Resilience in today’s world

What does it mean to be resilient? 

World YMCA General Secretary Carlos Sanvee provided his perspective in a session on resilience as part of a two-day Medair Leadership Development Conference held on 25-26 October 2022, virtually and in person in Lausanne, Switzerland. 

Medair, a humanitarian organisation inspired by Christian faith, explored many facets of leadership and the modern workplace. The conference addressed digital transformation, equity/inclusion/diversity, sustainability and resilience. 

“We may collapse tomorrow”, said Carlos, who attended in person, “but the ability to rise up is what I call resilience, and that comes from my Christian background and faith”. 

The session also included a brief video message from Sheryl Sandberg, a former chief operating officer of Meta Platforms and known for her book “Lean in: Women, Work and the Will to Lead”.

“With resilience comes hope”, she said, “and that matters so much to the people you serve and to all of us.” To the nonprofits and NGOs working around the globe, she said, “you have my respect and my deep, deep admiration”.

As he shared what resilience meant to him, Carlos gave attendees a peek at his life in his home country Togo, his perspective on leadership and the YMCA organisation. 

Resistance versus resilience: Faced with trauma or challenge, people may put up resistance, Carlos said, which is not the same as resilience.  

“Resistance is when you bulldoze ahead and go until you stop. With resilience, however, there are two levels”, he said. “On the first level, you go back to where you were before the shock. On the second level, you go beyond where you started from. This is what all of us as a community need to aspire to”. 

“Resistance is simply surviving in the present, but the second level of resilience is forward-looking and building muscle for what is to come”. 

Dignity and compassion: Compassion is the ability to feel and connect to the pain of others, Carlos said. “If you can’t connect to the pain of the refugee”, for instance, “you cannot provide a space for them to become resilient”. 

When reflecting on dignity, Carlos refers to what he has learned from the Indian culture to treat others as we would wish to be treated and not do to others what we wouldn’t want to be done to us – a trait that is scarce in the world today. 

Employee values: An organization should hire and work with people who embrace its values, he said. Competence and skills can be acquired, he said, while values are inherent and need to be nurtured. 

There is also value in connecting with employees on a personal level, rather than merely focusing on Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and goal setting. “Our challenge is to open up a little bit more”, he said. “We need to build trust. We upload a lot of stress that we are not able to download because we don’t have trust in others”. 

Teamwork: When you are a CEO, people think you are Superman, but we are the weakest in the chain, Carlos said. “We depend on others to be who we are, and we rely on the team to help us bounce back”, he said. “As a leader, we bring things to the team, but we receive more in return. Our team makes us the leaders we are”. A strong team provides a support mechanism for everyone in the organisation. 

Finding balance: Drawing on his background in Togo and early leadership experiences with the YMCA, Carlos said he learned that his energy is linked to the community. As a young YMCA volunteer, he shared, he had a trainer who instilled in him that their first loyalty was to help the poor. The need to assist the most vulnerable has stayed with him. 

It’s important, however, not to lose a sense of self while focusing on and serving others. “It’s all about balance”.

YMCA Vision 2030: Carlos shared how YMCAs worldwide had just adopted a new strategy at the 20th YMCA World Council in July 2022. 

Vision 2030 is a shared (Movement-wide) Vision, a shared Mission, and four shared priority ‘Pillars of Impact’ (Community Wellbeing, Meaningful Work, Sustainable Planet, Just World), each with three goals attached – one for YMCA’s own internal transformation, one for its community empowerment, and one for its global advocacy. It’s a shared framework around which individual National YMCA Movements can align – according to their own strengths and their own situations, and in order to achieve greater impact.  YMCAs globally serve different communities with many different needs. “Our challenge despite our diversity is to unite around a single purpose”.