YMCA has traditionally focused on bringing people together in physical spaces. The impact of COVID-19 on our activities, our staff and our members, and our business model, has therefore been devastating. Around the world, centres have closed, camps and programmes have been cancelled, and staff have been laid off or furloughed.
Once YMCAs digested the initial shock of lockdown and slow-down, however, they quickly moved into response mode. This report reveals how YMCAs are adapting their activities and working practices to continue serving their communities, during COVID-19 and beyond. The crisis is pushing us to innovate, notably through embracing technology – bringing people together in digital spaces.
The innovative, ‘smart’ ways of working which YMCAs are developing, as revealed in this valuable report, provide real grounds for optimism.
My gratitude to all YMCAs local, national and the areas for sharing the information and initiatives which constitute the core of this report.
I am extremely grateful to Y Care and Y USA for their support in making this intelligence available to a wide, global audience.
Carlos Madjri Sanvee – World YMCA
“This is the time for us to show connectedness and solidarity to support each other and stand together against the coronavirus challenge.”
YMCA Macau, China
“YMCAs are in thousands of communities around the world. We play a key role in maintaining community cohesion and that will be vital during times of social distancing and when we start to recover from this crisis.”
Impacts of COVID-19
The global shock-waves of COVID-19 are affecting us all. In almost every corner of the world, people are feeling the impacts of the disease, as governments impose lockdowns, enforce border closures and implement widespread upheavals of regular life, to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
For YMCAs and the people we serve, the fallout of COVID-19 has been extensive and is growing. In a survey conducted between March and April with staff of 88 YMCAs, COVID-19 was found to be leading to far reaching organisational impacts, including:
- Closure of offices and public facilities, such as camps, hotels, hostels, fitness centres, and training sites.
- Suspension or scaling back of activities and services, which involve face-to-face interactions and public gatherings.
- Continuation but adaptation of essential services in light of preventative measures, including social distancing, use of personal protective equipment (PPE), and improved hygiene practices.
- Experience of acute financial constraints, dueto the loss of regular income streams and slowdown of activities.
- Suspension of national and international travel, and cancellation or postponement of events such as general assemblies, seminars, workshops, and youth exchanges.
- Rapid switches to online/remote ways of working, as many staff are asked to work from home.
- Major workforce disruption, including reduced working hours, lower staff salaries, temporary layoffs and redundancies.
- Significant supply chain disruptions, including price inflation and scarcity of certain goods.
How YMCAs are Responding
YMCAs are responding rapidly and on multiple fronts to mitigate the impacts of COVID-19. As part of tailored responses to existing and emerging needs, YMCAs of all sizes are helping communities by:
• Running COVID-19 public awareness raising and hygiene promotion campaigns.
• Distributing food packages, hygiene kits, essential medicines, and financial support to the elderly, isolated and others in need.
• Providing PPE, accommodation, childcare, and other emergency support to healthcare staff and frontline workers.
• Adapting existing delivery mechanisms to continue providing essential services such as housing, food and legal support to those in need, including, migrants, refugees and the homeless.
• Providing counselling and psycho-social support to individuals facing anxiety and mental health challenges, and survivors of domestic violence.
• Running digital education/training courses;online health, wellbeing and fitness programmes; and remote prayer groups.
• Conducting needs assessments to better understand COVID-19’s effects on communities.
• Advocating and collaborating with governments, health authorities, donors and other actors to enhance support for the most vulnerable.
Findings presented in this overview are based on data collected by the World Alliance of YMCAs (World YMCA) as part of an assessment of the effects of COVID-19 on its global partners.
This is complemented with data collected by YCare International via in-depth interviews with organisational leads of its YMCA and YWCA partners. In total, data was collected from 33 local YMCA/YWCA associations and 51 national YMCA/ YWCA movements, across 54 countries. In addition, feedback was received from 4 regional alliances:Africa, Asia & Pacific, Europe, and Latin America &the Caribbean.1 All data was collected between 17 March and 28 April 2020, reflecting the situation of World YMCA partners at the time of data collection.
How is COVID-19 affecting YMCAs?
Lockdown & slow-down
The outbreak of COVID-19 has prompted a range of reactions from governments around the world. Imposed measures have included lockdowns, curfews, bans on public gatherings, travel restrictions, and closures of schools, markets andoffices, among various other strategies.
YMCAs in many parts of the world have experienced the full force of such measures. Nationwide lockdowns have entailed rapid upheaval of operations and large-scale closure of activities, with 70 (80%) respondents reporting cancellation, suspension or scale-back of existing operations. Traditional services and public facilities like camps,hostels, training sites and fitness centres have been closed. Meanwhile, hundreds of events, including general assemblies, workshops, seminars, and youth exchanges have been suspended.
“We have cancelled and postponed all international youth exchanges supposed to take place in the next 2 months…The great majority of our local associations have had to close down, especially those that receive members of the public.”
For other YMCA organisations, in countries with less stringent measures, it is the secondary effects of COVID-19 that are being felt most. Many YMCAs have seen a significant slow-down in activities, as international trade and travel have ground to a halt. In survey feedback, several YMCAs reported that volatile market prices and supply chain shocks are harming their regular activities.
“…our country is in lockdown and day-to-daylife has become very difficult. The prices ofdaily commodities are soaring high and there is scarcity of goods”
Adapting to new ways of work
In response to government-imposed lockdowns, YMCA offices in many parts of the world have temporarily shut. Almost half of respondents (47%) – including 27 national movements – reported that some or all staff were working from home between March and April.
Office closures mean that YMCAs everywhere are having to adopt new, ‘smart’ ways of working. Many YMCAs are rising to this challenge of remote working: shifting in-person meetings and events to online settings, and increasing use of digital platforms likes Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Skype to maintain communications and ensure essential operations can continue.
For others though, in regions with limited connectivity, frequent power outages and lack of PCs and mobile devices, remote working poses severe constraints to operational models.
“All our activities, especially the implementation of projects, school and sports activities are at a standstill. All that remains is the administrative work at the office level.”
We have suspended/closed all activities in our community and moved online…[we are now] doing digital youth work.”
“staff [have been] assigned to teleworking, which is very challenging given the technological challenges within the country – frequent power cuts and slow but expensive internet.”
Africa Alliance of YMCAs
Changing workplace practices
In places where offices and public facilities remain open, YMCAs are taking steps to ensure staff, volunteers and members of the public respect social distancing and other preventative measures. Frequently reported measures include:
- Reducing facility opening hours.
- Using personal protective equipment (PPE) like
- face masks.
- Installing extra handwashing facilities.
- Conducting temperature checks at entrances.
- Regular workplace cleaning.
Staff now come to the offices in two shifts(day on, day off). This is enough to continue our services. New measures have been taken to protect staff, including face masks, hand sanitisers and a glass separator built in our medical department”
“For social distancing, we changed our working time from 9-6 to 10-5 to avoid [busy] commuting times and encourage staff to work at home if they prefer.”
National Council of YMCAs of Korea
Widespread financial pressures
In feedback, many YMCAs reported they were facing severe financial constraints as a result of COVID-19. YMCAs that run hostels, fitness centres, summer camps, language schools, and other services have lost these regular income streams as facilities are closed to the public. Moreover, YMCAs with project-specific funds are having to renegotiate donor grants as they find themselves unable to implement planned activities.
“Many local YMCA nurseries, schools, language centres and sports classes are closed. Our venue service and guest houses are as well. In Myanmar, March to May is the summer holiday and for local YMCAs, nearly half the yearly budget is covered by summer programs”
“Our hostel has zero occupancy since the start of March, as well as other revenue generating arms…Our budget has been affected drastically.”
Sierra Leone YMCA
Many YMCAs also fear the long-term effects of COVID-19 on funding. Several respondents voiced concerns that existing needs in communities will go unmet in future, as traditional funding streams are diverted to domestic COVID-19 responses, and overall humanitarian and development spending falls as the global economy shrinks.
“The movement is at risk of decreasing its annual funding and facing delays of fund transfers.”
“Coping strategies are to be set in place: [we are doing] closer monitoring with National Movements, which are themselves facing the same situation…preparing for the upcoming economic and financial implications.”
Africa Alliance of YMCAs
“How has COVID-19 affected your YMCA’s operations?”
Staff & volunteers
Upheaval of activities and financial constraints haveled to major workforce disruptions in many YMCAs. 21 respondents reported either a drop in staff working hours, reduced salaries, or staff being sent on leave in March and April. One of the worst-hit movements is YMCA USA, where local organisations have reportedly sent 70% to 90% of employees home without pay, or entered onto government- supported furlough schemes.
“Centres in Beit Sahour, Ramallah and Jerusalem were shut down due to emergency orders of the prime minister. All staff had to accept taking 50% of their salaries as of April 2020 until the end of May, after which we are not sure where funds will come from.”
YMCA East Jerusalem
How are YMCAs Responding?
Responding by innovating
YMCAs of all sizes are responding to COVID-19 through a range of measures. Despite facing unprecedented organisational challenges and access constraints, many YMCAs across theworld have rapidly adapted to address urgent and evolving needs among communities that they serve.
Raising public awareness
First, in coordination with local governments and health authorities, YMCAs have run information, education and communication (IEC) campaigns to raise awareness in communities of the risks of COVID-19 and to promote preventative measures.
A total of 35 (40%) respondents distributed posters, leaflets, SMS/radio/TV messages, online videos, and other materials with accurate and relevant information on COVID-19, and promoting measures such as social distancing, effective handwashing, and stay-at-home guidance. Such campaigns – like YMCA Ethiopia’s Addis Ababa awareness roadshow, and Birisi (Bangladesh) YMCA’s youth-led community actions – are essential for sensitising the public to their active role in the COVID-19 response. In many cases, YMCA IEC strategies have targeted remote and hard-to-reach populations unmet by traditional information channels.
“Communication and education around COVID-19 have been a challenge in our country as only people from urban areas that have accessto information have been reached. YMCA Madagascar has worked with volunteers to spread this education in remote areas.”
Several YMCAs have also built on their experience of previous public health emergencies. The YMCAs of Liberia and Sierra Leone, for example, have retrained youth leaders and peer educators used in response to the Ebola outbreak, to raise awareness in urban slum communities around COVID-19.
Moreover, many IEC campaigns have made effective use of multimedia, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, to raise awareness and tackle harmful misinformation around COVID-19.
“We started an awareness program on COVID-19 prevention, funded by WHO. It targets more than 900 medical centres all over Lebanon and will beconducted online and distributed through memory sticks and WhatsApp.”
“We decided to create a separate platform on our YMCA Discord server about fake news. Young people, being bombed every day with a lot of news, will start to verify if it is correct or not, developing critical thinking while also gathering news that is incorrect/manipulative…and we will send those links to the authorities.”
YMCA Romania Federation Hygiene promotion & PPE
In parallel to IEC campaigns, many YMCAs have implemented community-based hygiene promotion activities. In several regions, YMCAs are distributing hygiene kits – including soap, hand sanitisers, household cleaning products, and other materials – as well as PPE to at-risk groups.
In Myanmar, for instance, national and local YMCAs used YouTube to train youth sewing groups on how to make face masks, and provided them with the raw materials needed to produce these for free in communities. Meanwhile, in the Czech Republic, the YMCA has used 3D printing to make surgical masks for frontline workers. In addition, in settings with poor water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure, YMCAs have been installing handwashing facilities, like YMCA Togo’s ‘Tippy Taps’, to support disease control in markets, health centres, and other public spaces.
Adapting delivery mechanisms to continue essential services
Elsewhere, YMCAs are playing an active role in meeting priority needs by continuing to deliver essential goods and services to people in need. As many individuals and families lose livelihoods, fall below the poverty line, and become unable to access basic services, YMCAs are present using COVID-secure operational models, and innovative service delivery mechanisms – to provide:
- Meals and food packages to the hungry.
- Non-food items (NFIs), including medical prescriptions and household essentials.
- Housing support and legal assistance for migrant, refugee, homeless and other vulnerable populations.
- Targeted assistance for the elderly, people with existing illnesses, and others in isolation who lack support networks.
- Childcare, accommodation and other emergency support to local health systems and frontline workers.
Financial assistance and relief
We continue to offer direct services to our most vulnerable community members via phone and virtual consultations. We have also made public our immigrant relief fund…so that community members navigating the economic consequences of COVID-19 can have access to emergency financial assistance.”
YMCA of the University of Illinois, USA
“We initiated a local alliance of YMCAs, scouts, protestant and catholic parishes plus a secular local generation project: #GuteNachbarschaft (#goodneighbourhood). The purpose is to protect high-risk groups like the elderly and ones with pre-existing illnesses…by taking care of their shopping to secure their daily needs in case they have no familial or social networks.”
YMCA Waldfischbach-Burgalben e.V., Germany
“[We] continue to provide safe kindergartens, after-school care for children, and day care for the elderly to ease the pressure on families.”
“We have offered the local government in Gjakov – in case local hospitals get overwhelmed – [the YMCA’s] Camp Pjetershan, as a hospital and quarantine.”
Conducting needs assessments
In support of these efforts, several YMCAs have conducted needs assessments to better understand the impacts of COVID-19 and to enable tailored responses in communities.
“We write to and call families that are part of programmes and ask what type of support they need (from paying for electricity to giving online classes to kids)…We also have mapped the situation for the most vulnerable ones, collecting information about how it has affected their income and young people’s routines, especially those related to education.”
“The Yangon office is designing a rapid assessment of COVID’s effect on young people’s livelihoods…In May, we will look at the social impacts on youth, and adapt project activities as needed.”
Crucially, several YMCAs are offering remote counselling and other psycho-social support to those in need. In response to the heightened mental health needs produced by COVID-19, and increased rates of domestic and gender-based violence and child abuse, YMCAs, like YMCA North Down (Northern Ireland), The Gambia YMCA and others, are setting up volunteer support hotlines, conducting wellbeing home-calls, and providing other services to support people suffering from anxiety, loneliness, depression, drug abuse, and domestic violence, as well as other mental health challenges.
“Local care brigades were created to monitor beneficiaries of YMCA social programs and identify physical and psychological needs ofthem and their families. A certified virtual course in Psychological First Aid was created to train volunteers and team members, and a protocol was created to…psychologically monitor and care for beneficiaries via telephone. Virtual meetings are being held to provide psychosocial accompaniment to high-risk youth experiencing anxiety, depression, drug use and domestic violence.”
“Our Community Development team is providing case management for families in crisis…While assisting individuals and families with different needs by phone, our team checks on their mental health and wellbeing by providing Mental Health First Aid as needed.”
YMCA Sokthea Phay, USA
Supporting mind, body & spirit in a socially distanced world
Additionally, to overcome the physical boundaries and heightened physical and mental health needs that containment measures create, many YMCAs have launched online community support services. Between March and April, this was the most common COVID-19 response activity – with 44 (50%) survey respondents implementing some form of health, wellbeing and fitness activities with members of the public.
“Schools of our Y have provided a virtual platform for students…We prepared online materials for college students, set up fitness routines in videos, and creative activities that can be done at home.”
“YMCA Germany started an Online Prayer Initiative via social media. Every evening at 21:21 we meet to pray online.”
The vast majority of these initiatives use Facebook, YouTube and other digital platforms to keep people active and promote strong physical, mental and spiritual health during lockdown. Online campaigns, like YMCA Colombia’s #YMCAenMovimiento, YMCA Europe’s YMCA Connects and YMCA Germany’s#CVJMzuhause (#YMCAathome), comprise of various resources to help communities come together and remain sound of mind, body and spirit:
Workout videos and exercise routines for various age groups.
Virtual classes, training courses, and other opportunities for personal development.
Fun challenges and activities for children and families staying-at-home.
Prayer and bible study groups.
“After all our centres closed our youth workers started to transfer every program/session onto online formats. We have upgraded Zoom and now over 600 young people are participating in more than 40 different education sessions. In the next week or two, we expect to reach up to 1,200 youth, the same number we had in our centres.”
“Youth is very much online already and this is our chance to learn and create new ways to be accessible and approachable in environments that are very comfortable for youth. Even though the situation is serious, it is still an opportunity for innovation as well.”
What tools, resources and materials would be helpful for YMCAs at this time?
An online platform for YMCAs to share experiences, lessons, and resources. Resources and materials for switching to online/ digital work.
Multi-lingual/pictorial IEC materials. In-kind donations of equipment such as face COVID-19 needs/impact assessment kits. Financial support for continuation of activities and organisational sustainability. Tools for financial planning and crisis resource mobilisation. Coordinated fundraising and advocacy among masks, hand sanitisers, etc. national and regional alliances.
The full effects of COVID-19 are yet to unfold. In the short- to medium- term, in the absence of a vaccine and effective treatments, essential in-person and remote support services, like those provided by YMCAs, will continue to be relevant and critical tools in combatting this disease.
Further afield, strategic long-term planning and coordination are required to navigate the economic fallout of this crisis. Across the global Y Family, increased collaboration will be essential, in order for YMCAs to share best practices, lessons learned and resources to improve ongoing and future responses, and make best use of the efficiencies of joint working.
To support YMCAs worldwide, World YMCA is preparing a Leadership Playbook to highlight the key leadership lessons learned from the crisis which can support us going forward as we forge new strategies and paths for our YMCAs worldwide.
Additionally, World YMCA is launching a series of “Think Tanks”, gathering YMCA leaders from around the world to reimagine our way forward on 10 key strategic areas. And as we move towards a new phase of the crisis and learn to cope with the “New Normal”for all, a global advocacy framework is prepared at several levels to guide YMCAs in advocating for policies which can offer safety nets for young people who are suffering from the effects of the pandemic.
To the YMCA of the USA for their support on conceptualizing and monitoring with us the COVID Response HUB. Special Thanks to Tom Valentine, Renata Ferrari and Trang Truong-Hill for their dedication.
To Y Care International, the international relief and development agency of the YMCA in the UK and Ireland, for analyzing all information received on the hub and the production of this report.
Special thanks to Tristan Minihane Senior Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Coordinator the author of this report
To: Claude Alain Danthe, Razvan-Victor Sassu and Adrian Davies, Lavine Imali, Staff of World YMCAs for facilitating and animating the COVID-19 Hub.
1 Full list of survey respondents: Regional alliances:Africa Alliance of YMCAs, Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY), YMCA Europe, YMCA Latin America & Caribbean.National YMCA movements: Colombia (Bogota) YMCA, Cameroon YMCA, Brazilian Federation of YMCAs, National Council of YMCAs of Bangladesh, National Council of YMCAs of Greece, National Council of YMCAs of Japan, NationalCouncil of YMCAs of Korea, Nepal YMCA, Sierra Leone YMCA,South Africa YMCA, The Gambia YMCA, The National Councilof the YMCAs of Sri Lanka, The National Council of YMCAs ofIndia, YMCA Belarus, YMCA Colombia, YMCA East Jerusalem, YMCA Ecuador, YMCA Ethiopia, YMCA France, YMCA Georgia, YMCA Germany, YMCA Ghana, YMCA Grand Bahama, YMCA Haiti, YMCA in the Czech Republic, YMCA Indonesia, YMCAItaly, YMCA Kosovo, YMCA Lebanon, YMCA Liberia, YMCAMadagascar, YMCA Mexico, YMCA México, YMCA Mongolia, YMCA Myanmar, YMCA National – New Zealand, YMCA Nic- aragua, YMCA Peru, YMCA Romania Federation, YMCA Scot- land, YMCA Senegal, YMCA Spain, YMCA Taiwan, YMCA Togo, YMCA Transylvania, YMCA USA, YMCA Zimbabwe, YWCA Bangladesh, YWCA Zambia. Local YMCAs/area alliances:Asociatia Young Initiative (acting YMCA Bucharest), Bom- bay YMCA, Cagayan de Oro YMCA Inc., Casey Race, ChineseYMCA of Hong Kong, CVJM Waldfischbach-Burgalben e.V.,Helsinki YMCA, Makati YMCA, Munich YMCA, Ndola YMCA,North Down YMCA, Sherman Lake YMCA Outdoor Center,Sokthea Phay, Soweto YMCA, State Alliance of Michigan YMCAs, Taichung YMCA, The Y Hammondville OSHC, YMCA
Alwaye, YMCA Calgary, YMCA Camp Takatoka, YMCA HongKong, YMCA Iquique, YMCA Lundazi, YMCA Macau, YMCAMedellín, YMCA Multi-Sports Complex, Faridabad (YMCA India Project), YMCA North, YMCA of Chiangmai, YMCA of Greater Houston, YMCA of the Rockies, YMCA of the Uni- versity of Illinois, YMCA Pamunugama, YMCA Pilsen, YMCA Portadown, YMCA Siderno
2 Due to the ongoing and rapidly changing nature of theCOVID-19 pandemic, findings in this overview should only be seen as reflective of the situation at the time of data collec- tion.3 WHO, Disease Outbreak News: Novel Coronavirus – China, 12 January 20204 WHO, WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the me-dia briefing on COVID-19, 11 March 20205 New York Times, China Reports First Death From New Virus, 10 January 20206 WHO, Disease Outbreak News: Novel Coronavirus – Thailand (ex-China), 14 January 20207 WHO, WHO Director-General’s statement on IHR Emergency Committee on Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), 30 January 20208 World Economic Forum, Key milestones in the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, 22 Apr 20209 WHO, WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the me-dia briefing on COVID-19, 11 March 202010 BBC News, Coronavirus: Confirmed global cases pass onemillion, 3 April 2020