9 September 2020

A message from Carlos Sanvee, World YMCA Secretary-General

Dear leaders, dear friends,

At the beginning of this Covid crisis, the World YMCA adopted a response strategy built on the three pillars of ‘Resilience’, ‘Recovery’ and ‘Reimagination’.

Six months later, and while the world is still battling with the health and financial challenges caused by Covid, I would like to pause and look in our rear mirror to see how far we have come, and also to share thoughts on the months ahead in our collective journey.

Covid hit different countries in different ways, and the responses of different YMCAs varied from country to country.  We were amazed by how many of our YMCAs adjusted to serve their communities, despite themselves being severely affected by the crisis.

Young people have been severely affected: jobs lost, schooling interrupted, social interactions upended, mental health issues spiralling.  And yet we have seen how young people have also been quick to volunteer as first responders to serve their communities, and to help those more vulnerable than themselves.

In this time of Covid, the youth sector has proved that its services are essential for millions of young people  – and older people – worldwide.

YMCA leads the community response to Covid – in Savar, Bangladesh

The road travelled so far in 2020

At the global and regional level, we have continued to provide the space and opportunity for the Movement to connect, to learn, share and support each other in building resilience to navigate through the crisis. Collectively, as a global Movement, we have responded to Covid in two main ways.

First, in response to the ‘Resilience’ pillar of our strategy, we sought to provide ourselves with Thought Leadership – intellectual, emotional and spiritual.

We came together and talked, and invited others to share their wisdom with us. In doing so, we reaffirmed each other and our leadership. The six Leaders Talks of April and May assembled almost 1000 people, who were addressed by some 20 renowned global leaders from the YMCA Movement and far beyond.

We shared the principles, the lessons and the ingredients of the quest for resilience. The first of those is the need for adaptability. ‘Organisations do not have needs; people have needs’: our task, any way we can, is to adapt to meet those needs.

Please see here our summary of the Leaders Talks.

YMCA convened Leaders Talks to discuss the resilient approach to Covid

We also launched the Youth Voices online fora, providing the space for young people to share their concerns and hopes for the future.

In May, we debated ‘The future we want’, discussing health and wellbeing, work and climate. In June, we envisaged ‘A future without racism’.

YMCA zoom-time: Youth Voices

Also in May and June, we staged online ecumenical thanksgiving services, linking Christians all over the world in worship and prayer, and giving one another support in difficult times.

And practically and importantly, we established a Response Hub collating Covid information from across the Movement, as well as a mechanism to give financial support those national YMCAs which overnight, it seemed, had found themselves in difficulty.

The YMCA Solidarity Fund raised nearly CHF 400,000, to which we added CHF 200,000 from our reserves. We launched two calls, receiving nearly 40 applications. Thus far, we have approved grants of almost CHF 380,000, and we estimate the number of jobs we have saved or supported at 290.

And second, as we pushed forward from ‘Recovery’ to ‘Reimagination’, we sought to assemble the best of our own collective knowledge, wisdom and inspiration.

We did this through a series of ‘Padare’ virtual roundtables in July and August.  189 people in 55 countries took part.  The origins of Padare – of Shona communities in Zimbabwe sitting under trees to share collective wisdom and discuss and chart their best courses of action – informed what we did.

From the Leaders Talks, we had identified three big questions to explore in the Padares.

How can YMCA  evolve as a trusted partner for young people, building their resilience in the face of global crisis? How can YMCA build a sustainable economic and financial recovery from this crisis? And how can YMCA become an ‘adaptive’ organisation, moving with the times and the needs?

The abiding realisation in these debates was that, like the world at large, the global YMCA is going to need a ‘Reset’, based on a creative ‘Reimagining’ process on which it is already launched. 

We can’t go back to normal; we have to adapt to the new normal.  Nor can we go back to the future; we need to go forward to the future.

Please see here our summary of the Padare talks.

Padare – where YMCA followed the lead of communities who sit under trees and talk

Two strong insights emerged from all nine of the Padare sessions, as components of the ‘Reimagining’ that will lead to the ‘Reset’.

First, the need to move from ‘static place’ to ‘dynamic space’.

In part, this means operating more and more in the digital space.  But in a deeper sense, it means moving towards young people, towards where they are, rather than waiting for them to come to us.

From ‘static place’ to ‘dynamic space’: Covid-time gym goes online

Second, the need to be bold.

That doesn’t mean taking drastic and seemingly negative action like shedding staff or activities, though it may mean rethinking and reprioritising.  In a deeper sense, it means ensuring that we are courageous and radical in being true to our core values, and our abiding search for a just, peaceful, equitable world in which everyone counts.

This is the vision which has seen the YMCA Movement through endless challenges in its nearly-200 years of history, and it is the vision which will see us through.

‘Our abiding YMCA search for a just, peaceful, equitable world in which everyone counts’

The road ahead of us in 2020 … and 2021

The road ahead starts here and now.

It’s a world in which we acknowledge that much is at stake, and that deep anxieties remain. Will both the first and the second waves of Coronavirus accelerate?  As countries, companies, organisations and individuals have taken massive financial hits, how will we fund our future?

But in the here and now, many YMCAs are already putting the principles into practice.

Many of them have undertaken these searching debates on their own, as well as joining the global debate. Many have built new relationships with new partners in their communities. Many are thinking on their feet in the quest for adaptiveness.

In their response to Covid, and before, many YMCAs have moved further into the communities they serve, in new ways.  The examples are legion, and the Padare summary catalogues many of them.

We realise that the bigger vision of ‘boldness’ will take longer to realise.  It is what we are now challenged to plan and articulate.  I believe it is encapsulated in the name ‘Change Agents’, which is one of our most successful World YMCA programmes.

Because my biggest prediction is that it is young people themselves who will be bold, and deliver that just, peaceful, equitable world in which everyone counts. YMCAs will continue to provide services to young people, but they must do it in the spirit and expectation of reciprocity, because young people can and will provide solutions to the challenges their communities face.

The World YMCA’s Change Agents programme has trained some 850 young people in 8 years, equipping them to serve and lead their communities

I believe that our collective YMCA ‘Theory of Change’ is shaping up to be the transition from providing service delivery to young people, to enabling those same young people to be service providers themselves – for themselves, and for their communities.

So now we naturally ask where, in pursuit of this ‘Reimagination’, do we go from here, with four months left in 2020, and as we head towards 2021?

First, we will embark on the ‘Reimagination’ phase of our Covid response strategy.

On 14 and 21 September, we will conclude the Padare debate with two ‘Sensemaking’ sessions which will point the way ahead, as we bring new perspective to our existing initiatives, like our Communities of Impact and other shared platforms. We will start building our planning and skills in charting those new directions which remain based on our vision.  We will communicate to you the results of those sessions as soon as we can.

Second, we will turn the Reimagination into long-term YMCA reality, by tying it in with our ongoing process of finding our collective organisational purpose, as we approach our bicentenary.

We will adopt our ‘North Star’ at our next World Council in Aarhus in July 2022.

Third, we will play our part in the global process of ‘Reset’ which is being undertaken by Governments, the UN, the private sector and civil society the world over, in the wake of the seismic shifts brought about by Covid.  More than ever, YMCA needs to be at the table when important decisions are made which affect young people and vulnerable communities.

The task is to put young people at the centre both of debate and planning: the global Youth Agenda must be at the centre of the global Reset Agenda.

#WeShallOvercome. What is more, I honestly believe we will #BuildBackBetter.  Let’s continue to build the resilience of young people, so that they in turn contribute to building resilient communities.

The future of young people depends on it – but so too does the world’s future depend on them.

With all good wishes,