Leadership starts with Youth

Date: 08 July 2022

Engagement Plenary: Youth Solutions, YMCA 20th World Council, 7 July 2022

By Kyle Kane, Sophia Elsig, Maggie Franzen


“If we don’t have young people in the conversation, then we’re simply not representing the communities we are trying to support. We do not understand the needs they are facing day to day,” said Sam Williams.


Sam, the co-lead for the Global Youth Mobilization, opened the Youth-Led Solutions Panel on 7 July at the YMCA World Council by highlighting the importance of listening to young people’s voices. “If we want to truly give young people opportunities to develop solutions to the issues facing our planet, from climate change to political crisis, we cannot deprive them of the tools and resources they actively need.”

Even without access to these resources, he said, young people are eager to get involved. “One challenge was to facilitate internet and technology devices to various regions. This was a big issue for our online programme, especially during the Covid pandemic.” Other challenges included travel difficulties and school closures.

When looking at governments around the globe, a common theme emerges. Although young people continue to present new ideas, often it’s older people who take charge, rather than youth. And the older generation may not fully comprehend the idea or the new technology behind it. With youth in leadership roles, they provide new energy and understanding of the topics they are passionate about, allowing them to grow in a positive environment and become more engaged and active leaders within their communities.

“We are ‘capacitating’ young people, and we are empowering them. Make them purposeful, make them resilient, and then give them the confidence to do their thing,” said Loris Tarazi, Board Member, YMCA East Jerusalem. In other words, “providing the space. When you provide them space, you honour who they are and what they could become.”

The panellists were asked many youth leadership-related questions such as, “What were the biggest successes and challenges you and your YMCA faced while trying to ignite youth leadership?” Rodrigo Puntriano Mendoza – Volunteer Leader, YMCA Peru, said his biggest challenge was “engaging with the community, especially locations that were far away from the centre but needed the most support”. In the end, his organization came to great success by effectively creating sanitary infrastructure for those who don’t have access to proper sanitation or clean water.

Sam Williams said, “We must trust and believe in young people,” and this was one of the session’s key messages. Young individuals need to be included in conversations because the youth is not only the future but also the present, and that is a crucial component in creating more youth-leadership roles that are meaningful and impactful.

Young leaders from ages 15 to 35 from anywhere across the globe who are passionate about addressing the world’s challenges and creating change in their communities are allowed to be leaders and make a difference through the YMCA’s Youth-Led Solutions (YSL) programmes. The YSL initiative was created by the YMCA to put resources, networking, and funding into the hands of young people and to support them in achieving sustainable development goals. The YMCA has worked in collaboration with the United Nations, academia, youth organizations and private partners to be as connected, empowered, supported, and successful as possible. The Youth-Led solutions cover several different globally relevant issues including mental health, future of work and climate action.

YSL uses a four-step plan:

  • Summit: the step that inspires and shares information about a critical global issue
  • Design: when small groups come together with their local YMCAs and collaborate to design solutions to the problem.
  • Pitching: Professionals on the global issues come together to partner with the YMCA to create a pitch to gain funding for the issues at hand.
  • Implementation: Teams that have been granted funding can start implementing the plan they came up with to begin solving the global issue at hand.


“The YMCA is deepening its commitment to youth innovation, leadership, and Vision 2030,” said Carlos Sanvee, World YMCA Secretary General.


The conclusion was clear. Youth need space. And by providing it, “you are honouring who they are, and your faith in them”, said Lanne Christine Aquino – General Secretary and cofounder of the YMCA of Albay, Inc. Philippines.