Community Wellbeing: What does it mean for YMCAs?

Date: 24 January 2023

First article in a YMCA Vision 2030 series explores how YMCAs are uniquely positioned to positively impact wellbeing

When we talk about the four Pillars of Impact of YMCA Vision 2030 –  Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, Sustainable Planet and Just World – we understand the words. But do we know what they really mean?

Researchers from the Geneva Graduate Institute in Geneva, Switzerland, have collected and presented definitions and data and analysed trends of each Pillar, and presented those findings to the World YMCA. 

In this first of a series of four articles, we closely examine each pillar.

Researcher Willem Cant explored Pillar 1 – Community Wellbeing. 

What is Community Wellbeing (CW)?

It is important to first recognize that CW can mean different things to different people, and it is important to be aware of our unique contexts and how those influence CW. However, a helpful way to look at CW is through two levels: 

  • Individual: Often measured through self-reported data on happiness, life satisfaction, mental health, and the resilience of individuals.
  • Community: A combination of social, economic, environmental, cultural, and political factors identified by individuals and their communities (often including governments, civil society and the private sector) as essential for them to flourish. 

Community wellbeing is a priority, Willem said, “Because it makes us happy! Ample scientific research has shown that humans are happier when we form meaningful social connections and live longer when we have close support from each other. YMCAs are essential to the wellbeing of both individuals and communities, as they provide physical spaces and programs that support young people in developing themselves and forming social connections and feeling part of a community.”

Notable trends

Willem said he noted three main trends as he conducted his research:

  • Community wellbeing has been impacted by Covid 19 globally: People had to deal with extensive periods of isolation and reduced social gatherings. This reduced social contact and has had negative impacts on mental health, and while people are now finally able to come out of self-isolation in many parts of the world (although there are still countries with more strict Covid-19 measures) there is still uncertainty about how we will shape the post-Covid world and the role of communities in that world has become increasingly more important.
  • Commercialization or monetization of wellness: The wellness industry has now become a 1.5 trillion-dollar industry and encompasses many things from fitness gadgets to special diets. However, most of this is focused on individual solutions to wellbeing that place the emphasis on commercialized “tools” to increase wellbeing. This has resulted in many opportunities for individuals to support their own wellbeing and access materials, products and information about wellbeing, but it has also shifted the emphasis away from the community and onto individuals. 
  • Rise in emphasis on “individual wellbeing”: As a result of the pandemic and increased global trends towards individual wellbeing, particularly in “western countries”, combined with the commercialization of wellbeing this could come at a cost of overall CW if the community structures and social engagements are neglected. 
What’s next?

YMCAs are perfectly positioned to address Community Wellbeing through YMCA Vision 2030, Willem said, because of their diversity of experience and content. In some ways, the YMCA could be seen as a “global community-based organization” because “ … the YMCA has the depth necessary to understand highly contextualized needs and opportunities for wellbeing within local communities, but also has the breadth of a worldwide organization that can share knowledge, experiences and ideas about communities through a global platform across regions and nations”, he said.  

This is the unique value-add of the YMCA, he said, which can bring individual and community wellbeing together within YMCAs and their respective countries.

It can also be used to position the YMCA as a global actor and advocate for community wellbeing in a world where wellbeing is being increasingly more individualized, but where community connections are so important to support ourselves against challenges that impact us all such as climate change, rising costs of living, and global health risks such as Covid-19.”