“You have to take the lead when it is needed”

Date: 26 May 2021

Young people from YMCA Netherlands having fun outside

Portrait of Robert Feith, Secretary General YMCA NetherlandsRobert Feith, 48, has been the Secretary General of YMCA Netherlands for the past 7 years. He tells us how he led his office during the pandemic. 

Robert’s journey with the YMCA started when he was a student. He became a volunteer and a trainer, and carried on working with the organisation, eventually becoming Secretary General. He says: “My mission had three main components: managing the finances; optimising our internal and external relationships; and setting the long-term vision. As a leader, you must ensure the stability of the organisation. And then something called COVID-19 hits….”.

At the beginning of 2020, Robert Feith was attentive to the news. His first concern was the safety of his staff and volunteers: “I called our 35 YMCA locations across the country and advised them to stop all group activities.  A few days later, the Netherlands went under lockdown”.

He decided to be proactive: “I called many youth organisations, such as the Scouts, to discuss what we could do together. I could foresee the uncertainty, the isolation and the anxiety of young people. So we complied with  government regulations to ensure that young people could meet under strict rules. The authorities accepted our proposals. So we managed to re-open our local YMCAs and our campsites. All of this was possible because YMCA collaborated closely with many youth organisations and the government”.

Young people from YMCA Netherlands having fun outside

Robert also managed to keep his staff: “The main income of YMCA Netherlands comes from our hotel accommodation, and the rental income from our campsites and meeting rooms. Because we had some savings, we could keep paying our staff. We also get the support of our government – we are lucky to live in a country which could financially support those in need”.

What has he learnt as a leader for the past year? “You have to take the lead when it’s needed, and you have to show direction”, he explains. “As our Prime Minister said, ‘you have to take 100% of a decision with 50% of the information’. Sometimes I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing, but with my team, we did our best. Communications during a crisis is key: you have to be very clear on why you make decisions. Our strength was definitely linked to who we are as a YMCA organisation: we work, collaborate and we learn – all for the benefit of young people”.

More information

The YMCA Netherlands exists since 1853. It has 10 employees and 4,000 volunteers serving 50.000 young people across the country. Visit the YMCA Netherlands website.