Governing body debates institutional racism 

Date: 24 March 2021

Tackling institutional racism – recognising and responding to it – was debated at the 81st Meeting of the World YMCA Executive Committee on 19-20 March 2021.

Ryan Bean, Reference and Outreach Archivist for the Kautz Family YMCA Archives at the University of Minnesota, USA, presented the historical context of racism within the YMCA.  Committee members then discussed how YMCA’s mission calls it to challenge racism within the organisation and the communities it serves, and how all members of the YMCA should respond individually and collectively.

‘The YMCA has a history of structural racism’, said Tom Valentine, Vice President, International, at Y USA. ‘This is a humbling conversation for us’, said Nico Gourdet of Y USA. ‘We need to look for inspiration wherever we can to achieve our aim of becoming an anti-racist, multi-cultural organisation’.

The Committee also approved World YMCA’s 2021-2022 strategy and 2021 budget.

The 2021-2022 strategy is an amalgam and evolution of World YMCA’s pre-Covid 2018-2022 strategy and its Covid 2020 response strategy. The resulting 2021-2022 Strategy sets out its vision ‘to unleash the collective potential of the YMCA Movement, for it to recover from the disruption of Covid-19, and address post-pandemic needs and realities’.

The 2021-2022 World YMCA strategy is built around three goals:

  • enhancing collective YMCA impact on young people by promoting youth-led solutions approaches for solving the issues a­ffecting young people today
  • journeying together as one worldwide YMCA Movement
  • supporting the financial recovery of the worldwide YMCA Movement

For each goal, it sets strategic objectives and outlines specific initiatives to be taken, as well as giving indicators to measure success. It sets out a series of ‘enablers’ as prerequisites for all the work.

As well as agreeing the 2021-2022 Strategy, the Committee approved a roadmap for presenting to the next YMCA World Council (July 2022) a longer-term strategic trajectory for World YMCA (‘Agenda 2030’), which is closely aligned with the global commitment to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

The Committee also discussed the work of its investment, ‘Movement relevance’, finance, governance and elections sub-committees.

Having approved the World YMCA 2020 Annual report, the Committee also approved the financial results of 2020, in which World YMCA held financially firm in an extremely demanding Covid year.

The Committee welcomed plans to press ahead with the 20th YMCA World Council in Aarhus, Denmark in July 2022, taking account of evolving Covid circumstances with an event which – it is hoped – will be part in-person for almost 1000 people (a third of the Council’s normal size), and part on-line.

The Committee discussed World YMCA’s ongoing constitutional reform process, including its quest to reaffirm its overarching Christian ethos while incorporating its two most recent statements of principle and intent (the Kampala Principles of 1973, and ‘Challenge 21’ of 1998) alongside the Paris Basis of 1855 in its stated objectives to support and empower people male and female, young and old, of any background and any faith.

The Committee continues to call for candidatures for its successor, the 2022-2026 Executive Committee, following  guidelines published in January.  

The Executive Committee will next meet on 21-25 October 2021, hopefully in person at World YMCA’s new headquarters in Geneva itself, in the same week as YMCA National General Secretaries.

At the end of that same week, World YMCA hopes to stage an Extraordinary World Council to approve some or all of its proposed constitutional changes.  During the 81st Meeting, the Executive Committee endorsed World YMCA to canvas National Movements’ willingness to hold such an Extraordinary World Council.