to understand that they are connected, that their world stretches far beyond their own communities” pointed out one participant in a “Meaningful Work” Co-Lab.

The YMCA Movement believes that all young people deserve the right to learn, engage in flexible dignified and meaningful work, and build sustainable livelihoods.

The YMCA is committed to creating, expanding and advocating meaningful, just and equitable education, training, employment and entrepreneurship opportunities in the transition to the new economies.

One thought that resonates with all YMCA’s across the world is that alone, you will go nowhere. Connection, relationships and partnerships are key to making progress. We couldn’t be leading all of our projects without our numerous partners. The same goes for young individuals who are looking to advance in their careers. There are so many advantages to connecting: health for instance, and it broadens your opportunities.

For example, Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza, a volunteer leader from YMCA Peru who successfully led a project offering clean water and sanitation to his regional communities, said, “I can feel the arms on my back pushing me forward, the arms of the many people who have supported me since the beginning of my journey.”


Community Wellbeing 

“The best care is self-care”, came up in one of the Community Wellbeing Co-Labs, and really illustrates the importance of taking care of oneself, like addressing mental health, before talking about community wellbeing.

The YMCA believes that every person should have the means to grow and thrive in body, mind and spirit while taking care of their individual and collective wellbeing. By 2030 the YMCA will co-create, provide and advocate for high-quality, relevant and sustainable health and wellbeing solutions for young people and communities worldwide. YMCAs are making an effort to increase the positive impact they have on the different regions they serve. 

One participant from the Community Wellbeing co-lab shared how her local YMCA first had to change internally before being able to be an asset to her community. When the building that is meant to house people who need structure or special support for various reasons opened, the lack of staff and management created distrust between the facility and the community. However, through the implementation of more staff, structure, and better management, their facility is starting to make a better name for itself. The residents of the building participate in car washes, and charity initiatives and also host community dinners, where they invite the inhabitants of the area to a homecooked dinner. It takes time to build a reputation, but it has come a long way and will go a long way, in making a positive impact within their community.

“Great ideas need, people, connections and partnerships to come to life”, said Dean Johnson, CEO of Thinkplace at the “Co-Lab Outcomes” session. It will take time to collect all of the ideas that were developed throughout the roughly 30 groups.


In the next few weeks, the participants will receive the Co-Lab outcome, which will have all the key terms and a high-level summary of what was produced collectively during the week of World Council. After, a technical strategy meeting, we are going to adopt the new word YMCA strategic plans for the next four years, which will take into account what the co-Lab participants did here for councils. Vision 2030, we are on our way.