Preserving YMCA’s past: 30,000 photos digitised and available on-line

Date: 22 November 2023

From left to right:  Nelson Mandela, Emilio Castro  (Secretary General, World Council of Churches), Lee Soo-Min (Secretary General, World YMCA), at the World Council of Churches in 1990

The YMCA has long been a cornerstone in communities around the world, offering a range of activities, services, and educational opportunities for people of all ages. Throughout its extensive history, countless photographs have been taken to document these moments. In a pioneering move, more than 30,000 photographs from the YMCA Movement across the world have been digitally preserved and made accessible online. This initiative is a monumental step toward both safeguarding and democratizing the organization’s historical assets.

The digitization project was carried out over 3 months in 2023, at the express request of the World YMCA Executive Committee. It encompasses photos from some 88 countries, and spans the entire 20th Century. The photos capture aspects of YMCA’s community involvement, social work, and educational initiatives. They are organized by country and by subject, allowing for targeted searches and efficient data retrieval.

The project used high-resolution scanners and state-of-the-art data storage solutions to ensure the preservation of image quality and accessibility. Cloud-based platforms have been employed to host the images, providing secure yet easily accessible storage. Metadata tagging also helped the categorization and retrieval of images.

“We see so many benefits of this project”, says World YMCA Head of Digital Transformation Claude-Alain Danthe, who led the project and who joined the organisation in 1984. “As well as saving the images from physical wear and tear, making them available online ensures that anyone around the world can access them. It’s all part of increasing the global reach of YMCA’s mission.

“We think the archive is a rich resource for researchers, historians, and educators interested in different sociological and historical aspects of the YMCA movement. And for our young people, what better way to build their own sense of belonging and commitment than by showing them the millions of YMCA people who have gone before them.”

“I am delighted that this project has brought to life our magnificent past, to inform our magnificent future”, said World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee. “A plant cannot grow without roots and water.”

Here are just a very few of the 30,000 images – a tiny taster!


Some highlights